Video channel People Make Games has run an investigation into the developer of Roblox with some concerning revelations about child safety.
The channel previously ran a video accusing the Roblox Corporation of "exploiting" young game developers. The company has since asked People Make Games to remove that video, but instead new developments have come to light concerning the safety of children on the game platform.
Roblox is a game platform aimed primarily at children and allows them to create their own video games for others to play. Through monetisation they can earn virtual currency named Robux, which can be converted to real money.
The new People Make Games video includes a number of stories concerning child safety on the platform.
For instance, while Roblox began as a way for individual developers to create games, its popularity now means entire development teams are making games for the platform.
Not only does this run contrary to the platform's original aim of allowing individual children creative freedom, it means many young designers are leaving the platform to join development communities through social media. These are entirely unregulated by Roblox because it didn't happen on Roblox.com.
That means children could be working for another company outside of Roblox dealing in entirely unsafe practices, without contracts. Sometimes these companies are run by children themselves. Further, because of Roblox's structure, individual users can take unilateral control of a game's revenue, with no outreach programme by the platform for developer abuse.
Roblox didn't respond directly to the questions of People Make Games, but it did say: "Roblox takes reports of abuse very seriously and where a violation of our standards is found, we take action on our platform against the accused.
"We have a large, expertly trained team with thousands of members dedicated to protecting our users and monitoring 24/7 for inappropriate content."
Moderation is also a major problem within the platform, with many of the most popular games being highly inappropriate for children.
Back in 2017, Roblox closed its official Roblox forum (not the developer forum) as the structure at the time "does not allow us to maintain the high standards that we feel are so important for nurturing a constructive and positive environment".
It's commonly believed this is partly due to posted links to an illegal child sexual abuse site. This means many Roblox developer communities have moved to external platforms like social media and Discord, which may be unsafe for children, and are not regulated at all by Roblox.
The People Make Games video even includes interviews with a child developer who was the victim of abuse. The developer accused seemingly still has his games monetised on the platform, despite Roblox stating to People Make Games that developers "removed from our platform for policy violations also lose access to monetising."
A further story in the video claims the Roblox Collectible Market works like gambling.
One of the draws of the game is dressing up your character in virtual outfits, often sponsored by brands and celebrities. Many of these are sold in limited numbers or for a limited time.
These cosmetics can then be bought from other Roblox users using the Robux virtual currency, often for extortionate prices depending on demand. Roblox initially sells them for the equivalent of $5 - $10, but prices can rise to $15,000.
Roblox reportedly takes a 30 percent cut of all sales, meaning the company has plenty to gain. What's more, the store page includes a graph of price changes, acting like a stock market. There's no upper limit on how much users can spend - around half of the users on the platform are aged 12 and under.
Roblox didn't respond to People Make Games on this issue.
There's even a black market for these collectibles, with users buying and selling them on external websites to circumvent the Roblox cut of sales. These sites often include malware links and forms to lure children, and have been around for years. And as it's happening away from the Roblox platform, there's seemingly no way for the company to moderate it.
An anonymous source told People Make Games these sites are fundamental to Roblox's economy. "Everybody is using these sites from top game developers down," they said. "Of course people who get caught doing it their accounts are banned, so Roblox has to somewhat enforce it, but at the same time most people turn to that because Devex (the term for officially converting Robux to real-world money) is kind of a gamble in the first place!"
Roblox responded: "We also encourage our users to keep their interactions and communications on the platform where we are able to monitor and intervene. Often, scams and other abuses happen off the platform on other sites with less stringent systems - such as text filters - in place. This is why it is expressly against our policies to direct users offsite."
The report is worrying for the huge popularity of Roblox. According to its most recent financial reports, year-on-year its revenue has increased by 102 percent to $509.3 Million. Following these results, shares closed up over 40 percent. People Make Games notes this makes the company bigger than Nintendo.
We previously reported on a lawsuit by Roblox against a user banned from the platform for leading a "cybermob" and harassing users, further highlighting how unsafe it can be.