Playing for free in multiplayer and building its mini-games, targeting children and teenagers, is Roblox's hit cocktail: the video game platform has just surpassed 150 million users, reaching a reference of the genre, Minecraft.
By announcing that it has crossed this symbolic mark at the beginning of August, Roblox confirms its success in the wake of Fortnite or Electronics Art's latest, Apex Legends, on a substantially identical model: free access but incentive to spend on accessories in games.
Until now, mainly American or Asian, now also European, Roblox users, mostly children or teenagers, the majority of whom are between 9 and 12 years old, rush to the mobile app or computer after school to participate in races strewn with pitfalls, escape from prison, dive in search of buried treasures or... build their own adventure park.
Of course, the scenarios do not present much newness, and the simplistic aesthetic cannot compete with the works that come out of the studios today.
But 3D games on Roblox have the distinction of being entirely designed by young users — usually those over the age of 16 — within a universe that provides them with the tools to code.
"It's not a game; it's a platform to create and play," Chris Misner, president of Roblox International earlier this year, told AFP.
Laurent Michaud, a research director at the Idate think tank, said: "There is a lot of underestimating how user content production generates audience engagement," he said on Tuesday.
A commitment that affects, according to Mr. Misner: Roblox does not spend a penny on advertising, based solely on word of mouth with its primary target, 6-12-year-olds.
"We have positive cash flows," said the president, whose company now claims a valuation of 2.5 billion euros (3.7 million $CAN) after its last fundraiser last September.
"They started from nothing, without a community or a known license. But now the community is strong, the game is good, it is called to settle permanently in this segment of the population," predicts Mr. Michaud.
"Lots of games very well."
Roblox derives its revenue from user expenses. If playing is free, you need to get "Robux," a virtual currency, make purchases in the game, customize your character or move faster.
Revenues shared with the creators of mini-games, who will share $100 million in 2019, some even touching a lot: after giving birth to several mini-games, a 19-year-old American has raised more than one million euros thanks to the success of his Jailbreak (Escape), launched in April 2017.
But the majority of the 56 million games available do not generate real enthusiasm and will never benefit their creators.
"Last year, I was playing Blocks Bird with friends. You have to have a job; you can make houses and go to your friends' house to have a party," says Edouard Chatelain-Moor, an 11-year-old Washington resident.
"Now, I rarely play. There are a lot of games very well, but after a while, you get a little tired because updates are rare," he observes.
Launched in 2006 on PC, Roblox took off ten years later. The platform is now available on most media, from consoles to virtual reality headsets, and it organizes themed colonies to teach children how to code games.
Some 700 moderators monitor the platform, which does not prevent incidents. In June 2018, a 7-year-old American girl showed her mom the tablet where two other male avatars were attacking her avatar. A scene that the mother, Amber Petersen, described as a "rape in a meeting."
"We were upset that someone broke the code of conduct in this way," Mr. Misner responds. "It was a particular incident. We were able to control it quickly and put protections in place," he says.
However, an inconsequential incident, since two months later, the sandbox of video games carried out a new fundraiser.