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Transformative Gaming experience with addiction, bullying and costs to our children.
Transformative Gaming experience with addiction, bullying and costs to our children.
The online platform Roblox is capturing the imagination. The platform that is meant for playing and creating video games is going public on March 10th. Their unique model of outsourcing game development to their players has helped the company reach a $29.5 billion valuation in a recent funding round. Roblox boasts 32.6 million daily active users and a jump in revenue of 82% in 2020 to $924 million. Roblox’ young audience now have more free time since many schools are online or hybrid during the Covid-19 era. But, we have to ask, is Roblox good for the public?
Roblox isn’t just a game you can play. It’s a place where you can design your own game and build your own world of success and fame. The design is simple enough that children can design games for other children. Users can learn how to build games and how to monetize them. Users can also purchase in-game features from other users for their own world. This is worlds within worlds within worlds. Users can log in and literally get lost for endless hours. There is no beginning and no end, no linear journey. Users can get caught in a never ending loop of creation, socializing and adventure, and, most importantly to Roblox, spending money within the platform. It essentially has 2 business use cases that it promotes, operating as both a game development platform and as a game of discovery for playing.
This paves a road for exponential growth of the company, its users and the worlds they create. The users can grow and age with the platform continually evolving and pumping revenue into Roblox, but at what cost to its most vulnerable users, our future generation? What are our kids exposed to?
A few popular games that attract Roblox young users include: Adopt Me! And Welcome to Bloxburg, among others.
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Roblox’s #1 game simulates raising a baby. Players choose to be a parent or a baby, and acquire items to purchase for one’s avatar or speed up progress of parenting.
Welcome to Bloxburg
“Bloxburg lets users enjoy a life experience where they build their own homes, go to work, spend time with friends and enjoy recreational activities.”
We must ask, is Roblox a game at all or more of a transformational disruptive change for our children? It attempts to convey the perception of a world in which one of the things you can do is play games constantly with characteristics such as persistent friends and currency from any device anywhere in the physical world. In a perfect world this is great for children, but we know this world is not perfect.
Through all this positivity and growth a dark side and bad actors have emerged. Roblox experiences 3 billion total engagement hours each month from their aforementioned 32.6 million daily users. That averages out to just a touch over 92 hours per month per user. That’s 11.5 working days each month! Pair that with the 2017 study by Christian Montag, a professor of molecular physiology at Ulm University, that suggests heavy use of certain video games may cause brain changes linked to addictive behaviors and you can see the potential danger of such use to the children of America.
On top of the effects of screen addiction is the negative effect of cyber-bullying within the platform between users. When reaching out to parents in my network I asked them specifically about their children using Roblox.
“There is bullying everywhere. It seems to me that the kids who would be struggling with bullying otherwise will have a similar experience virtually… We parents need to take the time to educate ourselves on this new cyber life and be prepared to deal with their kids addictions online.”
I received this similar sentiment from several parents. For their part Roblox has stated that they are working “relentlessly to create a safe and civil community.” Doing so in part by introducing stringent text-filtering, audio scanning and image detection technologies. Despite their best efforts parents in the UK have had their children exposed to images such as “two naked male cartoon characters, aroused…One stood beside a female character, also naked, and was thrusting back and forth, simulating sex” and children as young as seven have been asked if they wanted to have sex. Parents fearing that this has “‘opened up a realm of fear about grooming and pedophilia.’”
We are also seeing frustrations from ineffective customer service support that seem to be unable to cater to requests from parents on a variety of important concerns. Perhaps they deploy technology to sense the context of the conversation but it does not understand full intent to provide helpful solutions or escalate questions to human customer support agents. It is now almost impossible to reach a real human customer support agent.
Though Roblox has a team of 1,700 people and some level of technology automation deployed to monitor content, they have obviously outgrown their ability to manage the bullying, harassment and abuse of children on the platform. The public is still not discussing how Roblox is planning to add voice chat technology that potentially could expose children to pedophiles. So what can be done? How do we tell our kids not to chat with people they don’t know and not accept private messages from anyone they don’t know. How do we teach them to protect personal information and create a level of trust?
There are also concerns on deal making and expansion plans that the company has made in China through a partnership with Songhua River Investment Limited, a Tencent subsidiary. What role will China have with our families and lives in the US?
Jordan Foster, a leading Cyber Expert at Family Zone says of Roblox, “With limited safety measures embedded within the game, children are open prey for predators to communicate with…Consider it similar to sending a child out into a real room filled with strangers, with no barriers in place to stop people being able to talk to whomever they like.”
From that point of view you can see the dilemma that parents are faced with. You’d never send your child to a party filled with strangers. Especially not one with no rules, chaperones, or people you trust. Yet, everyday our children are venturing into these very situations without protection online. So, what can be done?
The train has left the station as far as Roblox goes. Their IPO is expected to do tremendously well and they will continue to do the minimum they deem necessary to protect users, especially vulnerable children, from the predators they know are present on the platform.
First, not only must parents educate themselves on every aspect of their child’s journey within the games they play and the online worlds they traverse, they also need to get engaged in the overall process. We must explain to our kids that this isn’t a make believe imaginary world, it is part of the real world. It may appear on a screen, but the people controlling the text and figures on that screen are real and some are potentially dangerous. You wouldn’t send them into a real wilderness filled with monsters, why would you send them into a virtual one?
If your child is truly addicted to a game, remove and block it from their phone. You can do this through Google’s Family Link in the Play Store and Apple allows parents the ability to limit apps on all of their devices as well.
There are many resources out there for parents and guardians to use. StopBullying.Gov, PTA.org, Parents.com and Smartsocial.com/roblox/ are great places to start.
For now it looks like Roblox is an entirely new type of a disruptive startup platform that is seeking to transform in ways that were previously impossible, creating a new microverse environment for our kids without adequate parenting, trust standards and regulations. Perhaps this is a new iPhone or Tesla like a moment with implications that will change everything.
The question for parents is how does Roblox expect to successfully scale and moderate its massive growth when they can’t moderate a chat or ban people for abusing children? There is a clear case for robust and trusted AI driven moderation software and support that actually is intelligent and works.
Finally, there is a clear case for Responsible technology where all parties adhere to trust and fairness. We now urgently need responsible gaming principles and need for Roblox to become a responsible member of our digital community. They can either lead the way to a safer future for the children of the world, or simply placate and strive solely for profits.