SWGfL were extremely happy to sit down with Laura Higgins this week from Roblox. Laura is the Director of Civility and Community Safety for the massive online gaming platform and gave us some insight into why Roblox has taken the world by storm. We also talked in depth about the importance of online safety and Laura was able to share some essential information for young people and parents about how Roblox operates.
Many of us know what Roblox is, but for those of us who don’t know, could you give us your own explanation of what the platform does?
We enable a community of over 150 million people around the world to come together and share experiences with friends in this digital place we call the Metaverse with millions of immersive virtual worlds to explore. Unlike in traditional games where typically you’re playing to win, many of the games on Roblox are social experiences where you can hang out and socialize with friends while you, for example, work at a pizza restaurant, or go to a dance at a virtual high school.
We also enable the creation of these experiences: all of these digital worlds are built by the Roblox community, made up of over two million creators. That’s the unique thing about our platform! We provide users with all the tools they need to build a digital world of their own including step-by-step guides to get them started on Roblox studio, our free and immersive creation engine.
Roblox has developed such a huge following over the past few years but has been around since 2006 – why do you think the user rate has skyrocketed in recent years?
It was a combination of factors coming together over the past few years, including results from our ongoing investments into the platform, its technology and infrastructure, introduction of monetization for our developers, more people on mobile devices, as well as growth of our community of both users and creators on the platform.
When it comes to growth of our community in the last few years, we see two network effects driving organic virality , the first of which is UGC (user-generated content) and our ecosystem that enables an increasing number of created games. The more games we have, the more creators we have, and with a bigger audience we attract more creators. The second is: the social viral loop. People predominantly come to Roblox to play with their friends and have shared experiences. Unlike in a traditional game, where you're trying to win, Roblox games are these wide-open experiences that tend to be really cooperative, so they're ideal for playing with friends. As a result, the primary way people find out about Roblox is they get invited by their friend. Especially at this time, when people need to stay physically distant, Roblox becomes a very valuable platform for them to stay socially connected.
Does Roblox implement any age restrictions and what age group do you feel are using the platform the most?
Our user ages range from 7 to 20+, with 13+ being the fastest-growing group and already making up over 40% of our community. Also, more than 40% of our users are female--we are proud to have a community that is more gender-diverse than the typical gaming platform.
In terms of age restrictions, Roblox offers features as part of Account Restrictions that allows parents to limit the ability to chat, and types of games their children can access.
I wrote about this before, but the best way to learn more about the features and understand those platforms that your kids and teens love is simply to get more involved in their online lives and spend time playing with them. For example, take some time to review account and chat settings together, reporting tools, so that your kid knows how to report inappropriate content or behavior and knows general safety recommendations. Another great way is to play together which helps you bond and also see what your kids see on the platform. There are many multiplayer games you can choose in our Play Together game sort (and utilize our free Private Servers to invite just your family or friends to join) or choose educational games to Learn & Explore museums, parks or play word games with your kids. And don’t worry if you’re terrible — it gives your kids an opportunity to help teach you a few things about the digital world.
And for educators specifically: we recently launched our new and free curriculum on Digital Civility to foster positive, safe, and productive online experiences and discussions among students. The curriculum also includes a new Roblox game called Digital Safety Scavenger Hunt which is a really engaging tool to teach kids and teens how to spot unreliable information and stay safe online. This curriculum intertwines safety and civility lessons with STEM skills in a really clever way: students are asked to create their own games, and as they collaborate and play, they will also have discussions on a variety of digital civility and safety topics. Exploring the sessions together with the students could be a really great way to teach them long-term safety and civility skills, as well as understand the platform better. During COVID-19 we also launched our Teaching Remotely resource to support educators who would like to use our platform in this new reality where they need to keep kids engaged while teaching them online.
Does Roblox have any procedures in place to keep young people safe online?
Absolutely, this is one of our top priorities! Roblox was designed for kids and teens, and we have a responsibility to make sure our players can learn, create, and play safely. Safety is not a retrofit for us; it’s been in our DNA since day one.
Our founder talks about how in Roblox’s early days together with a few of the first employees he spent many shifts acting as the first moderators on Roblox. So we work tirelessly and relentlessly to create a safe, civil, and diverse community and have a stringent safety system – one of the most rigorous of any platform, going well beyond regulatory requirements. Here are just a few examples of safety measures and things we do:
- We conduct a safety review of all images, audio, and video files through a combination of human review and machine detection prior to them becoming available on our platform.
- We filter all text chat on the platform to block inappropriate content, including questions about personal information and instructions on how to connect on other, less restrictive third-party chat apps.
- For users under 13, our filters are even stricter, such as blocking all use of numbers and potentially personal identifiable information. We do not allow the sending of images or video via chat or one-to-one user interactions. While we follow privacy regulations (COPPA, GDPR, CCPA), we don’t offer features such as end-to-end encryption that would prevent us from seeing the uploaded content, message postings, etc. of users on our platform.
- We offer parents and users the choice to limit or turn off chat completely and limit who can join their games, and we also actively encourage our users to report any activity they feel uncomfortable or concerned about: players can easily mute or block players that they come across in games and report inappropriate content/behavior using our Report Abuse system located prominently throughout the site and in-game.
- We work diligently with other chat, social media, and UGC (User Generated Content) platforms to report bad actors and content, so they can also take appropriate action on their platforms.
- And we also work closely and transparently with regulators, authorities, and safety groups in every country we operate and promptly report any suspected child exploitation, abuse materials, or online grooming to relevant authorities like the National Crime Agency and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command in the UK, as well as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the United States.
Finally, we have partnerships with over 20 leading global organizations that focus on child safety and internet safety including the WePROTECT Global Alliance, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), SWGFL and the broader UK Safer Internet Centre, Fair Play Alliance, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), Connect Safely, and kidSAFE among others.
Creativity is obviously such a main component of Roblox, would you say this is what draws so many people to get involved?
The ability to express themselves through their online identity and creativity is a huge draw, no doubt. We hear numerous stories of how creating on Roblox and being part of the community have played an important role in kids’ and teen’s mental well-being, especially during physical distancing. But some of them also turn it into a successful career.
Because it’s so easy to get started with Roblox Studio and absolutely no upfront costs to create and publish cross-platform multiplayer experiences on the platform, we now have over 2 million active creators located around the world. And they are on track to earn over $250 million in 2020. Many of them grew up on the platform and started as players, and they are now creating successful games and studios, learning entrepreneurship skills.
Our goal here is to build widespread awareness among the larger community to show that the opportunity to create exists and empower kids and teens to give it a try. That’s why we launched Build It Play It coding challenges that teach fundamentals of game design/creation.
What advice would you give to parents who are worried about their child going online and playing Roblox?
We got some very insightful data from a survey of 1,500 UK parents last year where the vast majority (nearly 90%) said they could see the benefits of gaming, recognizing improved STEM skills, cognitive skills, cooperation and teamwork elements that gaming provided. Parents also see how playing games can help kids in the future as they will need digital skills as adults.
At the same time many parents also said they were worried about gaming for various reasons, but you know what’s interesting? Half of those who were worried said that their fears were mostly coming from stories they saw on media and social media rather than real-life experiences. That’s why, together with industry organizations like UKIE, we are trying to proactively work with media outlets and make sure that in addition to discussing the risks, they are also sharing some advice to help empower parents. The goal for any parent is to make yourself and your kids aware of potential risks they can come across (anywhere online, not just in games) and equip them with critical thinking and other important skills to address these risks.
In a different survey of U.S. parents and teens we actually wanted to see if parents had discussions with their kids and teens about online safety and appropriate online behavior, and while 93% of parents thought they were at least occasionally or regularly discussing this topic, the majority (60%) of teens said that their parents actually never or rarely talked to them about appropriate online behavior. So, we also need to make sure we’re reaching kids. It’s more than just sitting down and talking to them; it’s how it’s being received by kids as well. Support, mentorship and discussion are the keys to raising a generation of empowered digital citizens.
To learn more about how to stay safe on Roblox, you can download our Roblox Checklist for free!