The popular online game Roblox has over 120 million active monthly users and encourages children to build and create their own games on the platform in which they can play games, role play and even develop friendships that can extend beyond the screen — sort of like a giant virtual playground.
The company, which is valued at $4 billion and raised $150 million in Series G funding in February 2020, claimed in 2019 that more than half of all American children ages 9-12 used its platform. In December 2019, Roblox broke into the top five most-watched games on YouTube, along with Minecraft and Fortnite.
But when a mother's story about her 7-year-old daughter's avatar suffering a sexual assault in a Roblox game spread a few years ago, parents panicked: Many declared they were deleting the game from their children's devices or that they would never let them play it.
Like many parenting decisions, this one might not be so clear cut. While parents always need to stay vigilant and involved with their children's online gaming activity, Roblox does have a lot to offer its young users.
Child development and parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa told TODAY Parents Roblox is excellent practice for the world of online, inter-connected gaming for both kids and their parents. "There is a lot to love here," she said. "They will learn communication skills, enhance their creativity, and build strategies that will help in academic and real life."
The game can lead to real opportunity. All 40 million of the games in Roblox are developed by its over 2 million users who create games within the platform, and Roblox has been able to pay the developers if a user chooses to spend some of the virtual Roblox currency — which costs actual money — in the games they created. As a result, one creator earned more than $3 million from Roblox in 2017, according to an article for Business Insider.
Roblox also has real academic value. In the summer of 2018, Roblox introduced an initiative called Roblox Education. The company offered free, configurable courseware for teachers to use in STEM classrooms as well as Roblox Studio, which used their platform to teach coding to children in over 500 camps and online classes in coding.
The company has also introduced a newer resource, "Teaching Remotely," that includes over 100 hours of free content certified by the International Society for Technology in Education that can be used to teach game design and coding fundamentals in remote learning environments.
For kids on their own at home, Roblox now offers the "Learn & Explore" resource, a series of self-paced programs designed to help kids and teens create their first Roblox games. More in-depth tutorials on coding, game development, and design are also available for those looking to create immersive environments from scratch, according to the company's press release.
The "Learn & Explore" feature also includes games like Bird Simulator, which gives players the feeling of flight through their favorite bird while searching for berries and water and Word Bomb, which teaches players how to spell words and type in a fast-paced competition against other players.
Despite these positive elements, Gilboa warned that parents cannot grow complacent when it comes to any online gaming platform, including Roblox: It still presents a lot of opportunities for bad behavior.
"Don't think that the primary colors and younger kids playing mean that this is safe," she said. "Your supervision and engagement is the only way to use this game as a positive influence in your child's life."
This article was originally published on August 20, 2018.