Who likes Roblox

The customers wait in several lines. A customer orders a "YumYumEpicYum" pizza extra. A figure made of coarse pixels, called "MatteoMagDich", is jumping around hectically in an equally coarse pixelated pizzeria without walls. If the orders go out on time, a white number above his head shows how much Matteo has earned.

As you read this text, around 20,000 people are baking digital pizza. "Work in a pizzeria" is the name of the game and is one of the most successful titles on Roblox, a mixture of social network and gaming platform. Roblox is a phenomenon in the USA. In December 2017, Roblox overtook Youtube in the USA as the website where children under 13 spend most of their time. This is shown by figures from the market research company ComScore. The phenomenon now wants to conquer the world. The German version of the platform started a few days ago.

There is no question that it has educational potential. However, parents need to encourage and direct this potential. If they do not, the children could sink into the enormous selection. And not all worlds are as innocent as opening a pizzeria.

You can tell that most of the players are still so young. The look, which looks like a mixture of Lego and Minecraft, the childish names of the players and the games themselves, which are usually short and straightforward. Many elements have been seen elsewhere, and better. The selection of titles in the games library is reminiscent of Netflix or Steam, the currency system of free games from the app store. In the game, players can earn virtual money, for example by baking pizza.

Players can create their own games in a simple programming language

So why is Roblox so successful? Part of that has to do with the fact that Roblox is basically free, although players can buy virtual money - so-called Robux - to unlock additional content. Most games can be played on cell phones, PCs, consoles and even 3D glasses. Like many other games and platforms, you get as many players as possible. The game portal stands out from all others in one point. The players can create their own games in a literally foolproof programming language. According to the company, more than four of the 90 million players a month develop around a million games - per month.

This is exactly why Roblox did well in a test by the specialist agency for youth media culture in North Rhine-Westphalia. Roblox-Studio's easy-to-understand programming environment encourages children's creativity. Advanced children can use the Lua scripting language to change the environment more and more and create more and more complex games.

Children learn to code in secret

The net is teeming with stories in which children are said to have learned to program with Roblox without their parents knowing. Roblox is also celebrated in some media. For example, last year Forbes magazine ran the headline: "This is how Roblox trains the next generation of game entrepreneurs." The story's title character is Alex Binello, who has never attended a programming class. Nevertheless, he developed the game "Meep City" on the portal, a kind of virtual city full of mini-games that ultimately made him a millionaire.

Because Roblox lives from the huge selection of games, the company distributes part of the income to the developers. It works like this: A player creates a game. If other players spend Robux on items in their game, they will be credited to the player. From this he can in turn buy his own items or have them paid out. $ 98 million has already been paid out in this way, the company says. "It's almost as if we're running 'American Idol' for aspiring game developers," says founder David Baszucki in Forbes magazine, describing the concept.

There are said to be more than 57 million games on Roblox. Many of them are everyday simulations in which players manage gas stations, farms or even pizzerias. Fan versions of famous games or films are also popular. The makers of these games simply copy characters, logos, sometimes entire storylines, which they then process into their own game.

Not all games are as innocent as opening a pizzeria. There are many shooters in which funny-looking characters have to steal cars and kill other players. Roblox was also not spared major scandals. A mother's video went viral last year. She filmed the virtual sex room that someone had built on Roblox and that her six-year-old daughter had been invited into. The video shows naked characters having sex. On YouTube there are bizarre "Let's Play" videos that lead through rooms full of golden genitals, which have now been deleted.

The USK is sitting at the table

Because of such cases, the game platform is soliciting the trust of parents. At the start of Germany, she announced that she would moderate chats between players and check games to see whether the characters in them are dressed. For parents, there will also be customer support in German in the future and the option to block access to certain games. In addition, the managing director of the German entertainment software self-regulation (USK), Elisabeth Secker, is to sit on the advisory committee for trust and security of the company.

The department for youth media culture recommends parents to regularly check new content on the platform anyway, because so many games end up there. Children should also not send cell phone numbers or pictures, because you can move around the platform completely anonymously. So nobody can know for sure who is behind an account.

Roblox's child-centric concept seems to be working. You can also tell from the way the colorful world of blocks affects other platforms that are otherwise not known for child-friendly comments. On Youtube, the video about baking pizza by MatteoMagDich has 185,000 clicks and 500 comments. No hateful comments, almost exclusively with praise. The most popular comment: "My favorite pizza is margarita. If you also like pizza, please like it."