My 4-year old son has recently really been into Roblox, and I've found myself being surprisingly into it as well.
I found myself having held onto some misconceptions about the game from the time I had only seen screenshots or brief let's play videos of it, but hadn't actually played it. So here's what I've learned after actually playing and getting into it for a few weeks.
What is Roblox?
An online game that visually looks a bit like Minecraft, but in reality is nothing like it. The biggest misconception I held was that it would be some kind of a Minecraft clone, which is completely untrue as it actually predates Minecraft by several years and the gameplay is nothing like it.
First off, despite the name, it isn't block based — you can have freeform 3D models in there. Second, it's not actually even a game in itself, but rather a platform for building and easily sharing games. It's a lot like Second Life, with the exception that the world is not continuous, but split into separate experiences, which you select by browsing for a game just as you might choose a movie on Netflix.
While it such discontinuity might sound like a downside, the upside is that each experience can be distinctly different, not just in the 3D environment within but even the rules of each game can be completely different. Even though Roblox itself calls them "games", many of them are just fun experiences with no strict win/lose rules.
The most exciting thing is the vibrant community with millions of players, which means that you usually don't find yourself alone when exploring.
As in Second Life, the experiences are not created by the company behind Roblox, but are created by the community. What the company provides is an editor for creating these experiences, and client software for running them.
The editor is called Roblox Studio, which is similar to Unity in that you can place 3D models around and script them in the editor. The community has created not just entire experiences, but also subpieces such as audio clips and models which you can drag straight into your project so smoothly that it doesn't even feel like importing anything.
The scripting language is Lua, and the editor allows you to write both client and server code in the same language in the same editor. To test games you can even spawn a server and several clients with just one click. Spawning servers to meet the demand of each game is taken care of automatically.
Once a creator is finished with their thing, they can publish it to Roblox directly from the editor and have it ready to be played by anyone instantly. The company provides client software that lets users launch these experiences from their phone, web browser or game console. The great thing is that all of these clients can join the same game, so you can play together even if your friend is on a different kind of device.
To encourage creators to make these games and experiences, players buy virtual currency called Robux and can spend it inside of the games. The split is such that if a user spends a dollar worth of money in their game, the creator gets about $0.25, the company behind Roblox gets $0.50 and the rest goes to pay for the Apple/Google/etc. tax depending on which client was used.
What kind of Roblox games are there?
The variety is almost as great as with YouTube videos. There is a game about any topic you can imagine, and so far any random thing we've searched for we've found an experience for. There are thousands and thousands of them, but I'll just describe a few we've tried.
For example, this is a game that starts at an airport. You WASD around to find the gate to board a plane along with a dozen other players. Once you are in the plane, you are supposed to find your seat, and then there is a surprise announcement: this plane is actually owned by the president of the United States, who has invited you to hang out with him!
He then gives you various tasks, such as mopping up the floors of the plane, cooking him food etc. until finally you can all rest in his fancy private airplane bedroom. Except that during the night a scary ghost appears and tries to kill you all. You run away, and if you fail you have to do everything from the beginning again, unless of course you spend some Robux.
You are a dog. You walk around a house with other players, who in this experience all also appear as dogs. You can do dog things such as pooping on the floor. That's it.
Despite the limitations such as the dog just being a static 3D model with no animations whatsoever, there are always players around and even this has racked up over 11 million visits. Just goes to show how incredibly popular Roblox is.
You can even choose to become a more rare dog breed — if you pay some Robux, of course.
When you launch this game you find yourself on an island floating in midair, with a bunch of other people who are all holding balloons for some reason. Soon you discover that by clicking your mouse you can inflate your balloon a little bit, which enables you to jump higher.
You look up and see that besides this floating island you are on, there are also other floating things above, and in the distance even other floating islands. By inflating your balloon more and more, you can jump higher to reach more and more of these places.
The goal then becomes clear: I must get my balloon to be as large as possible to reach higher. You find that besides just clicking your mouse to inflate the balloon, you can also collect coins and gems laying around, and can use them to purchase upgrades such as a bigger balloon or packs of helium.
And of course, you can expedite your progress even more if you spend some Robux.
As my final example, I'll describe this non-game experience that we visited in the beginning when we were just getting into Roblox. Later on I realized that this elevator simulator is not just one game, but actually an entire genre of experiences, with many similar places existing from different developers.
When you enter, you find yourself in a building lobby with an elevator just ahead. When the elevator doors open, you find that there are many other people already riding. The doors close, and you wonder where the elevator will take you. Turns out that everyone else is wondering the same thing as well, as this is a magical elevator that takes you to a random place each time.
For instance when the doors open, you might find yourself in a room where for some reason tacos are raining from the ceiling and there is a song playing in the background with the lyrics singing "it's raining tacos". After a few seconds the elevator doors close again, and everyone waits to see what the next floor will be.
As the doors open again, this time you could be in a room with giant heads of president Obama that you can briefly jump and climb around on. Or you might have Justin Bieber approaching you, or get unwittingly Rickrolled by a looping Rick Astley animation. Sometimes the doors don't open at all and something else happens such as the elevator suddenly crushing you like the trash compactor scene from Star Wars.
Sometimes you are able to find items you can carry from room to room with you for a while, or you can also choose from among some nice premium items — as long as you pay some Robux, of course.
Because of its large community Roblox is definitely a fun place to explore. There is always more to do, and the system is malleable enough that all kinds of completely distinct experiences are possible; someone even ported Doom to it. There is a huge number of child-friendly experiences there, easy enough for even a toddler to enjoy as long as a parent is present to sort out the bugs and keep them out from scary places.
When you visit a new experience, all bets are off — anything can happen. That's the fun of it. The downside of this unlimited creativity is that a lot of the places are buggy, or so old that they have never been tested on mobile devices, which means that some places can crash Roblox on a mobile device. But that's OK, there is always somewhere else to go, and if you want to find something with a good chance of being interesting and working properly you can always sort games by reviews or popularity.
There are even some premium experiences you can try, if you pay some Robux first of course!
Thanks for reading
So there you have it, a summary of our first few weeks on Roblox. Since then I've gotten more into the Roblox Studio editor as well. Here's an example of what I was able to create with it after spending just a few nights learning: Birthday Party.