Roblox, a highly popular website where people go to play and create video games, no longer wants the public to think of it that way. As Roblox presently describes it, it’s a place to go and have fun. On its platform, Roblox no longer refers to itself as a “game.”
What is the significance of this? It all comes down to the ongoing Epic Games vs. Apple Computer trial, in which the game developer and publisher accuses Apple of restricting competition on the App Store. Epic lawyers brought up the Roblox app during court proceedings on May 6 as part of a long-winded discussion on what’s allowed on the App Store.
Apple has a certification procedure in place to verify that all of its apps follow its criteria. Apple not only considers games differently than applications, but it has consistently rejected game streaming services, citing the service’s iOS app’s ability to host “a store within a store.”
Roblox, which allows users to spend virtual cash within player-created games, could hypothetically bypass Apple’s standards on approving all content, as well as its prohibitions on stores within apps. Fornite was effectively removed from the App Store for violating the same rules.
In an email, Apple’s marketing chief, Trystan Kosmynka, expressed “surprise” that Roblox was authorised for the App Store in 2017. During the trial, Kosmynka defended her decision by claiming that Apple did not consider Roblox to be a location where people went to play games.
“I look at the experiences in Roblox that are similar to the experiences in Minecraft,” Kosmynka explained. “These are maps,” I explain. These are different planets. And they have limits to what they are capable of.”
On May 14, all mentions of the term “game” were removed from the Roblox platform. For example, the “games” tab has been renamed “explore.” When asked why the modifications were made, a Roblox spokesman told Polygon, “The term ‘experiences’ is congruent with how we’ve expanded our vocabulary to match our realisation of the metaverse.”
However, the timing strongly suggests that Apple intimidated one of the world’s largest gaming firms — more than half of US youngsters under the age of 16 logged on to play Roblox in 2020 — into labelling what are clearly games as not being games.
While some of the content on Roblox could be considered “experiences,” the majority of the offers are still games. Roblox supports game creation with its own coding language and an array of tools, allowing large game companies with 40-person teams to pop up around the site. These games, which include racing games, pet simulators, 3D platformers, and even first-person shooters, are profitable enough that, according to a Roblox spokesman, more than 300 of the company’s developers will make over $100,000 in 2020.
On May 17, further complicating matters during the trial, Apple stated that games within apps are OK as long as the firm behind the app accepts responsibility for the content. Phil Schiller, one of the company’s Apple Fellows, testified further that Roblox’s games can remain on the platform since they are created by “creators” rather than official game “developers.”
Roblox developers, Schiller seems to claim, are not the same as full-fledged game creators – hence Roblox may exist on the platform. (It should be mentioned that Fortnite also features a variety of player-created levels, games, and maps.) However, as of this writing, copy on some official Roblox site still avoids words like “game.”
Prior to 2021, Roblox enjoyed near-invisibility; but, with an IPO under its belt, the platform not only receives mainstream exposure, but also the scrutiny that comes with it.
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