As Roblox contemplates what could be a historic start in public markets in the coming months, investors who have values the company at $ 29.5 billion certainly look at the video game company’s dedicated and young user base, but it’s the 7 million creators and developers active on the Roblox platform that impress them the most.
Since 2015, Roblox has been running an acceleration program aimed at enabling the next generation of game developers to succeed on its platform. Over the years, the program has grown from one annual class to now three, each with now around 40 participating developers. This means that over 100 developers per year work directly with Roblox to secure mentoring, education and funding opportunities to launch their games.
As the company’s efforts on this front became official, Roblox hired former Accelerator alumni Christian Hunter, a 10-year Roblox player and 13-year game developer, to run the program in 2018. full-time. After going through the experience himself, Hunter brought to the program an understanding of how the accelerator could improve, depending on the developer’s perspective.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized the company’s plans to run the program. Instead of being able to invite developers to spend three months attending classes held at Roblox’s office in San Mateo, the company had to revamp the remote participation program.
As it turned out, developers accustomed to playing and creating games set in virtual worlds quickly adapted to the new online experience.
“Before COVID, everyone was together. It was easier to talk to people. [Developers] could just walk to someone on our product or engineering team if they had any issues, ”says Rebecca Crose, senior product manager at Roblox. “But obviously with COVID-19 we had to change and think differently.”
The distance learning program, although structured differently, offered several advantages. Developers could join the program’s Discord server to talk to both current attendees and previous classes, and to reach out and ask questions. They could also participate in the Roblox Slack company to ask questions of the team, and further game testing was planned to get feedback and feedback from Roblox employees.
Meanwhile, to get to know each other when they couldn’t meet in person, the developers had game nights where they would play each other’s games or others that were popular on Roblox, and link up. in the virtual environment rather than face-to-face. -Meetings and lessons opposite.
However, the actual throttle content remained fairly consistent during the remote experience. Attendees had a weekly executive stand-up, discussions on topics such as game design and production, and weekly feedback sessions where they posed questions to Roblox engineers.
But by its nature, an expanded remote accelerator that could assist. Instead of limiting the program to those who could travel to San Mateo and stay there for three months, the program was opened to a more global and diverse audience. This has also resulted in increased demand.
The 2020 schedule saw Roblox receive the highest number of applications ever – 5 times the usual number.
As a result, the class included participants from five countries: the Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Canada and the United States.
The developers at IndieBox Studios saw the program as a chance to double their game development efforts. Young friends spread across the UK and Kentucky spent their time on the accelerator stepping up to their photorealistic headline called Tank war.
“In fact, we’ve never met once in real life, like we’ve been friends for nine years now,” Michael Southern told TechCrunch. “We met on Roblox.”
IndieBox is representative of many of Roblox’s early developer teams, young players who have spent more than a decade learning the ins and outs of the evolving Roblox gaming platform.
“We all joined Roblox in 2008,” says Frank Garrison of IndieBox. “But we didn’t start developing on the platform until 2019. And for us the decision to choose Roblox was more down to loving, well that’s what we know, why not give it a bash? ”
The demographics of the accelerator are changing in other ways as the developer base diversifies.
“I would say that initially it was mostly young men. But as we’ve watched the program evolve, we’ve received so many exciting new teams, ”notes Christian Hunter, Program Manager.
The 2020 program had more women than ever, for example, with 12 in a class of 50. And one team was made up of women.
The age of participants, who are usually between 18 and 22, has also changed.
“We saw a lot more seniors,” says Hunter. “With [the COVID-19 pandemic], we actually saw our first 50-year-old in the program. We’ve never had anyone over 24, I would say. And in 2020, we had 12 people over 30 years old, ”he notes.
Two of the teams were also a combination of a child and a parent.
Shannon Clemens discovered the Roblox platform through her son Nathan, learning to code and bringing her husband Jeff to form a studio called Simple Games. Nathan’s two sisters help out the studio part-time, as does his friend Adrian Holgate.
“Seeing [my son’s] experience on Roblox to get involved in the platform, I thought it would be interesting to learn how to make our own games, ”Shannon Clemens told TechCrunch.
Their title Gods of glory has received over 13.5 million visits from Roblox players since its launch in September.
“Our whole family is pretty creative in having fun with games and inventing things like that,” Jeff Clemens tells us. “Why don’t we try this?” So that’s when we applied to the program and said, “Well, we’re going to try and see if we’re accepted,” and we did and it was awesome. “
In addition to the changes facilitated by a remote environment, Roblox notes that there were other benefits enabled by distance learning. On the one hand, the developers didn’t have to wake up so early to enjoy the experience.
“Remotely, the developers worked their hours, ”Crose says. “As a developer, we tend to work later and stay awake at night. Getting them in at 9 am sharp was very difficult. It was hard for them because they’re like… a zombie. We have therefore seen that by letting them work their own hours, [there is] less burnout and they increase their productivity, ”she says.
While the COVID-19 crisis may eventually end with the world’s vaccination, the lessons learned from the accelerator and the remote benefits it offers will continue. The developers of the program hope that the growth seen on gaming platforms like Roblox will continue as well.
“The pandemic has been tremendous for most game studios,” developer Gustav Linde told TechCrunch. “Obviously it’s a very strange time, but the timing was right for us.
The Gang Stockholm, a Swedish game development studio co-founded by Linde, has created brand experiences for its customers exclusively on the Roblox platform. The 12-person team used the accelerator to slow development times and dig into unique areas of the platform.
“If you look at Steam, the App Store, and Google Play, those markets are extremely crowded and Roblox is a very interesting platform for developers right now.” Linde said. “Roblox is also getting a lot of attention and there are a lot of top brands interested in entering the platform.”
Roblox says that in the future, future Accelerator programs will feature a remote element inspired by the COVID experience. The company plans to continue to make its program available worldwide, with the limitation of English speaking participants for now. But it is looking to expand to reach non-English speakers with future programs.
The 2020 Fall Accelerator Class graduated in December 2020, and the next Spring Class will begin in February 2021. Applications are under review and the decision will be finalized soon. The next class will have around 40 participants, as usual, and Roblox will again seek to diversify the group of participants.