Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector – our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.
In each instalment, we consider the incentives or pressure applied to make in-app purchases, their perceived value, the expansion offered by IAPs and the overall value of the experience.
The end goal is to see whether the game makes a good enough case for us to part with our cash, or whether players are content – or engaged enough – to 'freeload'.
This time we're taking a look at Roblox, a popular platform for user-generated games. Launched first on PC in 2006, then on mobile in 2012, it has a reported 64 million monthly active users across all platforms.
Do It Yourself
Often likened to Minecraft, owing to a shared core of user-generated content and a primarily young player base, Roblox isn't quite as well-known as Mojang's voxel-based phenomenon.
Roblox is less a game in itself, more a suite of simple editing tools and a hub for the games they're used to create.
This obviously leads to wildly varying levels of quality, with the absence of a professional games designer's touch often abundantly clear.
It's also very apparent when playing on mobile that this is not Roblox's primary platform – though much of last year's $92 million investment is said to have been earmarked for improving the mobile experience – with fiddly controls, switching between landscape and portrait, and some poorly optimised UI.
But these niggles are outweighed by the appeal of Roblox being genuinely multiplatform, which is no mean feat.
Following the trends
Roblox's only currency is Robux, which is sold – initially at least, presumably because of its young audience – in bundles no higher than $9.99.
These can be used to buy clothing and accessories for your avatar, which range in rarity and value.
Rarer items can cost several thousand Robux – one rare face piece called The Dog Whisperer goes for 50,000, which is more than $600 in real money – while for average players there are plenty of options at far more affordable prices.
The value of limited items also fluctuates according to demand, with graphs on the store page charting the item's value over the past 180 days, which feeds into a thriving business of resellers.
This brings us to one of the most interesting aspects of Roblox's economy: that players can actually make a profit through the game.
This isn't just limited to Robux, either. Those responsible for the most successful games in Roblox are reportedly earning as much as $250,000 per month through in-game purchases – though the precise cut they receive of in-game purchases is not publicly stated – becoming in effect “mini studios” within the Roblox ecosystem.
One Roblox creator made more than $3 million in 2017, and others have also reportedly earned more than $1 million from their creations.
The inherent difficulty with assessing Roblox's monetisation, then, is that it's almost entirely down to the implementation of the creator.
Some games offer surprisingly sophisticated monetisation. A popular Roblox title called Rocket Fuel Jailbreak features purchasable safes, each containing a random selection of tiered items, and even has its own IAP Starter Pack.
Some even feature their own premium currencies, purchasable with Robux but game-specific.
Many others simply feature a paid level skip, while others have menus so badly designed that it's difficult to tell what's for sale.
It's not altogether surprising; just as Roblox features both good and bad examples of game design, so too is its monetisation a mixed bag.
The mobile version of Roblox cannot be considered the primary version because it lacks the very thing that makes it special: the create modes.
But it is nonetheless a platform on which many (though not all) of the games created through Roblox Studio on PC and Mac can be played.
Members of the Roblox Builders Club can upgrade to Classic, Turbo and Outrageous paid memberships. Monthly subscriptions range from $5.95 to $19.95, while yearly options are between $57.95 and $129.95.
Each provides an immediate signing-up bonus of 100 Robux, while Classic, Turbo and Outrageous subscriptions also offer respective rewards of 15, 35 and 60 Robux every day.
The Classic membership is the minimum requirement to access the trade system or sell content, while the higher subscription levels allow the player to create and become a member of more groups.
But while Roblox Builders cannot actually create on mobile, a young crop of designers are apparently very inspired by the monetisation of free-to-play mobile games – and they're making money from mobile players for both Roblox and themselves.