Roblox planned numerous concessions to Chinese state censorship and expected its game be hacked and cloned by Chinese companies as part of its launch in the country, an astonishing cache of leaked internal documents has revealed.
The details, published by Vice, come from documents recently obtained by a hacker and held to ransom, before being posted online. Vice has said it has published these details to shine a light on the lengths that Western companies can be forced to go to if they decide to enter the Chinese market.
Revelations revealed in the report include instructions to Roblox employees in one internal presentation to “expect that hacking has already started” and that it would “ramp up after a deal is signed, possibly even by [Roblox’s] partner”.
Indeed, there are eye-opening accusations by Roblox that it expected its own partner Tencent to clone the game and launch its own version, and that “hundreds of people” would likely be set on reverse-engineering Roblox code sat on Chinese servers.
“Expect them to be successful,” the presentation concluded.
A presentation given to Roblox by Tencent, meanwhile, included demands that the game “respect the integrity of the country and not misrepresent the Chinese territory”, including recognising areas “prone to errors” such as Taiwan and Tibet.
Roblox was also warned it “must not tamper with historical facts” – presumably, as China sees them – and not include “images or names of national leaders”.
Vice’s report makes clear that there is no evidence Tencent did target Roblox.
Roblox’s Chinese version, named LuoBuLeSi, launched in July 2021 but was shut just five months later.
“The slide you reference was from 2017, before we had a formal joint venture relationship in place,” a Roblox spokesperson told Vice, in reference to the presentation on Tencent hacking the company. “As normal for a company entering into a new market, we consider risks and opportunities and plan for them.
“Roblox policy is to comply with the laws of the regions in which we operate, including China.”
Roblox has yet to announce its plans to return to China.
As you’d expect, Vice’s full report is well worth a read.