This is one of the key tensions that exist for Roblox — no matter how you slice it, its demographic is young. The company has worked to appeal to slightly older users by introducing features like age-gated games, ad revenue sharing, and fewer language restrictions (older kids can use curse words!). Last week, Roblox founder and CEO David Baszucki hinted that more mature experiences like dating, film screenings, or news could be the future of the platform. The Parsons course is an extension of Roblox trying to prove that it’s a viable and legitimate tool for adult life.
For Parsons students in the class, the other reality is that Roblox isn’t first and foremost a gaming platform because hardly any of them use it that way. It’s a potential way to make money off their work and a place where jobs could develop in the future. Digital garments can be wildly profitable for companies like Roblox — Epic Games, for example, made nearly $50 million just on a set of NFL in-game skins purchased by players.
Roblox needs developers like the Parsons students for its platform. For the most part, the company doesn’t create its own games or “experiences,” instead relying on a sea of developers to make content, from novice players, including children, to more established studios with employees. Roblox representatives joined the class for guest lectures and discussions and provided technical support and troubleshooting for students as they created their digital designs. Clothing from the course, which is in the process of being uploaded for sale in Roblox, ranges from 70 to 100 Robux, or about 88 cents to $1.25 (Roblox takes a cut of the sales for marketplace purchases).
For developers, the promise of Roblox has been that they, too, could hit it big and make a living off the game, but success is far from guaranteed. There’s been criticism in the past of how Roblox could be exploitative to young kids who believe they’ll be able to make money on the platform, only to never end up profiting. Last fall, Roblox said that the vast majority of people making money on the platform were over 18 years old and that the top 1,000th developer was earning about $32,000 annually.
“There’s a lot of competition, and people are forgetful,” Li, the instructor, says. “If you stop making content, people will forget you after a month or two.”
Schools like Parsons are hoping to close the gap between what students work on in the classroom and what jobs might look like post-graduation. And though tech companies like Epic Games, Roblox, and Meta are pouring resources into creating fashion events and spaces in the metaverse, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that brands are still building for a limited audience, not an everyday part of most people’s lives.
In Meta’s Horizon Worlds, some users who hang out in the digital sphere are irate over how the company is handling creator concerns — and even before that, not many people are using Horizon in the first place. At the second annual Decentraland Metaverse Fashion Week in April, for example, big-name brands like Coach, Vogue, and Balenciaga gathered in virtual spaces to showcase (and sell) digital goods. Attendees, though, were scant, and exhibits ranged from dreamlike to sloppy and boring. What’s the point of walking around a dead digital mall when you could do the same in person and pick up a soft pretzel while you’re at it?
Students I spoke with all said they intend to use the technical skills they learned in the class — some just for fun as a creative outlet, others to incorporate digital clothing elements into their existing work. Yoshe Li, who is also a singer-songwriter, imagines a project collaborating with other artists that recreates digital versions of their most iconic looks. Could the skills developed in the course lead to her making money this way?
“I hope the answer is yes,” she says. For now, Li is happy to create for fun and for free.