“A video game empire built not by child labor,” is how The Guardian described Roblox in its new material. Using the example of several young developers, the publication talked about how the company turns a blind eye to financial exploitation, intimidation and harassment by adult users.

How do young users become victims of exploitation?

  • One of the central plots of The Guardian’s material is the story of the girl Anna (name changed). She started making Roblox games at the age of 10 and quickly got involved in the process.
  • A few years later, several 20-year-old developers noticed her work, offering her work on an ambitious project and 10% of all potential revenue. She agreed and eventually helped make one of the most popular games on Roblox (the title of the title is not disclosed).
  • At the age of 16, Anna was already earning more than her parents combined. According to her calculations, her annual income could exceed $ 300 thousand. Such success motivated the girl to refuse to go to college.
  • She was responsible for almost all the components of the game — from animations and 3D models to sound and level design. At the same time, Anna did not have any contract. The payment guarantee was based only on the word of honor of enterprising users who invited her to the project and in whose name the account was registered.
  • One day they reported that they were transferring all developers to a fixed payment. In this case, Anna would have lost 40% of her income, but she could not influence the decision in any way. The girl decided to leave the project, left with nothing.
  • Anna was afraid to go to court, and any message she posted on the Roblox forum about the situation was marked as “harassment”. At the same time, the game she was working on was promoted by the company as an independent success story on the platform, ignoring behind-the-scenes problems.
  • Anna’s case is far from the only one. Last year, the author of the People Make Games channel told in detail the stories of other users who were victims of exploitation and manipulation.

Processing and harassment of minors

  • Another example of exploitation of young developers is the story of the game Sonic Eclipse Online (an amateur parody of the Sonic the Hedgehog series). In 2017, at that time, 12-year-old Regan Green was invited to work on the project as a programmer.
  • The creator of Sonic Eclipse Online, Jadon Shedletsky, who was 24 at the time, turned out to be a rather demanding leader. According to Green, he forced to recycle, threatening to replace the young developer with another.
  • “I was constantly trying to improve the project, but Shedletsky always demanded more from me, and as a result I simply burned out. I broke down under such pressure,” Green notes. At the same time, Shedletsky himself denies threats from his side and claims that the team did not have a standardized schedule, since they were not a professional studio.
  • A girl named Rachel (name changed) also worked on Sonic Eclipse Online. At the age of 12, she faced harassment and indecent behavior from Shedletsky.
  • Roblox has internal tools for communication between developers and users. These chats are moderated using special software. However, Shedletsky preferred to communicate with the team in Discord.
  • According to Rachel, he first wrote her personal messages, telling her about the progress of the development and making her feel exceptional. As a child, she lacked attention and care. As a result, she quickly became fascinated by Shedletsky and began to have feelings for him.
  • The Guardian has reviewed some of the messages from their correspondence. According to the publication, as a result, Shedletsky began to joke about rape and send Rachel images of a sexual nature. At that time, she was still 12 years old.
  • Such harassment continued until Rachel left the team in early 2020. Her friends helped her create an online document with details of the history and screenshots of the correspondence.
  • Shedletsky posted a video in response, accusing the girl of attention-seeking. Now he refuses these words, but insists that all the messages were just a bad joke.
  • At the same time, Shedletsky continued to lead the development of Sonic Eclipse Online. Roblox did not pay attention to the public accusations until the company received an official complaint. It was signed by the mother of Japanese developer KK, who found out about Rachel’s situation.
  • As a result, Shedletsky’s account was blocked, and Sonic Eclipse Online was removed from the platform after a SEGA complaint. However, KK believes that the company initially acted hesitantly: “If Roblox had provided the support needed in this situation, this would never have happened.”

Can Roblox become a “lucky ticket”?

  • SharkBite is one of the most popular games on Roblox, which has been played over a billion times. It was developed by two 24-year-old users, Max Entwistle and Simon Burgess.
  • When they were in college, SharkBite started bringing in millions of dollars annually. As a result, Roblox has become a springboard into the industry for developers. They founded their own studio, having no experience in other companies.
  • “When I graduated from college, I just wouldn’t have been able to find a better—paying job compared to my current income,” Entwistle noted.
  • According to Roblox commercial director Craig Donato, last year the company paid developers more than $ 500 million. This is a huge amount. However, only a thousand games on the platform have earned over $ 30 thousand over the past 12 months.

What does Roblox do to help young developers?

  • In November, Roblox co—founder David Baszucki told investors that user safety is the company’s top priority.
  • Now there are over two thousand moderators working on the platform, who view the uploaded content and manually check complaints. According to Donato, the means to ensure the security of users are superior to any other solutions.
  • However, most of these tools are aimed at combating harmful content or unacceptable behavior inside Roblox. They do not protect young users in any way from exploitation or harassment that they may encounter during joint development.
  • The heroes of the above stories note that they simply have nowhere to turn and report problems. There are no special departments on the platform to help developers. The company also does not give advice to users on how to behave properly when working in a team and not become a victim of financial fraud or harassment.
  • Roblox itself justifies this by saying that problems like burnout, inappropriate behavior of team leaders and exploitation go beyond its responsibilities.
  • “Roblox has no employment relationship with authors who develop content on the platform,” the company claims. However, some are convinced that a platform aimed at young users should take better care of their safety.