Roblox is a curious beast. While the platform is often characterized as a monolithic entity, it is in reality sprawling and multi-faceted, filled with over 20 million different user-generated games. Industry professionals and analysts looking from the outside in are often impressed by its scale and KPIs, but since Roblox’s target demographic remains kids and young adults, what its players actually do or play when they’re romping around inside the black box that is Roblox is something of a mystery to most adults.
For those us who are parents, it’s hard to ignore the outsized presence of the platform. Perhaps you’ve noticed the janky UI or the low-poly aesthetic of a Roblox game, or the frequent requests for a credit card with which to buy more Robux for your child. But the likelihood that any one parent truly grasps the appeal of the platform’s games and its influence on its player base is slim — that is unless you’ve begun investigating the platform for yourself.
The most successful “experiences” — Roblox prefers not to refer to its content as “games” for fear Apple would consider the platform in violation of App Store rules — often bear a resemblance to mobile free-to-play games. That’s unsurprising since 72% of Roblox user sessions take place on mobile devices. There are some striking differences between conventional mobile games and Roblox games, though, not least of which is the fact that all Roblox games take place in 3D virtual spaces and are played from a third-person perspective, usually that of the player’s personal avatar.
Roblox’s incredible success and promising outlook have made it an attractive development target. With the audience rapidly “aging up” (the 13+ cohort grew by 34% year over year in Q3 of last year), and the increasing fidelity of its avatars and games, there’s an argument to be made that it’s no longer “for kids” and will increasingly become the gaming platform of choice for young people in general, with an associated increase in spend potential.
The incredible degree of sunk cost its players commit — in the form of purchased cosmetics and social connections — makes it compelling to repeatedly return to (or difficult to walk away from). Although the platform’s developer-unfriendly unit economics might be a turn off for some game development teams, the sheer scale and impressive retention of the growing, maturing player base is hard to ignore.
Even if developing for Roblox isn’t appealing, it might be worth paying closer attention on the basis that it manifests numerous elements of the metaverse, the mythical next evolution of the internet everyone in tech and gaming seem so desperate to build.
Although Roblox doesn’t have the interconnecting 3D hub world that’s common in most metaverse visions — and doesn’t require VR hardware, either — it does allow players to seamlessly take their highly customizable avatar from one user-generated experience to another, meeting up with friends and encountering strangers as they go. Metaverse expert Yonatan Raz-Fridman spoke on The Naavik Gaming Podcast about how the generation growing up with Roblox will go on to shape similar future efforts, so understanding what they’re interested in now gives us an indicator of how the space might evolve in the future.
Regardless of your motive, getting a better perspective on the games populating Roblox — games that a significant proportion of Western children are spending their time playing — is a valuable endeavor.
Top 3 Roblox Games Analysis
Here we’ll give an overview of the three most popular games on Roblox right now. Popularity varies wildly depending on which title has recently shipped an update, neatly demonstrated by this Brookhaven RP CCU chart:
We watched the CCU charts for several weeks and observed that three titles consistently vie for the platform’s top spots:
- Blox Fruits: an action RPG heavily inspired by the popular manga/anime One Piece.
- Brookhaven RP: a role-playing sandbox social MMO, set in the real world. In other words, The Sims, but multiplayer.
- Adopt Me!: another sandbox role-playing game focused on the collection, care-taking, trading, and leveling up of pets.
The most recent monetization data for these games comes from a leak from mid-2022 showing the top grossing games for 2021. Note that the following numbers are the developer’s take after platform fees and Roblox’s take (so gross sales would actually be roughly 3x):
We can use this data along with historical visits data from Rolimons to calculate how well each of these games monetizes:
As you might have expected, the ARPDAU of these Roblox games is considerably lower than a top mobile title on the App Store or Google Play Store. After all, these are all games within a single app. The Roblox App ABPDAU (Roblox’s way of calculating ARPDAU - see page 6 of Roblox’s supplemental materials for why), was $0.164, which makes Adopt Me!’s monetization particularly impressive as players play several games at a time, dividing their Robux contributions far and wide. Keep in mind, these numbers are from 2021 and while successful games on the platform are quite sticky, the numbers of these particular titles have shifted quite a bit.
Adopt Me!’s numbers have gradually softened, likely due to increased competition and an aging user base. Meanwhile, Blox Fruits numbers exploded with a September 11th, 2022 update, which caused the game’s concurrent users to double overnight and sustain through the following day. With that in mind, let’s start with a dive into Blox Fruits.
Blox Fruits is an action RPG inspired largely by the pirate-themed manga/anime One Piece. This is Gamer Robot Inc’s third Roblox title, and — after establishing itself in 2016 — their first truly successful game. The most recent estimate has the team size at around 10 people, but they may have expanded the roster since then.
Systems- and content-wise, Blox Fruits is huge. It features a wide array of combat styles, races, weapon types, special abilities, inter-dependent progression systems, currencies, PvE and PvP modes, and social crews, in addition to numerous locations, enemy types, bosses, raids and more. Think Diablo or Torchlight, but free-to-play, third-person, and with pirates.
Like most Roblox titles, the First Time User Experience (FTUE) is nonexistent, tutorials are nowhere to be seen, and the UI is a merely functional cobbling together of plain panels and text boxes. Since that’s the standard for the platform, it doesn’t seem to be an issue for players, and it certainly hasn’t stopped the game from becoming wildly successful. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that, at any given moment, roughly half a million people on the planet are playing a game where the very first thing you see when you start playing is this:
One area where the game excels — relative to other Roblox experiences, at least — is in its visual effects. Most abilities produce a riot of flames, colored flares, and smoke that serve as satisfying feedback because each one is distinct and exciting to use (although they’re then accompanied by an ugly avalanche of text communicating rewards).
The game gives players a “Fast Mode” to tone down the visual effects, which is a clever way to ensure the game looks good for players who can handle it and yet still runs well for those whose devices aren’t as capable.
Taking inspiration from One Piece gives players familiar with the manga or anime immediate affinity for the world of Blox Fruits, and players routinely draw comparisons between elements of the two media properties, like the “rubber fruit” in Blox Fruits and “gum-gum fruit” in One Piece. It also gives the developers lots of options in terms of adding content, since they can draw on pre-existing stories, characters, factions, fighting styles, etc.
Although it’s a clever worldbuilding hack, it also puts them in a legally tenuous position. If the owners of the One Piece media empire did decide to ever take action, Blox Fruits would likely shutter. That said, Blox Fruits — or “Blox Piece,” as it was known until late 2019 — has been operating for close to three years without legal trouble, and it’s likely scores of other Roblox experiences are also flying under the copyright radar for the time being.
This growth hacking “emulation” of an IP that’s already popular with a young audience is a high-risk, high-reward approach other developers could seek to replicate. Another option is to build an official experience in direct collaboration with the IP, as Gamefam has been doing with Sonic, Hot Wheels, and The Chainsmokers.
How does Blox Fruits make money? By selling power and convenience, like many conventional mobile F2P games. The tools to deeply analyze Roblox monetization titles remain thin, but analyzing Blox Fruits from the outside makes clear the developer’s approach is a hodgepodge of different spend options, including:
- Purchasing soft currency
- Convenience and progression accelerating options
- Doublers, exactly like the one-off currency doublers that were common in mobile F2P around 10 years ago
- Direct purchasing of items that would otherwise be randomized
- Buying randomized power items
- Additional functionality
- Character stats reset
- Fast boats
There is definitely a skill component to the game, especially in PvP, where lengthy combos and skilled timing are valuable, but for the most part this is very much a numbers game.
Some fruits are better against some enemy types, and some clever decisions have been made around limiting power. But by modern mobile F2P standards, the power and RPG systems are a mess. There are various character-speccing paths players can take that mean they don’t need to participate in the core “fruit” aspect of the game at all, and there doesn’t appear to be an elegant elemental rock/paper/scissors design underpinning the combat, as we’ve seen in games like Marvel Contest of Champions, for example.
Instead, the game’s continued appeal and success boils down to there being a large volume of content. This is a game of extreme power creep, with a maximum player level of 2,450, and new systems and higher power ceilings coming online with each new update. It’s not unusual for players to run (illegal) power-leveling scripts for hours to expedite the grind.
In some ways, this means Blox Fruits is successful because it’s constantly giving players new and engaging content, and that freedom to choose your own path and play with your friends strengthens the appeal. However, if players were more discerning, or another developer came along with a similarly appealing game featuring slicker presentation and tighter systems design, I could see it posing a serious threat to Blox Fruits.
The arrival of venture-backed, Roblox-focused studios packing considerable industry talent will further accelerate adoption of carefully designed and efficiently monetizing experiences on the platform, likely including numerous other conventional F2P game structures, economy models, and live ops approaches. IF or when those studios really take off, I could imagine Blox Fruits getting knocked off its pirate king perch. However, to date we have yet to see a venture backed studio break the top 50 with a new game and the more common scenario is for these firms to resort to purchasing and operating an already successful Roblox experience.
Information about Brookhaven RP’s developer is hard to find. It’s ostensibly made by a single person — known only as “Wolfpaq” — who is credited with seven other titles, none of which are anywhere near as successful.
The nature and appeal of Brookhaven RP is in the name: it’s a role-playing sandbox social MMO, set in the real world. It’s a bit like GTA Online, with its extensive role-playing scene, but without the killing. Players can own houses, drive a range of vehicles, adopt a baby from the hospital, blow open a safe using C4, ride a horse, visit a criminal base, fire (harmless) guns, and go to church.
The appeal lies in making its players’ imaginations manifest in digital form, and in that sense it’s a beautiful extension of a childlike mind and manner of playing, from roleplaying cops and robbers to other, more mundane elements of daily life. It’s easy to see how this kind of virtual playground became a valuable social play outlet during COVID-19 lockdowns; Brookhaven RP was released in April 2020. And yet the game’s appeal seems to have persisted.
Another compelling aspect of Brookhaven is the abundant array of visual customization options the game makes freely available for building and designing homes. Players can choose from numerous different pre-built house templates and redecorate them, as well as offering dozens of different vehicle types. Much more importantly, players can also alter the appearance of their avatar’s face and body, delve into an extensive wardrobe, and activate a variety of emotes, all for free. This runs counter to a significant chunk of Roblox’s business, which often involves giving developers the option to charge players microtransactions and then taking a fee off the top.
We looked at the Roblox audience’s general spending preferences by trawling community discussion and categorizing player statements. Our analysis indicates that players spend Robux on the following, in priority order:
- Modular avatar customization
- “Game passes,” which are game-specific purchases that afford the buyer temporary or permanent utility
- Premium subscriptions, with various economic, systemic, and social perks
- Private servers
Since avatar customization appears to be the most common reason to spend Robux, the fact that Brookhaven gives players access to a wide array of gratis visual options is a critical feature. It also has the likely effect of ensuring a high player count, as Brookhaven users are incentivized to come back to access their free and exclusive wardrobe.
We have yet to see whether Roblox will try and discourage these types of approaches in the future to more aggressively monetize experiences, but for the time being the platform seems content with even free customization options so long as players are logging into Roblox’s ecosystem as opposed to that of a competing free-to-play game or MMO platform.
Note that despite all the free options, Brookhaven RP does incorporate a wide array of Robux spend options, including:
- Premium customization options
- More faces & vehicle colors
- Larger or more exclusive land
- A customizable horse
- On-demand fire, earthquakes, floods, alien invasions, gas leaks, ghosts, solar flares, etc.
- Music playback
Given Brookhaven’s relatively low ARPDAU ($0.02), Roblox is likely very keen to see Brookhaven integrate support for its upcoming immersive advertising functionality in order to monetize its huge and likely predominantly non-spending player base. The real-world setting of Brookhaven seems extremely well-suited to in-game advertising, too.
I’m compelled to mention that the sandbox nature of Brookhaven can give rise to some odd and often hilarious situations. For example, while playing, I encountered two zombie children wielding axes. While I was eager to join in on the fun, and to see what exactly they were up to, my message went unanswered.
Adopt Me! is by far one of the oldest, most played, and most polished Roblox games on the platform. A handful of developers worked to release it in July 2017, with the initial release allowing players to roleplay as either a parent or an adopted child. In June 2019 the team added virtual pets, and the game blew up, reaching 439,000 concurrent users the day after the update and making Adopt Me! the fourth most popular game available. Today, Adopt Me! is all about furry critters, with the whole parent-baby dynamic having been largely left behind.
Adopt Me! is made by Uplift Games (formerly known as Dreamcraft), a Roblox studio established to support the game’s ongoing development. In one interview from 2020, the company said it was on track to employ more than 100 people by the end of the year, making it the second largest scale Roblox operation we’re aware of after Gamefam’s reported team of 250 or so developers.
While Adopt Me! lends itself to unstructured roleplay, the game’s progression is as follows. You collect pets and take care of them by completing tasks, which makes your pet grow and earns you “bucks” that you can use to buy more pets or customize your house. That in turn helps you care for your pets and earn bucks faster. Additionally, you can make extra bucks by setting up a store, like a lemonade stand, for other players to purchase and give to their pets.
Eventually, you use bucks to customize or buy new pets and if you have four of the same fully grown pets, you can combine them into a “Neon” pet. With four neon pets, you can create a “Mega-Neon” pet. This combination mechanic lends itself to trading, which is a popular mechanic in the game as it is also an opportunity for players to flex their collection or help (and sometimes scam) a new player.
Adopt Me! manifests many of the same success drivers that Brookhaven does. However, our research shows three factors that Adopt Me! has done particularly well that other games can learn from:
- Building Hype — The pet update was first teased as part of a side quest in an Easter egg event. If players had completed that quest, then they would be given a blue egg and a pink egg, both of which had no immediate use and naturally began to inspire curiosity among the player base. When the pets update occurred, the eggs hatched into a blue dog and a pink cat, respectively.
Part of this update included a gumball machine, but again, players couldn't actually use it yet. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the gumball machine is now a staple feature in Adopt Me! where players can pay for a rotating rare pet. This approach to marketing new updates by teasing upcoming events and using conspicuous placements of new features has been a boon for Adopt Me! These updates are just as much about building excitement and creating a memorable moment in Adopt Me! history as they are about delivering features that players want.
2. Incremental Innovation — When Adopt Me! broke records with their pet update, pets were not new to the Roblox platform. With that said, pets had mostly been brushed over by developers, implemented as floating blocks (see image below). Adopt Me!’s innovation was to introduce higher-fidelity pets to better simulate the pet’s role as a companion, whereas previously pets were designed mostly as tools for collecting more coins in idle simulator games like Pet Simulator X.
In addition to riffing on existing features from other games, the incremental update approach favors players as they can learn the game as it’s being built and can invest more of their time as the community grows. For example, current pets have customization options such as outfits, toys, and even cars that give players more reasons to stay engaged and collecting.
Had they introduced this all at once, it may have overwhelmed newer players with customization overload. Furthermore, a player must believe that if they do all the work of customizing their pet, house, and avatar that there will be people around to show off this self-expression to. Now five years old, Adopt Me!’s players can rest assured that the customization is a worthy investment. And with each update a new arms race begins for players to purchase new pets, level them up, and accessorize them. Hence, Adopt Me!’s lofty monetization.
3. A virtuous cycle with YouTubers — The most popular YouTubers often cater to their audience’s tastes, while viewers will often follow their favorite creators when it comes to discovering and playing new content. This creates a feedback loop where YouTubers drive players to the top games and top games drive audiences to streamers in return.
Each video from a top Roblox streamer garners hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of views. The roleplaying nature of Adopt Me! means every game session can lead to unexpected interactions with other players and emergent gameplay, which is particularly suited to streaming the game to a live audience. (Check out this GamingWithKev stream for a good example of emergent Adopt Me! gameplay). As a result, a majority of the top Roblox streamers play Adopt Me!, which in turn serves as free advertising with massive reach for the platform.
By this point, you’ve likely noticed a couple patterns across all of these games:
- Experiences don’t need to follow a tight game loop or provide that much information to new players. The reason is twofold: 1.) developers expect players to figure it out from other players that they can follow around or even ask for help in the server chat. 2.) the main attraction of these games is to be part of a broader community. Playing the game correctly is secondary.
- Roblox games are constantly ripping and remixing from pre-existing IPs on other platforms as well as from one another. Adopt Me!’s big pet update made it strikingly similar to another successful Roblox game, MeepCity, which at that point was four years old. MeepCity was itself inspired by Disney’s ToonTown Online and Club Penguin. Today, all seven of the role-playing games in Roblox’s top 20 games have pets as a feature.
- A key to all of these games’ success and the success of Roblox as a platform has been the streaming community that makes Roblox the second most-watched title on YouTube, with Minecraft the first. The gravitational force that YouTubers create on these platforms is a big reason why the average age of the top 10 Roblox games is 4.5 years.
- Regular updates are critical for keeping player’s coming back and growing the player base as we saw with Blox Fruits’ September update. Every competitor is just a couple of clicks away on Roblox, meaning players can easily bounce off an experience if there isn’t new content for them to play each week.
The most important thing to remember is that Roblox considers itself a social experience platform, and not just because it’s paying lip-service to Apple’s App Store restrictions. The fairly rudimentary games are simply a vehicle for something much more important: feeling part of a community and giving players strong incentives to spend time with their fellow Robloxians. That is why nearly 60 million people spend more than 2.5 hours every day on Roblox.
A big thanks to Thomas Baker and David Taylor for writing this essay! If Naavik can be of help as you build or fund games, please reach out.