SAN FRANCISCO – When Dave Baszucki, CEO of games company Roblox, took the stage on Thursday at a conference hosted by his company, he thought about how much had changed for Roblox since its last in-person event two years ago.

March, Roblox debuted on Wall Street. On Friday, it was worth $ 44 billion and more than 43 million players used it every day – more than twice as many daily users as it was two years ago. One of the most noticeable differences, however, was the age of the crowd of hundreds of game developers Mr. Baszucki spoke to at Fort Mason, a former military base on the coast of San Francisco.

Not so long ago, the crowd may have been mostly children. There were many young adults on Thursday. And as they grew up, Roblox, a colorful, blocky platform that offers millions of online games of all kinds, from exploring tropical islands to caring for digital pets, tried to grow up with them.

Roblox’s effort to keep in touch with an older audience while maintaining a safe environment for its youngest users provides both a roadmap and a cautionary note for other internet companies trying the opposite: interacting with a younger audience.

While Roblox has often been lauded for its efforts, protecting its young users has been an ever-evolving battle. The company reviews game content, offers parental controls, and has chat filters that block profanity and information that can be used to identify people. Even so, explicit material slips through the cracks. There were Games that depict the avatars of users engaging in graphic sexual activity and Replicas of mass shootings.

As with many other Internet platforms, moderation was a “really tough problem” for Roblox, said Jeff Haynes, senior editor, web and video games for Common Sense, a children’s advocacy group and media rating group.

Roblox’s shift towards a mixed-age audience is because the privacy and vulnerability of children online is gaining global attention. Earlier this month, a Senate subcommittee hearing spent several hours listening to a whistleblower detail that Instagram fears harms its young users. The whistleblower, a former employee of Instagram owner Facebook, is also expected to testify in front of government officials in the UK and the European Union in the coming weeks.

Mixing older users with the traditional crowd of Roblox brings other safety risks, such as the possibility of young children being exposed to or recruited from predators extremist groups. The company has attempted to address such misconduct, and Mr. Baszucki said he recognized that integrating different age groups on its platform was “a challenge”. But he said building a safe and open online world was part of his vision for the so-called metaverse, an idea that people can share a huge online universe together.

“We are optimistic that we can build this society that is really accessible to all age groups,” said Baszucki in an interview after his speech.

Roblox was founded in 2004 on the premise that most of its users are underage, so we have taken security precautions to protect children from online harassment and predators. That was a long time ago very popular with childrenespecially those between 9 and 12 years old.

Mr. Baszucki, who has a background in educational software, envisioned Roblox as a place where kids could learn to code, explore virtual worlds, play and socialize, especially when their real-world school experiences were unfulfilled. (Roblox Chief Product Officer, Manuel Bronstein, recently joined the board of directors of the New York Times Company.)

The company makes money selling a digital currency called Robux, which is used to purchase in-game items, and shares its profits with the independent developers who develop the many games in the universe. Developers are more closely associated with Roblox than the content creators of social media platforms like Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram. where teenagers say they are often confronted with toxic material.

“We share our lives less with each other and say more: ‘Let’s play hide and seek or go to ancient Rome,'” said Baszucki.

This month, Roblox said that for the first time ever, more than half of its users were over 13 years old. It recently announced new tools designed to lure older gamers onto the platform, like more lifelike avatars; the ability for developers to restrict some games to players ages 13+, or possibly 17+; and a voice chat function for people aged 13 and over. To verify their age, users can upload a government-issued ID along with a selfie.

Earlier this month, Roblox updated its community standards Prohibit any depictions of romance or discussions about political parties. It also specifically banned terrorists or extremist groups from recruiting or fundraising on the site – a problem that has plagued social media companies like Twitter for years.

Mr Baszucki said integrating older users while maintaining the standards of courtesy and good behavior on which the platform is based is a “great responsibility”. But he was optimistic that the company would be successful, he said, because Roblox had a story of kids who behaved better than the adults on other social platforms.

Child safety experts said other websites are trying to extend their appeal to children – Facebook, for example, said it would create an Instagram product specifically tailored for those ages 13 and up. before you postpone these plans – they could learn important lessons from Roblox.

Titania Jordan, chief parent officer at Bark, a technology company that uses artificial intelligence to monitor children’s devices, said that while Roblox can sometimes slip bad behavior through its cracks, the company is still “commendable” in its approach to child safety . especially when compared to sites like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

One Roblox tool other companies could implement is the ability to turn on parental controls, which kids can’t turn off. Ms Jordan said she would feel a lot better if she could let her 12-year-old son use Snapchat, for example if she could enter a PIN code at a certain time and lock the app for the rest of the night. Having an ID-assisted age verification system is also reassuring, she said compared to apps that make it easy to enter any age and create an account.

The fact that Roblox has devoted much of its design to fighting wrongdoing and illegal material but is still exposed to criticism could be another lesson for companies like Facebook, Common Sense’s Haynes said. He said it could cause social platforms – many of which already devote significant resources to monitoring offensive or violent content – to straining themselves even further before they believe they can safely serve a younger audience.

The young Roblox developers are also optimistic. After all, they know what is on the internet outside of the confines of Roblox’s digital world.

“You can always find little examples of something slipping through – someone spelled a curse word in a strange way, everyone saw it. But compare that to the open internet, ”said CJ Oyer, a 23-year-old developer who grew up with Roblox, at the corporate conference.

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