Here's how one company is teaching children to code and program

Image Credit: Roblox

Combining education and gaming is nothing new and many of us grew up playing popular titles such as The Oregon Trail, Sim City and Reader Rabbit. However, with advances in both computing and graphical power, today's educational games offer children the ability to build their own virtual worlds. Mojang's Minecraft, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2014 for $2.5bn, is one recent example of how a software company was able to capitalize on this trend. 

Roblox, which hit 80m monthly active users this year, has taken a different approach by making coding a large component of its platform. To better understand how Roblox works and the way it emphasizes creation, TechRadar Pro spoke with the company's Chief Business Officer Craig Donato.

Roblox often draws a comparison with Minecraft, the other popular block-based game, acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion a few years ago. How does Roblox differ from Minecraft or from another virtual ecosystem, Secondlife, for that matter?

What makes Roblox unique is that we are a UGC platform. Our creator community built every single one of the more than 56+ million worlds you see on Roblox. We don’t produce any games ourselves, instead we fuel the imaginations of the more than 2M independent developers and creators–many who started as players on Roblox–by providing the tools and resources they need to bring their worlds to life.

These interactive 3D experiences offer something different - a collaborative, immersive space for shared experiences. The world’s are all very wide open and experiential, which is why we’re so attractive. Our mission to bring the world together through play; be that playing together to build a game, or to play a game. We believe that play, like sleep, is an essential for good health and happiness - Roblox taps into this instinctive need to use your imagination for self-directed play.

Image Credit: Roblox

Image Credit: Roblox

Roblox is primarily geared towards a younger audience, a notoriously difficult crowd to monetize. Parents of tweens and young teenagers will know about that. What is your revenue model?

Our business model is unique: we operate a functioning economy on our platform. We sell virtual currency to our players; our creators sell things in their games (cars, clothing, accessories, gear) and Roblox takes a fraction of these earnings. This economy is self-correcting. If creators are too aggressive with monetization, players will avoid the experience. When creators find engaging ways to monetize, those ideas quickly take off and inspire others.

We also make it really simple for our creators to make constant updates to their games. Top game creators are updating aspects of their games weekly or monthly which creates a dynamic experience for our users. Every time they log in they’re experiencing something different which keeps them coming back!

How do people make money on Roblox?

Developers can monetize their game to charge Robux, our virtual currency, for in-game items and experiences. Players can purchase Robux and then spend it on things like a fancy car or a piece of clothing in a game, and developers redeem  the Robux they earn for real money.  

Roblox's founder Dave Baszucki (Image Credit: Roblox)

Roblox's founder Dave Baszucki (Image Credit: Roblox)

Has Roblox rolled out any initiatives to encourage children to code and program?  

From the beginning, Roblox was created with the goal of teaching children to code and program, while also giving them an environment in which they can play and learn. Our founder, Dave Baszucki’s previous business was a coding education platform for children. Dave noticed that when kids completed the set curriculum, they stuck around, building new elements and playing with other children. Roblox was inspired by observing how kids learn through play.

Because all of the experiences on our platform are user generated, players get inspired and want to create something too. We foster that curiosity with free curriculum for educators to incorporate into school and after school programs, and share content and best practices with the community on the whole. In 2018, we also ran summer camps in more than 20 countries, teaching coding, game development and entrepreneurship– we reached over 50,000 children in Europe alone.

What’s more, twice a year we invite up-and-coming creators to join us at headquarters for a three-to-five month internship program to work on a new or existing game, collaborate with other developers, provide feedback to our engineering team and learn entrepreneurship skills.

Roblox also offers self-guided classes on our website, and hosts online forums for co-learning opportunities to encourage kids to build their first game in a really simple, step-by-step way.

Roblox is likely to reach 100M MAU in 2019; is the growth fuelled entirely by children or are there a growing number of grown-ups embracing it?

We already see many people stay with the platform from childhood, through to adulthood; they’ve grown up with us! Some of the most successful creators on the Roblox platform today started out as players when they were 7,8,9 or 10 years old. As they continue on the platform into middle school and high school ages, many began creating the next generation of experiences on the Roblox platform based on what they and their friends like to play, organically making the platform attractive to an even broader range of ages.

Roblox's is even used in schools to help children develop digital skills (Image Credit: Roblox)

Roblox's is even used in schools to help children develop digital skills (Image Credit: Roblox)

Do you happen to know of an ultimate Roblox encyclopedia for parents who want to embrace the platform?

Yes! We created a Roblox Parent’s Guide which has detailed information to help parents create the Roblox experience that is best suited for their child. This includes guidance on the platform’s safety features, and instructions on how to use them.

We also just recently hired a Director of Digital Civility, Laura Higgins, who is heading up our new Digital Civility Initiative. Through our new Digital Civility Initiative, we are investing in three main areas: platform innovations to inspire positive play for developers and players; equipping parents, caregivers and educators with actionable resources to promote community safety and digital civility; and partnering with digital safety leaders to strengthen the platform and make a positive impact on the industry.

Beyond this, the best way to gain a true understanding of the platform is to get involved. We know many parents who will sit and play Roblox with their children, but - if you’re not a gamer - it never hurts to watch your child as they figure out the platform and you can learn together.

Image Credit: Roblox

Image Credit: Roblox

Where do you see Roblox evolving over the next 24 months, particularly after the significant investments it had towards the end of 2018

International growth is a big focus for us. Our mission is to bring the world together through play. Today we have a global community of over 80 million monthly active users that spend close to 1 billion hours per month on our platform. Roblox users and developers come from more than three dozen countries, but until recently our games and the support services we provide have only been available in English.

The Roblox platform was launched in Spanish last year and we are now working on making resources available in other languages, including French, German and Brazilian Portuguese. Customer service support, community moderation and parental resources are increasingly available in these languages, and developers will also be able to translate their games into local languages and be paid in their local currency.

There’s much more to come - we’ve only scratched the surface!