How Roblox became one of the most popular games in history Skip to content
Roblox history: from the idea to the metaverse in 18 years Cover

Roblox history: from the idea to the metaverse in 18 years

In 2022, Roblox is one of the most popular games in terms of the number of active users. Its audience is over 200 million players a month. The game is compared to Minecraft and is called one of the first prototypes of the metaverse. 

But this happened only in the last 3 years, while the game is already 16 years old. Here’s how an unknown platform for creating games for years has become one of the most popular in the industry.

1989-2005: The beginning

The history of Roblox began in 1989. Young engineer David Baszucki and his brother create the company Knowledge Revolution. The company has developed a Macintosh-based physical experiment simulator of the same name for American educational institutions. And although the program was intended for research purposes, it was built in a game format. As David Baszucki said of the Knowledge Revolution simulator, “The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment.”

Knowledge Revolution screenshot
The functionality of the Knowledge Evolution simulator allowed simulating collisions of physical objects. This is what users most often tried to create, according to David Baszucki. Source: Rocket Sloth

The Knowledge Revolution’s product turned out to be in demand in American schools. In 1998, the company was acquired by MSC Software, a simulation software technology company that also specializes in professional 3D modeling tools. The deal amounted to $20 million. Four years later, Baszucki leaves MSC to pursue investments and his own projects.

Among his investment projects, it is important to highlight Friendster, one of the first social networks. After the emergence of MySpace and other social networks, it could not stand the competition and closed in 2015. This acquisition was decisive for the Baszucki’s next project.

Roblox development began in 2004 with the participation of David Baszucki and his partner Erik S. Cassel. The game combined the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster. A key component of the project was the integration of maximum freedom of action and social network elements. The result was a platform where people could not only play something ready-made, but also create their own games. They could be shared with other users and even monetized.

Roblox early gameplay in 2004
Roblox interface in early development stages. Source: Rocket Sloth

Before the modern name was approved, other names were considered during development — GoBlocks and DynaBlocks. As a result, the developers settled on Roblox, a combination of two words: “robots”‎ and “blocks”‎.

2006-2019: The game launch and recognition

The game was officially launched on September 1, 2006. In its first versions, there was a currency — Roblox Points. They could be earned by playing mini-games or by running the program daily. Roblox Points were used as the player’s points: the more points, the higher the rank. In 2007, the Robux currency replaced them.  

Robux remains the main currency of Roblox in 2022. It is used both in the player community and among the developers. Robux can be used to purchase paid items in the shop and buy user-generated content. The same currency is used to pay the creators, who can exchange it for US dollars and withdraw it from the game account. This feature was introduced by the developers themselves.

Roblox Early Catalog Screenshot
An early version of the Roblox catalog. Source: Roblox Blog

In 2007, the game introduced private messages, a search bar and the ability to customize an avatar. In March of the same year, Roblox began to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) and added a secure chat mode. It limited the ability to communicate for children under 13, who had to select universal messages in a special menu.

In August 2007, the developers introduced a new currency — Tix, which could be spent on goods from the free items catalog and banner ads in Roblox. At the same time, a premium membership was added to the game — Builders Club (BC). Members of the club received privileges in the form of additional currency and the ability to make wearables There were several tiers for premium membership, and their cost ranged from $6 to $20 per month.

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Despite the innovation and variety of gaming experiences, Roblox has been unable to gain popularity among a wide audience for a long time. According to bloggers, this happened due to poor press coverage of the game, the low quality of games within the platform, and a specific community of gamers. Influencers noted the latter’s toxicity, as well as the fact that the Roblox administration shared and supported these views.

One way or another, Roblox could not become worldwide popular for many years. By 2013, the game had 50 million registered users. For comparison, Minecraft had 100 million registered accounts in 2014, even though it was released 3 years later than Roblox.

In April 2016, David Baszucki launched Roblox VR, a Roblox version for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets. There were over ten million games available to users at the time of the Roblox VR release. In the same year, the developers removed the secure chat mode. It was replaced by a “white list” system with allowed words for users under 13 and a “black list” system with an invalid set of words for other players. In 2018, the server technology was updated in the game, making the system more productive.

The fact that the game has been relatively unpopular among gamers for many years can be judged by its revenue:

2020-2022: Popularity and prospects

Roblox’s popularity has skyrocketed in 2020. This was due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown that followed. The self-isolation regime, which school children had to observe, deprived them of live communication with their peers. But they had computers and the virtual world of Roblox at their disposal, into which they moved. In the game, it was possible to create your own avatar: from appearance and image, to personality and demeanor. 

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Amid restrictions in schools, Roblox began to be actively used for education: from programming to physics. In a way, the element of the educational platform was the return of David Baszucki to the days of the Knowledge Revolution.

Roblox Gameplay in 2020
Roblox gameplay in 2020. Source: SteelSeries

In November 2020, Roblox Corporation filed for an initial public offering (IPO) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In January, the company held a direct listing and raised $520 million in investment money. After the IPO in March 2021, its capitalization amounted to $45 billion.

Some of the data from the application Roblox filed with the SEC:

  • From January to September 2020, the Roblox website had 31.1 million daily active users — an 82% increase over the same period in 2019;
  • In the first 9 months of 2020, the total time spent by all users on the platform doubled to 22 billion hours.
Gucci Garden in Roblox Screenshot
Gucci garden in Roblox. Source: Gucci

With the advent of popularity, Roblox has become a platform for online events. For example, the Gucci fashion house announced a collaboration with the project. In the virtual space of the platform, users got the opportunity to get acquainted with the history of the House. And Netflix released a game based on the Stranger Things TV series in Roblox, in which you can visit the locations from it. This became an example of collaborations between the metaverse and brands, as well as a new vector for the development of Roblox.

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In November 2021, Nike announced the creation of the Nikeland virtual world on the Roblox platform. It features buildings, fields, and the Nike Arena, which is modeled after the company’s real-life headquarters. Subsequently, the sports giant plans to integrate global sports events into the metaverse. For example, football matches during the World Cup or the Super Bowl. Nike will continue to update the metaverse and integrate athletes and products into it.

The Roblox game became an example of the metaverse even before Mark Zuckerberg started talking about the plans for its creation. The ability to interact through avatars is exactly what attracted children during the pandemic. Without the platform’s toolkit, which allowed players to carefully build a virtual image and get used to it, this would not have been possible. Therefore, Roblox can be considered as one of the first metaverses in history.

Metaverses have become one of the tools for brand promotion. That’s why companies like Gucci or Netflix usually turn to specialized agencies like Maff Metaverse who know how to promote brands in the metaverse.

Conclusion

For a long time, Roblox did not receive wide recognition. This was facilitated by the lack of PR support for the game, a specific players community and a focus on a children’s audience.

But with the advent of the pandemic, the combination of wide functionality for creating game worlds and social network elements has attracted an audience. With Roblox, kids and teens who weren’t able to meet and hang out due to the lockdown got the chance to do so online. Since then, the popularity of the game has skyrocketed.

In 2022, Roblox is one of the most popular games in terms of the number of users. It has over 30 million active players on a daily basis, and the platform itself was valued at $43 billion at its peak in November 2021. At the same time, Roblox continues to develop in new directions, the most ambitious of which is the metaverse.

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Editor:
Andrei Lapushkin

Cover and illustrations:
Julia Chistyakova

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