'Roblox' lets indie game devs publish across platforms -- in a bubble

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Jessica Conditt
September 24, 2015 9:00 AM
'Roblox' lets indie game devs publish across platforms -- in a bubble

Roblox CEO David Baszucki has grand plans for his app's launch on Xbox One. Roblox is a free game-creating program that already has 6 million monthly players across PC, iOS and Android, and Baszucki expects that number to climb when it hits Xbox One on December 3rd. The app allows users to create their own games -- action, simulators, shooters, capture the flag, basically anything -- and then publish (and make money off of) those creations simultaneously on all Roblox platforms. "An indie game developer, really for the first time ever, is going to be able to create a game that pushes to phone, tablet, computer and console," Baszucki says. "The exact same game." This isn't a simple feat.

Roblox offers a specific kind of multi-platform publishing. Games made and published within the system are hosted in the cloud and streamed to players' mobile devices, PCs and (soon) Xbox Ones. If a game explodes in popularity and 10,000 people begin playing it concurrently, for example, Roblox automatically shards it so everyone has a smooth experience across all platforms, Baszucki says.

"We're really trying to make it easy for first-time game developers to get their creations out there, to have a big audience -- 6 million monthly people -- who can consume and play their games," Baszucki says. "And now we're bringing that to console."

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Simultaneous development is a big issue for many developers. It takes extra time, resources and cash to create a game for more than one platform, since mechanics and user interfaces are often specialized for each system. Plus, most major companies -- think Apple, Microsoft and Sony -- impose unique regulations on every incoming game. It's difficult enough for studios, especially small ones, to develop for one platform, let alone multiple at once.

Microsoft came under scrutiny for its launch-parity requirements in December 2013, at the height of next-gen mania. Alongside its announcement of the Xbox One, Microsoft had launched its independent-game outreach program, ID@Xbox, which offered developers two dev kits, a Unity license and the ability to self-publish their games on Xbox One. It also asked developers to release their games on Xbox One and other platforms at the same time, a move that drew criticism from many independent studios. Microsoft has since removed the requirement.

Games made in Roblox stay on the system and they can't be published independently, since Roblox hosts their code. Plus, a game made for mobile devices doesn't automatically translate to a living-room console environment, and vice versa. But that's just fine, Baszucki says, since developers are learning valuable game-making skills and they can earn money directly through Roblox.

"They're not just in Roblox," he says. "They're playing with Unity; they're playing with Java dev stuff; they're playing with XNA; they're playing with other stuff. It's not just like an isolated culture of Roblox-only people."

Most Roblox developers are between the ages of 15 and 22, and the most successful earn six figures a year from their games, Baszucki says. Hundreds of developers bring in at least $250 a month, which is the threshold for the developer exchange system, or DevEx, that allows users to translate in-game currency to real cash.

When Roblox hits Xbox One in December, it'll include about 25 games that have been optimized for the console. And Baszucki knows a bit about what makes Xbox One tick.

"We've had a relationship with Microsoft for a while," he says. "It's bigger than just Xbox -- we use Azure for some of our cloud stuff. PC Windows is a very big platform for us as well."

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'Roblox' lets indie game devs publish across platforms -- in a bubble