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Roblox wants an older audience, but it’s leaving younger players behind

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Nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic, Carolyn, a mother of six, has finally knelt down to beg for her children. Her kids wanted to join Roblox, a platform that allows users to create and host online multiplayer games. Roblox became an important way for children to connect virtually during the pandemic, and despite their concerns about children 12 and under interacting with others online, Carolyn and her husband decided to let them play. decided. Two years later, changes to content moderation in Roblox have made it harder for her to control what her young children see. She made the difficult decision to stop allowing her children to play.

“Okay, I’m done. Done. I deleted my kids’ Roblox accounts, and recommend you guys do the same. I just spent six hours playing the game for 5 year olds and it That was terrible. Something is very, very wrong with Roblox Corp.” she said in a tweet thread,

In the following tweets, Carolyn described additional troubling material she encountered while playing on stage, including a game public bathroom simulator which mimicked the environment of a public toilet. Caroline told Play Gamez that she expected some potty humour, but what she found was much worse. In the game, his character tripped over a puddle and got stuck on the ground. Later, other players in the game appear to be role-playing simulated an attack About her character, an incident that has happened to others on Roblox.

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Anyone can make a game on Roblox. The platform works almost like YouTube — instead of uploading videos, any user can design and publish games, or as Roblox calls it, “experiences” for others to play. This gives young users enormous opportunities to develop and play any virtual world and game they imagine. According to a Roblox spokesperson, the platform had 58.8 million daily active users in the third quarter of 2022, 46% of whom identified as under the age of 13.

This presents a content moderation problem. According to Roblox’s website, users can choose from approximately 9 million experiences. This sheer volume of experiences makes it more challenging to moderate, despite the company’s active role in monitoring the platform.

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Roblox filters out potentially inappropriate user-created skins and chats, as well as personal information. The company says that it employs a team of “thousands” to monitor the platform for inappropriate content and that its trust and safety team usually takes “minutes” to address any behavior that threatens their use. Violates the Terms and Community Standards. Nevertheless, games that simulate slavery and fascism, or games that simulate mass shootings, have come to the platform.

For most of 2022, individual Roblox games did not have “age appropriateness” designations or ratings, as the platform’s target audience was only young children. Parents can restrict their kids’ accounts so that kids can only play on a set list of games curated by Roblox, along with other safety features like disabling chat.

However, in September, Roblox launched “Experience Guidelines”, which include age ratings for games, seemingly to cater to the growing number of users over the age of 13 on the platform. The games now have three possible age group labels — all ages, 9 and over, and 13 and over — and the age recommendations are “based on child development research” and “industry standards,” according to the Roblox Developers Conference blog. Parents now have the option to limit access to certain games based on age recommendations.

It’s up to everyday people making games on Roblox to make sure their content has age-appropriateness ratings. To do this, developers fill out an experience questionnaire – specifying whether the game depicts violence and its frequency, intensity level, and presence of blood – which will generate a recommended age group for their game. As of January, games whose developers haven’t filled out the experience questionnaire will no longer be recommended for young users. (The dev forum doesn’t specify whether young users can still freely discover these games.)

Image of a game in Roblox called Public Bathroom Simulator.  A group of characters hang out in the bathroom and there is a puddle on the floor.

a roblox game called public bathroom simulator,
Image: TallyValley / Roblox

Play Gamez spoke to a Roblox developer who specializes in making family-friendly games and who wished to remain anonymous because of his relationship with Roblox. He believes that Roblox is taking strong steps to notify parents, but it is ultimately up to the parents to monitor their kids’ activity.

“Roblox is making big changes and trying to inform parents about content found in particular games with age guidelines, but it’s still up to parents to supervise their young children And teach them to follow online safety guidelines and rules,” he said.

Caroline and her husband took an active role in their children’s digital lives and regularly played Roblox games with their children. she and her husband grew up playing sports like runescape And ragnarok onlineSo both were aware of the potential dangers of playing online with others.

“We had a pretty good idea of ​​things that could go on, and things that could be published with just text and voice chat. And then, more recently, user-manipulating games — like games where you can put things in and change things about your character — I think that’s the main thing for parents to be concerned about. A new thing of sorts has opened up.

These Experience Guidelines only add to the existing moderation challenges on the platform. Although the content of some games may be deemed age-appropriate by the developers, children can still interact with others on the platform through role-playing. Role-playing games with fictional elements and characters interacting are among the most popular on this platform. This opens up opportunities for inappropriate interaction, either via chat or with role-playing elements. So a game may not contain blood or any age-restricted content that is marked as appropriate by the survey, yet a user can go into the game and simulate an attack.

The Roblox Terms of Use and Community Standards have relatively strict content rules compared to other platforms and social media sites like YouTube. For example, Roblox prohibits depictions of romance and depictions of political parties in addition to explicitly banning content about extremist groups. To enforce these rules, the company also moderates through a reporting system, which allows users or parents to report a specific user or game that violates the Roblox Terms.

An image of video game characters standing outside a virtual public office building.  Some of the characters look like chunky Lego-like Roblox characters.

Image: Roblox

Play Gamez reached out to Roblox and received the following comment:

“To determine the appropriateness of content for each age group, we examined global industry standards and consulted with child development experts to guide our policies. experiences highlighted [Carolyn’s] The Twitter thread is marked ‘All Ages’ because the content is generally appropriate for all ages and may contain mild violence and/or mild unrealistic blood,” a Roblox spokesperson said via email. told.

The spokesperson also said that while the new system has expanded the pool of experiences, the company has upgraded parental controls so parents can customize access to experiences based on age recommendations.

While the share of older Roblox players is growing, a significant number of users under the age of 13 remain. It is true that Roblox takes a stronger stance in content moderation than other content platforms, but still, such changes may expose its younger users to more age-inappropriate content on the platform. after tweeting other parent And members of the family said they removed the game and other shared their own horror stories,

So for now, stuck between massive changes at a company and the whims of her kids, Caroline sticks to her decision to delete her accounts. Luckily for him, it seemed like it all turned out well.

“I was expecting a huge, like, meltdown. But they were really cool with it. They’re like, Well, you know, if it’s safe, we’ll play again. and I was like, Yes. Wow. Ok. cool.,

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