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Roblox Either Can’t Defend Itself On Questions Of Its Alleged Exploitation Of Child Labour, Or Doesn’t Want To

At the beginning of April, PSU published a report on comments made by Stefano Corazza, studio head at Roblox, who had some, let’s say ‘choice’ words when asked by Eurogamer at GDC about Roblox’s exploitation of children and child labour

Corazza called the money that underage developers could make on the platform “a gift,” after offering the example that if you were “15 years old, in Indonesia, living in a slum,” “with just a laptop, I can create something, make money and then sustain my life.”

As a side, interestingly Corazza seems to stay away from suggesting that this hypothetical 15-year old living in the slums of Indonesia could make enough money to get themselves out of their economic class into a better one.

Suggesting you can be seriously rich from developing games on Roblox is something Roblox stopped doing after People Make Games published its first report on the company and its practices. Corazza instead just suggests this fictional 15-year old living in a slum could sustain their life in those slums.

In response to PSU’s report, Roblox sent a hefty email with a statement claiming PSU’s reporting essentially didn’t represent the whole story, and we updated our report to include the statement. If you missed it, you can see the original report and the statement, here.

The statement is presented as “Roblox’s full perspective on this topic” though never identifies what “this topic” is, and also fails to address Corazza’s words. There’s no offered reflection, only a bunch of statistics and claims thrown at “this topic” in an attempt to mimic an argument showing how Roblox doesn’t exploit child labour.

To be clear, “this topic” is the discussion around Roblox exploiting child labour for its own profit, and what, if anything, Roblox is doing to stop the practices that have led to the alleged exploitation.

In response to this statement, PSU sent back some questions. We asked:

  • What percentage of Roblox DevEx enrolled developers were enrolled prior to being 18? (the minimum age is 13)
  • What percentage of DevEx enrolled developers are between the ages of 13-18?
  • Since concerns about child labour exploitation in Roblox aren’t anything new, how Roblox is addressing these concerns
  • Would Roblox consider raising the value of DevEx payouts, as many Roblox developers have suggested?

We’ve now got a response, of sorts.

Roblox Either Can’t Defend Itself On Questions Of Its Alleged Exploitation Of Children, Or Doesn’t Want To

Refusal To Answer Only Leads To Speculation

For PSU, I went back and forth with a Roblox spokesperson who was courteous to my requests, and was relatively prompt in their answering.

I knew the data requested might not be something that this spokesperson would have on hand, so it was entirely understandable for them to take the time to collect it. That’s unfortunately not what happened however, as I was told the spokesperson “wasn’t able to get the exact numbers you [I] requested.”

Instead, they repeated a statistic from the original statement Roblox sent, saying that “of the creators who are enrolled in the Roblox Developer Exchange (DevEx) program, the overwhelming majority are over the age of 18 and the average age for top earning and/or engaging developers is around 25 years old.”

They also repeated another bullet point, saying again that “In 2023, more than 90% of the top 1,000 experiences by hours engaged in were owned by developers who were at least 18 years old.”

Though this time they filled in that “the remaining 10% were under 18,” which is the only time I saw Roblox admit they have developers making games (and money) for the Roblox platform that are under the age of 18.

When I asked why the numbers I asked couldn’t be pulled, and if Roblox even tracks how many DevEx enrolled developers begin at an age sub-18, the answer I got was that what’s already been shared, i.e. the data just above, “best represents the creators on the platform who are building in order to monetize.”

Followed by another repeated statistic saying the results of a recent survey reveal most begin developing on Roblox for fun, rather than to make money.

It should be noted that the original question had nothing to do with why people develop with Roblox and enroll in the DevEx program. The question was regarding how many DevEx developers start prior to 18.

While Roblox is seemingly refusing to answer the question directly, perhaps unintentionally, it does answer part of my question. But these answers can only be speculated, with Roblox refusing to share the full data.

With Roblox, as it is with game development overall, it’s very rare to make something that’s a hit right out of the gate. It takes years of practice, iteration, and honing your craft, to make something worthwhile.

So while Roblox puts its flag in the ground that the 90% of the top 1,000 experiences (Roblox’s word for games, if you didn’t know) were owned by developers over 18, it would be logical to presume that those developers didn’t all just happen into making a successful game after they turned 18.

The vast majority of them were all likely enrolled in the program prior to turning 18, making games that they potentially made money on, and that Roblox definitely made money on.

Roblox also repeats that the average age of “top earning” DevEx enrolled developers is 25, but that again doesn’t fill the gaps in information PSU was asking for.

These statistics don’t hold as much weight without the knowledge of when developers are getting into the DevEx program. If most start at 13, the minimum age, then that’s at least five years of those children making games that Roblox makes money on.

Also I shouldn’t have to point out that saying people begin creating on Roblox for “fun” doesn’t suddenly eliminate any chance that they’re being exploited. No one has to know they’re being exploited for that exploitation to be real.

Roblox also chose not to answer whether or not Roblox tracks how many of its DevEx enrolled developers begin their careers prior to being 18. If Roblox isn’t tracking this number, then that shows a terrifying disregard for how it pays attention to minors on the platform.

If it is tracking this number, and doesn’t want to show it, then the question is of course, “why?,” leaving us to speculate that reason might be because it’ll show the majority of its top-earning 18+ DevEx enrolled developers began prior to being 18.

Moving The Goalpost

When I began asking questions of Roblox, the data-focused questions were the ones I genuinely thought I would get answers for. They seemed like stats Roblox should be tracking, and ones it would be willing to pull.

While I was wrong there, one of the questions I was only ever hopeful to get an answer on, was whether or not Roblox would raise the value of DevEx payouts.

In response, Roblox said “We are always looking for new opportunities to deliver more earnings to the creator community,” and then pointed me to an initiative Roblox began at the beginning of 2024, its new USD-based Creator Store.

It’s a separate marketplace within Roblox where items are priced in USD, and minus sales tax and payment processing fees, creators who sell the virtual items they made on the store get to keep what they earn from that sale. Beyond the fees already mentioned, these payouts “are no longer subject to DevEx fees.”

Ultimately its another way for developers on Roblox to earn money from the things they’re creating, which, if you’re trying to earn money on Roblox, is good.

But it doesn’t answer the question that I was asking, nor does it show a willingness to do the one thing that would immediately help Roblox developers earn more, which is increasing the value of DevEx payouts.

The Roblox spokesperson also confirmed to me that Roblox developers take home $0.29 of every dollar they make on Roblox. “This is their net earnings after all expenses tied to building, storing, testing, and maintaining an experience have already been paid by Roblox.” Which isn’t news, as they point out this information can be found in a blog post from July 2023.

While my back-and-forth with Roblox was ongoing, the company published a couple of blog posts to its website. One was penned by Roblox’s chief executive officer, David Baszucki regarding changes to Roblox’s “Values And Principles.”

Another was from Tami Bhaumik, vice president of civility and partnerships at Roblox. Their post was titled “Dedicated To Building A Safer And More Civil Online World.”

In the wake of Corazza’s words, that there have been these blog posts published quickly after the Eurogamer interview went live feels reactionary, at best. Their subject matter also makes them seem, to me at least who knew what Corazza said, as if Roblox was trying to catch up to any conversation that questioned the company’s morals.

Being pointed to these blog posts and the Creator Store do show Roblox making efforts (or in the case of the blogs, claiming they are making efforts) to provide a safer environment for its players, and allow developers to earn more from the work they put in, many of whom are young children.

But it reads very much like Roblox moving the goalpost to try and avoid answering the questions I and others have asked of it. I can only judge the nature of the answers I received as avoidant, at best.

Roblox Either Can’t Defend Itself, Or Doesn’t Want To – For Now

Which brings me to my speculative conclusion that Roblox isn’t answering these questions because it sees them as questions it can’t answer, for fear of opening itself up to stronger allegations of its child labour exploitation practices.

Or, it won’t answer them, at least not right now, because right now it can’t come back with irrefutable proof that it isn’t exploiting children, and the work they put into Roblox that helps drive up the value of Roblox as a company.

It’ll instead wait, continuing to move the goalpost ‘on this topic’ until it can create the safer, more secure and hopefully non-exploitative online environment. If it ever does actually make that happen.

Of course in the meantime, Roblox will continue to earn billions on the backs of developers both under and over the age of 18 – but don’t worry, Roblox has assured me they’re all “having fun.”