September 9, 2022
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re diving into Roblox’s developer conference and the company’s tricky ambitions to serve kids and adults alike. Also: what to read, watch and play this weekend.
Roblox wants to shed its reputation. The game-making app, which counted a staggering 52.2 million daily players last quarter, is one of the most-used platforms for kids on the internet. With its blocky graphics and cartoony user-generated content, Roblox is one of the very few digital spaces that opens its arms to children under the age of 13 — the cutoff for the U.S.’s federal children's privacy law.
But that’s beginning to change. At its two-day developer conference, which kicks off today in San Francisco, Roblox is announcing a number of major changes to its platform designed to make it more appealing to its fastest-growing demographic: players ages 17 to 24. For a company with grand ambitions to build the metaverse, or what Roblox has coined “human co-experience,” catering to more than just kids is paramount. But inviting more adults onto the platform also carries unprecedented responsibility — and risk, too.
Roblox is increasingly dividing its app into two parts, with one half geared toward under-13 users and the other for those who verify they’re over 13. The goal is to foster more mature games and experiences on the platform and help those find the right audiences, while also giving parents more control over what their younger kids are exposed to.
Roblox is striving for more realism and immersion on the platform, and a big part of its push is enhancing the look and feel of avatars and adding real-time communication.
The other side of the immersion coin is chat, Bronstein told me. Roblox has for some time now been testing proximity voice chat (or what it has called Spatial Voice) for players over 13.
Roblox’s business hinges on attracting creators and advertisers. To that end, the company announced a suite of monetization and Roblox Marketplace updates today that are designed to lay the foundation for an economy that goes well beyond standard video game microtransactions.
The metaverse doesn’t exist yet, but Roblox is arguably the most ambitious and furthest along of the gaming and tech companies intent on making it a reality. And today’s announcements make clear that its for-kids, by-kids approach, which has hinged on turning young players into entrepreneurial game developers, has become a major funnel to its growth as a proper social network. If Roblox can keep that pipeline intact — and maneuver the inevitable moderation hurdles — it very well may win the metaverse race.
“Many [creators] were on the platform when they were 12 and have stayed on the platform for the last 10 to 12 years. Now they’re 22 and have their own studio and are creating something, or they hang with their friends on the platform,” Bronstein said. “The ambition of the metaverse and Roblox is so large we never thought we could do it by ourselves. We know it's their inventiveness and creativity that will make this thing amazing.”
— Nick Statt
Software is changing payments and banks should care: At Modern Treasury, we built a platform to complement banks’ existing products to help them prepare for a future led by software. We’re here to help them future-proof their business so that they can participate in and lead in the next phase of financial services.
The story behind Google’s Fuchsia OS — 9to5Google. Chris McKillop was one of the main people behind Fuchsia, Google’s new operating system for smart displays and other consumer electronics devices. 9to5Google’s interview with him is pretty geeky, but also pretty fascinating, as it charts the path from the much-maligned Nexus Q (the cannonball-shaped home audio device that Google ended up killing before its official launch) to modern smart displays and beyond. McKillop talks about what it takes to build an operating system, why that is very different from actually shipping it to millions of consumers, and why other companies may fork Fuchsia for their own devices in the future (something that Meta was planning to do for its AR efforts before deciding to stick with Android).
“Royal Britain: An Aerial History of the Monarchy” — Plex, Tubi. The death of Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of an era, and depending on whether they grew up in the U.K., in one of its former colonies or somewhere else altogether, people understandably have very different feelings about this moment. I firmly fall into the third bracket, and fully expect to learn more about the queen than I ever have while I’m inundated by the wall-to-wall coverage over the next couple of days. If you, like me, could use a bit of a refresher on the British monarchy, I recommend this documentary, which delivers a very different perspective: Consisting entirely of aerial shots, the film takes a look at the many castles that had once been part of the British empire, and explains their role in the country’s history.
Interkosmos 2000 — Meta Quest. When it first launched in 2017 for PC VR, Interkosmos was hailed as an equally clever and terrifying simulator of 1970s space travel. In that same spirit, Interkosmos 2000 lets you try your luck as an astronaut in a Y2K-era spaceship. Interkosmos 2000 is a bit like Job Simulator, but instead of flipping burgers, you’re charged with saving humanity from within a tiny spaceship that runs on floppy disks. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently a lot, judging from the fact that the training session already asks you to hit random instruments with a wrench in order to “fix” them.
“Ivy & Bean” — Netflix. If you’ve got kids, you’ll surely know Annie Barrows’ “Ivy & Bean” book series about two girls who overcome their differences and become best friends as they discover the adventurous sides of their neighborhood. (And if you have kids and don’t know the series, change that, stat!) Netflix’s adaptation of the book series is pretty adorable, and shows kids and grown-ups alike how much fun you can have once you leave your comfort zone.
— Janko Roettgers
Software is changing payments and banks should care: Activities that once took place in person or over the phone—getting a loan, making a payment, investing in a security—now occur entirely within software. Covid has only accelerated this trend. To remain a part of clients' financial lives, banks need to play well with software.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you Tuesday.