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Roblox devising ratings system to address sexual content on youth gaming platform

Roblox, the popular kids' video game platform, is taking steps to curb users' exposure to sexual material.

The company, half of whose 30 million users are under the age of 13, already blocks players from using many words and bars explicit content. But Roblox is now developing a content rating system for games that it says will better match users with age-appropriate content and help parents control their children's experience.

Roblox isn't a game, but rather a platform that developers can use to build their own games. Users take on blocky Lego-like online characters, or avatars, and enter any of the thousands of games on the platform. For example, some games involve players trying to complete virtual obstacle courses or competing against each other in teams. 

But Roblox also offers a variety of "hangout" games that simulate aspects of real life, such as meeting in cafes or other locations. Last year, CBS News reported that some Roblox developers had created "condo games," which involve naked characters that meet up for simulated sex or in sexual situations

Developers break the rules

Roblox prohibits any games with sexual content and has rules against online dating through its platform. But some developers have found ways around those restrictions. The Wall Street Journal found recent examples of users under the age of 10 discovering games with sexually explicit material.

Condo games are not among the most popular games on Roblox. One of the biggest hits is called Adopt Me, where users hatch eggs and raise pets they can then trade with other players. But there are big rewards for developers who can attract users to spend their time and in-game dollars, called Robux, on their games.

Roblox splits a percentage of those dollars spent with the developers of its games. According to a recent financial filing, Roblox paid developers $328 million in fees last year, up from $111 million the year before.

It's not clear exactly how Roblox's content rating system will work. Users can already rate games, while Roblox already labels some games as appropriate only for those age 13 and older. And much of the material that critics complain about on Roblox is already banned. 

Roblox's existing controls allow parents to prevent younger kids from entering 13+ games, but that feature must be turned on — it is not on by default. Critics say Roblox's game recommendation engine are based on popularity and sometimes can suggest games that are inappropriate for younger users.

Roblox declined to comment for this article.

30 billion hours on Roblox

The company, which went public in March, has grown in popularity, especially in the past year. As with Zoom for adults, Roblox has provided a social outlet for teens and pre-teens at a time when the pandemic has required mostly socially distant interactions. Gamers spent a collective 30 billion hours on Roblox last year, up from 11 billion hours in 2019, according to securities filings.

Roblox shares are up slightly from their debut last month, closing Monday at $72. That values the company, which lost $250 million last year and has yet to turn a profit, at $40 billion.

In its public offering statement, Roblox acknowledge that it has struggled to keep explicit content off its platform. "While we have dedicated technology and trained human moderator staff that can detect and remove sexual content involving children, there have been instances where such content has been uploaded," Roblox said in the filing.

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