By James Liu
Source: CBS News
Recently, Roblox has announced the release of game content ratings, not unlike the ESRB for big publishers like Nintendo. The system has been in the works for a while, and it seems like we’ll start seeing content ratings relatively soon as we have an idea of what categories there are. Games will be rated as either Child (8 and below), Pre-teen (9-12), or Teen (13+). Parents will also be able to filter out what games are available for their children once the feature launches. While a seemingly useful if not particularly uninteresting feature designed to make Roblox seem more like the grand “Metaverse” and “Imagination Platform” it wishes to try and market itself as compared to “Knockoff Minecraft”, the deeper implications that may come from this game rating system are worth exploring and considering with what we know about the system so far.
The first thing to consider is the process by which game ratings are given. Developers who wish to get rated must first meet a set of unknown qualifications, then complete a questionnaire, then their game will be rated. It’s safe to say that getting rated will not be a simple “you answered this, so you get this rating” system, seeing as Roblox has a large children’s userbase and a misrated game could be fatal for their PR, the system will be most likely be manual, at least the final steps. Getting a game rated at all, therefore, may be a sort of “seal of approval” by Roblox; that this game meets their standards after being manually reviewed to some extent, and has been given a general guide to what age groups the game targets. A system that allows manual review of games has the potential to force Roblox to address many issues within their games and cause massive ripple effects, such as getting rid of copyrighted IP’s, loot boxes in games aimed at children, and maybe causing Roblox class warfare.
The front pages of Roblox are filled with content that should be copyrighted, but isn’t taken down for what I’d assume is profit. The only major copyright infringement purge was when Nintendo, notorious for defending its IP’s, got many popular Pokemon games deleted off the platform. While this did include major games like Pokemon Brick Bronze, one of the largest games on the platform for being virtually indistinguishable from a real Pokemon game, Roblox hasn’t been very proactive in protecting the copyrights of others. Games with characters ripped straight out of popular anime and manga are especially apparent, with One Piece and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure being two big topics to rip from. It might be funny to laugh and watch a Robloxian version of Star Platinum go “ORA ORA!”, but it’s not funny that creators can be as unoriginal as they want and just profit off of an IP they have no right to use. Most creators that got hit during the Pokemon purge did come back with their own similar creations later, now heavily inspired by Pokemon, but not flat out stealing content anymore. Monsters of Etheria and Hero Havoc are both examples of this, keeping gameplay similar in monster collecting but with new creations to fill the void of Pokemon. Even Pokemon Brick Bronze’s creators have worked their way back to topping the Popular section with their Pokemon inspired game Loomian Legacy. It’s clear that Roblox also embraces these changes, allowing Hero Havoc and Monsters of Etheria to participate in major events like last year’s Egg Hunt while the original games were never considered, even as Hero Havoc took a popularity hit and doesn’t have as many active players as the original Pokemon infringing game. Hopefully, Roblox’s new game ratings will force them to change their site for the better, being more proactive with copyright protections and actually forcing developers to live up to the title of “Imagination Platform” while also giving them way more content to put into major events like the former Egg Hunts (assuming they come back) and the current Metaverse Champions event.
The next major issue that game ratings being a system of manual review would force Roblox to address is loot boxes in games aimed at children. As the debate for whether loot boxes are OK in video games aimed at teenagers and adults rages on, Roblox really doesn’t care and just lets developers do whatever they want in regards to these systems, even in games clearly aimed at young children. Simulators in particular are notorious for having the bulk of late game content involve grinding for pets that, more often than not, do grant tangible benefits to gameplay like decreasing the time to earn resources in game rather than being fully cosmetic. I’d imagine if Roblox ever gets flak for it, they’re just going to turn the problem over to the developers, but when they’re supposed to be manually reviewing and approving games for children that argument’s not going to fly anymore. One of the questions in the questionnaire that must be completed does ask if a game features loot boxes, but what placement that will shift a game towards is unknown. However, neither outcome is good for Roblox. If games like “Bubble Gum Simulator” are suddenly 13+ for loot boxes, developers stand to lose major portions of their child players and rework entire systems within their games, but if games with loot boxes are allowed for anyone, even 8 year olds and under, Roblox has basically said that some form of putting in money for a random reward is OK and encourages child gambling. Regardless of the outcome, even if this system is fully automatic, Roblox will have to address whether they’re going to allow loot boxes in their games, and who should have access to them if they are allowed.
Finally, the most speculative result of the new game rating system, class warfare? I don’t have as much basis for this outlandish prediction as I do for Roblox having to face its most apparent issues in game design when having to manually review their own games now, but just sit down and listen. Two things would contribute to this potential Roblox class warfare: a set of criteria to be considered for a game rating, and the ability to disable accounts from accessing games that are rated too high or are currently unrated. First, the criteria. We don’t know what exactly it would take to get a game rated, but it’s there. Maybe it’s a cumulative player count, maybe it’s a time based system, maybe it’s a revenue based system, we’re not sure. But I’m sure Roblox isn’t going to waste their processing power attempting to guess whether “Timmy’s Fun Land” with 9 visits in 3 years is meant for teenagers; they’re probably going to set limits aimed at making sure games with potential to attract an audience and get plays have the ratings they need to interest their target audiences. On the other hand, parents will also have the ability to limit what games their kids can play, with the main setting of concern being the ability to disable unrated game access. So, this leaves smaller developers with an extremely restricted audience, especially those intending to make children’s games. You need to meet some criteria to get approved, but you’re also not going to get the players you need in order to be approved. I’m probably overexaggerating the effects of these two choices working together negatively, for example the rating requirements probably aren’t going to be that harsh: Roblox prides itself for being a platform anyone can use to develop games, and shutting out new developers with requirements that limit their success too much would kill that reputation. However, it would be quite interesting to see an actual upper and lower class of developers, with the distinction being whether a game is rated.
From an actual reason to fix long standing issues on Roblox like copyright infringement and loot boxes to potentially starting class warfare between Roblox developers on the extremely speculative end, Roblox’s new game ratings have the potential to be a force for good and bad, forcing Roblox to give the time of day to issues they’d rather sweep under the rug and maybe dividing the site clean in two as developers struggle to earn fans unless they were already giants before game ratings are introduced.