Hugely popular game creation tool Roblox is now extremely popular experience creation tool Roblox, possibly in response to the ongoing Epic vs Apple trial.
Roblox allows a variety of user-created projects on its platform, and until earlier this week, these were all grouped under a tab called ‘Games’ on Roblox‘s website. Roblox creators could create and manage ‘games’ through an editor, and for individual games there was a user limit called ‘max players’.
That has all changed now. The ‘Games’ tab now says ‘Discover’ on the web, although it still refers to the address ‘roblox.com/games’. Developers can create and manage ‘experiences’, and for experiences’ max. People ‘allowed. The word “game” has almost everywhere been replaced by “experience” Roblox website, and the iOS and Android apps now have a Discover tab instead of a Games tab – although both apps are currently classified as games in their respective stores. Roblox has confirmed a message from The edge, but it did not explain the last change due to press time.
Roblox has previously used the term “experience” instead of “game,” and CEO David Baszucki called Roblox a “metaverse” instead of a gaming platform last year. But this change took place days after a legal battle over whether Roblox experiences are games – and by extension, or Roblox itself should be allowed in the iOS App Store.
The Epic vs Apple antitrust lawsuit has sparked a week-long, often hilarious discussion about the definition of a video game. Epic wants to prove his shooter Fortnite is a “metaverse” rather than a game, shifting the scope of the trial to Apple’s entire App Store rather than just games. Apple wants to prove that Epic is an almost purely game-related company and that the App Store has a consistent, user-friendly policy that distinguishes ‘apps’ from ‘games’. It also wants to defend a ‘store in a store’ ban on iOS.
Roblox blurs the line between a major social game and a game engine or sales platform. Users do not enter any virtual world like Second Life; they launch individual experiences created by users. Developers can sell items within those experiences, and there are full-fledged game studios who build with Roblox instead of, say, the Unity or Unreal engines. But all this activity takes place in one Roblox app, rather than as a series of individually packaged games.
Apple has apparently been concerned about this vagueness. In a 2017 email, Apple marketing head Trystan Kosmynka said he was “surprised” Roblox (which he called “Roboblox”) was approved for the App Store. The email chain indicates that App Store reviewers raised concerns in 2014, but Roblox was approved without ever resolving the issues. Epic took the decision to court again, hoping to cast doubt on the Apple App Store review process.
Instead, Kosmynka justified the choice by saying that neither Roblox neither are user-created projects to be defined as games. “When you think of a game or app, games are incredibly dynamic, games have a beginning, an end, there are challenges,” he testified. “I look at the experiences that are in Roblox comparable to the experiences that are in it Minecraft. These are maps. These are worlds. And they have limits in terms of what they can do. Kosmynka said Apple was considering Roblox an app itself (rather than a game) because the company used that label in the App Store, although this is not true.
In addition to the crucial factors of ‘start’, ‘end’ and ‘challenges’, Kosmynka seemingly argued that these experiences were not games, because Roblox contained their code in a safe, checked by Apple Roblox sandbox – making them less offensive than standalone installable games. But Apple doesn’t use that same logic for cloud game services, which stream video games from remote servers. In fact, these services are required to list each game as a separate app. That would probably be a nightmare Roblox, where experiences range from full-fledged professional projects to small personal spaces.
Some Roblox users have left annoyed messages on Twitter, Reddit and other platforms. But Roblox has promoted itself in the past as a general purpose metaverse. It has next to nothing to gain by deliberately stepping into Apple’s minefield of iOS game rules, especially after such an extensive debate in court over its status. On iOS, it turns out, the only winning move is not to play – or at least not to tell everyone you play.