This is How Roblox Beats Facebook in the Race For the Metaverse

Published on September 20th, 2022
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Roblox's Nikeland illustration

Other new features include the ability for players aged 13 and older to chat with avatars that are close to them on Roblox. They can also import their contact lists and discover pals within a game.

If this doesn’t sound like a metaverse, I don’t know what does.

Roblox illustration on a smartphone.

London residents Alan and Sinéidin Cooper described how their two daughters, ages 5 and 10, as well as their 7-year-old-son, each spent around five hours a week playing Roblox before the pandemic. Now that time has increased, owing to the platform's ability to link people together. The family spends $40 to $45 worth of Robux every month on average.

“It’s a great way for them to socialize,” Mr. Cooper said.

Despite having such a loyal userbase, Roblox has difficulty turning a profit. In 2020, its net loss amounted to $253.3 million, up from $71 million the previous year. It has said it will keep investing in its platform, which boasts many features, such as long-distance learning, conference hosting, and concert streaming capacity.

But let’s pause for a moment and think about what tech giants have been doing.

 

How Roblox Has So Much More Downloads Than Facebook’s Metaverse

Facebook and Meta Logo.

Many experts believe that the Metaverse—a term that was coined in Neal Stephenson’s speculative sci-fi novel Snow Crash—will be successful only after many people start using augmented and virtual reality. Somehow, CEOs like Apple's Tim Cook and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg have gotten too excited about 3D and immersive experiences. They demand something engaging by aiming to make their version of the Metaverse indistinguishable from the real world. Microsoft's Mesh platform is designed to make it easier for AR and VR hardware to work together in immersive, networked worlds. The platform makes use of Microsoft Azure cloud services to provide the necessary technical infrastructure.

These are all technological marvels aimed at adult engineers. Teenagers don't care.

The popularity of Roblox has been due in part to its low-end technology. It works on iOS, Android, PC, Mac, and Xbox One, as well as in VR experiences using the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index headsets on PC. Setting up a Roblox account is simple; free players can play unrestrictedly. The company is less focused on making digital experiences seem real than in making them accessible. Roblox users, developers, and creators come from all corners of the globe.

The average Roblox player may not notice, but those low-resolution graphics actually work in the game's favor by providing consistent building blocks that make it easy to create something new. The things that make Roblox “better” are the parts that are enabled by these constraints.

What are the results? There is a wide range of material to discover. As of September 30, 2020, there were over 18 million Roblox experiences, and during the twelve months that ended September 30, 2020, nearly 12 million of these were enjoyed by Roblox's user base. It's not a high-end metaverse that tech giants would admire. In his article for Stratechery, Ben Thompson referred to Roblox as the Microverse.

But this is classic low-end disruption. That’s how Facebook launched its first social network targeting university students at Harvard and MIT. That’s how Apple launched the first smart phone, which suffered call drops far more than Nokia. That’s how Sony launched its first transistor radio targeting teenagers who wanted to listen to rock music but didn’t care about the sound quality. You don’t start from the top, you disrupt from the bottom. Roblox has found popularity by catering to a demographic that tech giants ignore: teenagers.

That's how in 2022, the VR platform owned by Meta—Facebook’s parent—has 300,000 monthly users. Roblox? Over 200 million.

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