The Weird World of Roblox

If you spend any time around kids, you’ve probably heard them talk about Roblox. It’s insanely popular with the young’uns, with 150 million monthly users and is valued at $4 billion USD as of 2020. It’s only gotten more popular, especially as the pandemic and associated lockdown forced kids to be at home.

But What the Heck is Roblox?

Roblox itself isn’t a game, so much as a platform to create games with freely available tools. As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of Roblox games. It’s also an MMO, which means you can interact with anyone else playing the same game. Most of the games are free-to-play, though various perks can be purchased using in-game currency called Robux. The game developer then gets a portion of those sales; some folks can make a pretty good living as a Roblox developer if they’re successful. You can also purchase a monthly subscription which will give you a small amount of Robux per month, but you can also get by without paying anything. Visually, the games are fairly low-tech, since they’re made to be played on either low spec computers or on standard smartphones. Since players can also customize their own avatars, many games also look like a ridiculous mess of bizarre characters hopping around.

By the standards in which most commercial games are judged with, most Roblox games are…pretty bad. They’re often glitchy, the text filled with spelling errors and other nonsense, and the monetization schemes are almost always exploitative, especially considering the juvenile target audience. But they can also be pretty fun, if mostly because some of them are completely ridiculous.

Roblox is so successful because it really does nail the “open toybox” feeling of childhood, and they encompass quite a bit of different play styles and genres, plus it’s easy to invite other friends to play along with them (something that, in contrast, Nintendo has a gigantic problem with in their online systems.) There are life sim games where you can develop a house or roleplay a family by adopting pets or babies, there are multiplayer action games, and there are story-focused games. There’s also quite a bit of a derivative garbage, but some are genuinely creative, while others are least hilarious in their craven cynicism. While there are guidelines that keep things kid appropriate, there’s little-to-no enforcement of intellectual property rights, so it’s filled with bootleg games featuring pretty much any popular media character imaginable. One of the game’s most famous elements, the “OOF” sound when a character dies and shatters to pieces, was stolen straight from the PC game Messiah, which was actually the subject of a lawsuit.

These aren’t the type of games that HG101 would normally cover, but I felt this would be an interesting recurring feature to introduce some of these games to the site’s audience, if mostly because actual coverage of these games is barely existent, outside of videos aimed at children featuring characters like Combo Panda. It might be a good opportunity to find new games to play with your kids (if you have them) or at least be amused at some of the weirdness that’s inherent in a mostly-unmoderated platform.

But it’s important to document some of these games before they disappear, too. Since Roblox is entirely online, their games can easily become unplayable in the future. What will happen ten, or twenty, or thirty years in the future, when my now-seven year old daughter tries to revisit the games of her childhood? Will she still be able to play them, or will they just be distant, foggy memories? Before my family got a console, most of my early game playing experiences were with type-in programs for our Atari 400 computer, from magazines like Analog and Antic. If it weren’t for the fine folks over at Atarimania and their comprehensive database, most of these games would be completely forgotten, and I never would’ve been able to track down the games I played with my own father. So even if the Roblox games disappear, at least hopefully the record of some of its experiences will live on, at least outside of Combo Panda videos. This is especially important since Roblox is expected to go public in 2021, and with that greater attention and regulation, there’s a good possibility that some of its games may go up in smoke.

Of course, there’s no way to document all of these, considering how many there are, with more being added by the day. Many of them are low effort clones of other more popular games anyway. But in this column, we’ll be looking at some of the more popular, interesting, and bizarre ones…basically anything that my daughter stumbles onto. Since our knowledge is far from encyclopedic, feel free to send in suggestions, either in e-mail or via Twitter.

Meep City

Meep City is one of the many social/life simulators on Roblox. When you start the game, you’re given a small house, then granted free reign to run around and do whatever you want. Various actions give you money – it grants 50 coins every so often but you can also do things like water and sell the plants that grow outside your house – which you can use to customize your estate by plastering it with wallpaper, making it bigger, or adding furniture.

The “meep” referenced in the title is a cutesy little floating colored ball with enormous eyes. You can adopt these at the pet shop, which you can then customize with various wigs and outfits, and have one of them float around behind your character. There seems to be a lot of these life simulator type games, but despite the meeps being a fairly small part of the experience, they’re placed front and center in this game since they make an inviting entry point for kids – they’re cute and it’s a fun word to say.

One of the activities you can do is attend school. There’s a sign at the top of the screen which indicates what class you’re supposed to be in, but you can just run and screw around without any real consequence. That’s also one of the central parts of these types of games, is the impression of real world constraints but without any actual restrictions – it feels like you’re breaking the rules even if the rules are mostly made to be broken. Anyway, the best part about this is that there’s a teacher’s lounge which you can only directly access if you’ve set your avatar to “adult” mode. However, you can also sneak through a vent in a supply closet and Deus Ex yourself into the room…but it’s also pretty boring in there and you still have to crawl back through the vents to find your way out.

My legit favorite part of Meep City are the parties – sometimes you’ll get randomly invited to one, but you can also search one out via a menu. These are all houses that other users have customized in various ways, and they’re often hilariously chaotic, especially considering that hundreds of other players can attend. There’s a fairly robust number of songs within Roblox that can be played, customized (I think) by the party holder. There are dance stages, and TVs with a small handful of goofy animated GIFs, and stations that can automatically change your avatar to one of several preconfigured types, so you can easily play dress-up. There are even gigantic games of Connect Four (or whatever the trademark-less version of the game is called) that can be spread around, so you can play with random people or friends you’re playing with.

These games are constantly being updated, and the most recent update includes a pizza delivery mode. Players can call up a pizza place to place an order, then another player will actually deliver the pizza to their house, in exchange for some money. There are concepts within Roblox games that are recycled in various places, because they’ve proven to be popular, and Meep City likely implemented this mode due to the success of another game….

Work at a Pizza Place

In this game, you can choose to play one of several roles at a pizza parlor: Cashier (takes orders from people at the register), Cook (assembles the actual ingredients to make the pizza), Pizza Boxer (puts the assembled pizzas into boxes), Supplier (I’m not sure but I think they sort colored boxes?), Delivery (runs the pizzas around to houses in the neighborhood) and Manager (approves people’s bonuses and allows them to go on break, but otherwise just sits around while they employees do the actual work, much like Managers in pretty much every job). Depending on who’s playing, the kitchen can be absolutely nuts, filled with people struggling on how to assemble pizza (the interface is a pain), or players who have inadvertently set themselves on fire with the oven and are scrambling to figure out a way to extinguish themselves.

As you work, you get money, which again, can be used to customize your house. This aspect isn’t nearly as in-depth as some of the life sims, but also gives you something to do with the cash you earn when playing. Of course, in real life, most fast food workers in the USA are paid poverty levels wages and could never afford to own, much less upgrade property, due to America’s obsession with perpetuating a permanent underclass, but these are weighty (albeit important) things to teach to a seven year-old.

Club Roblox

This is another life sim game like Meep City. The title suggests that it’s some kind of “official” Roblox game but I’m pretty sure it isn’t. It’s pretty similar to other games of its ilk though concentrating on different features. I like the neighborhood design aesthetic of Club Roblox a bit more, though. Also, the theme music is legitimately excellent – I’ve been trying to find its name or composer and haven’t had any luck, to the point where I’ve loaded up Audacity to record it for my own.

There are regular pets you can adopt, and you can transform into them briefly to play around; there’s a whole playground in the vet’s office with secret tunnels and stuff.

One of the games you can play is a variation of cops and robbers. This is a special area where you can choose to be a civilization, a criminal, a police officer or a robber. As a robber, there are all kinds of minor crimes you can commit in the various buildings, which give you some in-game currency, but if a police officer catches you, it’s off to jail! Each jail cell has a weak wall which can be smashed, allowing you into a back hallway where you can escape. The entrance to the robber’s hideout, where the cops can’t catch you, is handily located right outside, but there are also police vehicles you can hop into and steal.

Players in Club Roblox can adopt NPC babies, which they either carry around or are pushed around strollers, even when playing cops and robbers. So you have situations where prisoners, clad in orange jumpsuits, are stuck in prisons while still carrying around their kids. The same goes for the cops too – in the picture above, one of the police officers seemingly abandoned their child on the prison roof. Will they ever return for them, and does it belong to the Roblox prison industrial complex?

God Tycoon

The “tycoon” genre pops up regularly on Roblox, and many of them are remarkably dumb. At the outset, you pick one of several teams – these can be based on anything, often IP infringing (Marvel characters, Pokémon, etc.) but I chose this one, which lets you ally yourself with various elemental gods, because the name God Tycoon is hilarious. Once you’ve picked your team, you’re given a small plot of land, with the ability to create “droppers”. These deliver a certain amount of income per second, at which point you can cash in by stepping on a large button. You then use that income to build up your fortress or purchase more droppers, which builds income faster. There are other characters that can invade your base (and you can do the same to them) but it’s not like they can steal your money or anything – they can kill you but it just respawns you nearby so it’s nothing but a minor annoyance. Anyway, it’s nothing but a grindy treadmill that soaks up time until there’s nothing left to upgrade, at which point you may as well quit. I feel these are the most exploitive because there’s nothing to be gained for paying actual money, and nothing persists if you leave and come back (at least in many of them), so it’s all wasted.

Clone Tycoon 2

This tycoon game is quite a bit better than God Tycoon and others of its ilk. Instead of just making “droppers” to create money for you, you make machines that creates clones of yourself, who then are sent automatically out into the battlefield to murder the clones of your competitors. As you kill more, you get more money, again used to upgrade your base or improve your clone’s armaments. Some of your clones can also be used as slave labor to mine the local mountains for resources.

There’s something about this game that triggers the “late 90s base building PC game” part of my brain that I really like, even though it’s incredibly simplified, as there’s no real strategy involved since it’s all automated outside of purchasing stuff, and functionally isn’t all that different from other tycoon games. But it does save your progress, which makes it feel less wasteful.

Also, I love the way it births these clones. They’re literally tossed out of a portal, lying on the ground, given only a few seconds to get their bearings before they charge off to die in your name, their life granted meaning in their incredibly brief moments of existence. Also, you can create baby clone generators, where miniature versions of your avatar also go off into the war machine meat grinder. Roblox is so fascinating because they take general concepts that are popular with kids (pizza, ice cream, pets, babies, etc.) and put them into all kinds of scenarios that kids just accept at face value, but are hilariously horrifying for adults.

Pet Zoo

Out of all of the Roblox games, this is the one I’ve personally played the most. I realize that most other people have discovered “idle” games long before (basically clicker games, where numbers go up, except you don’t have to click) but this is my first experience with one! You have a zoo, which houses eight types of creatures in different biomes (Forest, Graveyard, Volcano, and a few others). You can transport out into the wild to catch one of these creatures (they happily sit around and wait for you to click on them, then it’s up to random chance if they’ll join you). The creatures are graded with stars, determining how much money they grant per second. You use more money to unlock more biomes, which in turn lets you capture more creatures.

The amount of money you make eventually climbs to absurdly astronomical amounts. At my current point, I’m making about 4,700,000,000,000,000 (4.7 quadrillion) coins per second, and other high earning players are up to the sextillions. This is fun to play because your progress is saved and your income goes up even when you’re aren’t playing, unlike some of the other “tycoon” games out in Roblox. So it’s something you can check once per day, see how much money you’ve made, upgrade whatever can be upgraded, and then stop playing until the next day. Of course, after a few weeks of playing, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t quite make enough money per day to upgrade one of my biomes, so progress is painfully slow.

There’s no reason to catch most low level creatures because they’re not worth it (a creature that generates 500,000 per second is comparatively worthless compared to one that generates 5,000,000,000,000) and the only way to really improve it is by capturing higher value creatures…but their capture rate is about 5%, which means you run around the wilderness areas for a long time until the dice roll allows you get something. There is a training area that’s currently under development though it’s not clear what that’ll be. This is the point where the developers want you to spend actual money so you can either multiply your income, catch higher level creatures, or enter the VIP area, which is the basis of every shady F2P mechanic out there.

There are a handful of other players around at the same time, managing their own zoos. One play session, someone came up to me, looked at my income, and asked if I was some kind of god. No, I’m just a 39 year-old dad who knows how to min/max.

Bubble Gum Simulator

This game revolves around a curious bubble gum based economy – you buy gum, mash a button until it blows to its capacity, then sell it so you can buy more gum. Why exactly is there a market for chewed gum? Well, the larger you blow your bubble, the higher you can jump, so you can take to the sky and explore the clouds. There are a bunch of blocked off areas until you can spend enough money to unlock them, plus there are pets you can purchase. Just another clicker game.

Eat a Burger and Get Fat Simulator 2

A Dadaesque experience where there are different large burgers lying around, and clicking them will deform your avatar in some way. I wouldn’t exactly call it getting “fat” per se, as they just kind mangle your character model, typically making them gigantic. Most of them just seem to screw up the game so badly you need to reset your character to play them. There’s wild Japanese vocal music (perhaps JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure?) in the background and what I assume is a replication of that Dancing Pallbearers meme.

I also tried out the original Eat a Burger and Get Fat Simulator, but it’s marked as “abandoned” and is far more mundane.

Identity Fraud

How did the algorithm find this game? Why would someone want to play a game called Identity Fraud? Well, it worked on me because it’s weirdly fascinating. So the game begins with a solid white background with text from someone who seems to be a therapist. After a bit, you’re dropped into a maze-like dungeon. I wandered until I found someone that was probably another player, and we blundered around together. Then I walked into a dead end.

Then this dark figure with a single glowing eye and a white negligee killed me and that was that. Horror games that give a quick scare seem to be another popular trend, and I’m guessing this is one of them! Alas I wasn’t able to get far enough to uncover the mystery of the fraudulent identity. Maybe next time!

Infectious Smile

This is a multiplayer PvP game where you start out as a “human” and must fight against “infected” people, who have a disease that makes them smile. There are lots of bright lights strewn about, which are easily avoidable, but infected people can grab humans and drag them into the light, thereby making them happy and switching them to the infected side. There are a lot of obstacles here I don’t really understand, including a roller coaster that seems to go almost nowhere, a room with a gigantic spinning blade in the middle, and a room with colored stairs all over the place. Also, every so often, the game world collapses, and the human team needs to make it into a small corner of their base so they don’t get crushed.

This game highlights why “action” games work really poorly on the Roblox engine, because the characters just don’t move fast enough, and the collision detection never feels right. But these aren’t really concerns to the players, and this game seems to be very popular.

This highfalutin description text on the game site is something else:

Amongst Us

Since their inception, a long-running question in video games is: can gameplay mechanics be protected by copyright law? Most courts, at least in the United States, agree that they aren’t, which means that less scrupulous companies can easily make clones as long as they don’t directly copy the visuals or other assets. This leads us to Amongst Us, which is very obviously just Among Us built in Roblox. The game works exactly the same but in 3D. The only major difference I was able to see is that players can pay for either a chance to become an imposter for 30 minutes, or pay even more to be guaranteed to be an imposter. Considering that my daughter loves to play the imposter and often complains when she isn’t, or goes too long without being one, it seems like this mechanic is heavily desired! But it’s still really shady, especially the one that only gives you a “chance” at becoming one.

I enjoy this note on the game page:

How nice of them to give credit to the original developers of Among Us but the term “game idea” is doing a whole lot of heavy lifting there. I’ve noticed kids vtubers playing this rip-off instead of the actual Among Us game, which is also extremely crummy on their part.

That about wraps it up for this time. Next time we’ll see about examining the cavalcade of weird “story” games out there!

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