Roblox, the gaming site, wants to grow without sacrificing children's safety

SAN FRANCISCO – As Dave Baszucki, managing director of games company Roblox, took the stage at a conference his company hosted on Thursd...


SAN FRANCISCO – As Dave Baszucki, managing director of games company Roblox, took the stage at a conference his company hosted on Thursday, he reflected on how much that had changed for Roblox since his last in-person event there. is two years old.

In March, Roblox debuts on Wall Street. As of Friday, it was worth $ 44 billion and more than 43 million gamers used it every day, more than double the number of daily users it had two years ago. One of the most striking differences, however, was the age of the crowd of hundreds of game developers Mr. Baszucki spoke to at Fort Mason, a former military base along the San Francisco waterfront.

Perhaps not so long ago, the crowd was mostly children. As of Thursday, many were young adults. And as they grew up, Roblox, a colorful, blocky platform that features millions of online games of all types, from exploring tropical islands to promoting digital pets, attempted to grow with them. .

Roblox’s efforts to stay in touch with an older audience while maintaining a safe environment for its younger users offers both a roadmap and a caveat for other internet companies that attempt the opposite: engage. with a younger audience.

While Roblox has often been praised for its efforts, protecting its young users has been an ever-evolving battle. The company reviews game content, offers parental controls, and has chat filters that block profanity and information that can be used to identify people. Even so, explicit material slips through the cracks. There have been games that represent the avatars of users engaging in graphic sexual activity and mass shootings reenactments.

Like many other Internet platforms, moderation has been a “really tough issue for Roblox to make its voice heard,” said Jeff Haynes, editor of web and video games at Common Sense, a human rights advocacy group. children and media rating.

Roblox’s evolution towards a mixed-age audience comes as the privacy and vulnerability of children online is gaining worldwide attention. Earlier this month, a Senate subcommittee hearing spent several hours listening to a whistleblower detail fearing Instagram harms its teenage users. The whistleblower, a former employee of Instagram owner Facebook, is also expected to testify in the coming weeks before government officials in Britain and the European Union.

Mixing older users with the traditional Roblox crowd presents other safety risks, such as the possibility of young children being exposed to predators or recruited by extremist groups. The company tried to crack down on such faults, and Mr. Baszucki said he recognized that integrating different ages on his platform was “a challenge.” But he said building a safe and inclusive online world was part of his vision for the so-called metaverse, an idea that people can share a large online universe together.

“We are optimistic we can build this society which is truly accessible to all ages,” Mr. Baszucki said in an interview after his speech.

Roblox was launched in 2004 on the assumption that most of its users were minors. So he put safeguards in place to protect children from online bullying and predators. It’s been a long time very popular with children, especially those between 9 and 12 years old.

Mr. Baszucki, who has a background in educational software, envisioned Roblox as a place where children could learn to code, explore virtual worlds, play and socialize, especially if their actual school experience was unsatisfactory. (Roblox Product Manager Manuel Bronstein, recently joined the board of directors of The New York Times Company.)

The company makes money by selling a digital currency called Robux, which is used to purchase in-game items, and it shares its profits with the independent developers who create the many games in the universe. Developers are more closely tied to Roblox than content creators from social media platforms like Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, where teens say they are often confronted with toxic materials.

“We share our life less, and we are more, ‘Let’s play hide and seek, or go to ancient Rome,’ Mr. Baszucki said.

This month, Roblox said that, for the first time, more than half of its users were over 13 years old. He recently announced new tools designed to attract older players to the platform, such as more realistic avatars; the possibility for developers to restrict certain games to players 13 years of age and over, or even 17 years of age and over; and a voice chat feature available for those who are at least 13 years old. To verify their age, users can upload a government-issued ID along with a selfie.

Earlier this month, Roblox updated its community standards to ban any representation of romance or discussion of political parties. It has also explicitly banned terrorist or extremist groups from recruiting or fundraising on the site – a problem that has plagued social media companies like Twitter for years.

Mr. Baszucki said that integrating older users while maintaining the standards of civility and good behavior upon which the platform is based is a “huge responsibility”. But he was optimistic about the company’s success, he said, as Roblox had a history of children behaving better than adults on other social platforms.

Child safety experts have said that as other sites attempt to broaden their appeal to children – Facebook, for example, has said it will create an Instagram product specifically designed for those 13 and under, before postponing these plans – they could learn important lessons from Roblox.

Titania Jordan, CEO of Bark, a tech company that uses artificial intelligence to monitor children’s devices, said that while bad behavior can sometimes slip through the cracks at Roblox, the company is still “commendable. In its approach to child safety, especially compared to sites like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

One Roblox tool that other companies could implement, she said, was the ability to turn on parental controls that kids can’t turn off. Ms Jordan said she would feel much better about letting her 12-year-old son use Snapchat if she could, for example, enter a PIN at a certain time and lock the app for the rest of the night . Having an ID backed age verification system was also comforting, she said, compared to apps where it’s easy to enter any age and create an account.

The fact that Roblox devoted much of its design to tackling misconduct and illegal content, but still faces criticism, could be another lesson for companies like Facebook, Haynes said, by Common Sense. He said this could force social platforms – many of which already devote considerable resources to law enforcement for offensive or violent content – to put even more effort into before believing they can safely offer something. to a younger audience.

Young Roblox developers are also optimistic. After all, they know what’s on the internet outside the confines of Roblox’s digital world.

“You can always find little examples of something creeping in – someone spelling a swear word in a weird way, everyone has seen it. But compare that to the open Internet, ”CJ Oyer, a 23-year-old developer who grew up playing Roblox, told the company conference.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Roblox, the gaming site, wants to grow without sacrificing children's safety
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