Taking the Democratization of Game Development to New Heights
by Andrew Haak
If you’re an aspiring or up-and-coming game designer, you have choices: you can develop in Game Maker or Flixel, Unity or Unreal Development Kit, XNA Game Studio or Torque, among many others. These are all easily accessible tools that individuals and development studios have used to create everything from simple games to feature-rich, pro-quality experiences across mobile, consoles and desktop computers. While there are already myriad choices, suiting an increasing breadth of expertise, ROBLOX is pushing the democratization of game development further than ever by merging a powerful development tool with something no one else has: an enthusiastic player base numbering in the tens of millions.
That’s not to imply it’s easy to reach ROBLOX’s audience. But with the right amount of ingenuity and determination, it’s possible – even for a single person.
A perfect case study is ROBLOX user litozinnamon and his “Call of ROBLOXia” series. Call of ROBLOXia 5: ROBLOX at War, lito’s most popular game, consistently ranks in the top 30 at any given moment. Sure, he’s got the wind at his back via name recognition (his game’s title is a play on the renowned Call of Duty name), but ROBLOX users don’t keep coming back unless the game play encourages it. He’s done a good job of adapting the Call of Duty series’ pace and addictive multiplayer gaming mechanics to ROBLOX. He’s also built his own character-customization tool, which he says promotes repeat play sessions and balanced game play – it lets players experiment with a huge variety of equipment without unfairly favoring veterans.
Let’s make an apples-to-oranges comparison. Litozinnamon’s ROBLOX games, almost all of which are part of his Call of ROBLOXia series, have been played more than 16 million times. (98% of those plays belong to Call of ROBLOXia 5: ROBLOX at War.) 16 million.
Call of Duty: Black Ops, a 2010 release and one of the most popular games in the series, has sold a total of 16.4 million units. Again, play sessions of a free game vs. sales of a boxed game is an apples-to-oranges comparison, but things start to come into perspective when you figure Call of ROBLOXia 5 was developed by a teenager from California with a budget mostly consisting of time and Call of Duty: Black Ops was developed on a multi-million dollar (possibly even $100 million) budget by Treyarch, a professional studio. ROBLOX empowers game developers of all ages, even when they’re one-man shops. 10 years ago, such democratization could only be a dream.
What makes litozinnamon’s story all the more representative of how ROBLOX democratizes game development is he never intended to design the next best ROBLOX game. He built Call of ROBLOXia 5 as a “place to spend time with some friends” – other players just happened to notice it and started joining en masse. That would be much less likely to happen had he developed using a tool without a huge distribution channel.
“I’m proud of what I have been able to accomplish, especially when getting my game popular was not the reason why I decided to make it in the first place,” says litozinnamon.
The democratization of game development isn’t unprecedented. Other media have gone through similar transition periods. Novelists can distribute their work on user-generated content sites like WattPad – and maybe get a digital book deal out of it. Musicians can not only record their songs on the cheap, but distribute them via digital channels, effectively opening their work to the entire connected world. Before recorded media and diverse distribution, music essentially only went as far as the musicians’ live shows. It was only a matter of time before democratization made inroads into more technologically complex media, such as video games.
While technology and stories like that of litozinnamon make it sound easy to become successful, it’s not. There are a lot of people creating content and inciting competition, and it takes effort to separate oneself from the crowd.
“Not everyone has the time or patience to go through all the coding aspects of game designing,” litozinnamon says. “I think people are more likely to design a popular game if they love math and are skilled in it, generally because scripting requires a lot of math work and logic. This isn’t always true, because people that aren’t experts in math can also create really good games, but it does give an edge in creating scripts.”
Ultimately, though, ROBLOX gives users one of the best opportunities to make serious waves. A couple weeks back, we published a story about Borderline, an upcoming first-person shooter that shows tremendous promise. One part of the discussion that never made it to print focused on the development team’s decision to use ROBLOX when they clearly have the smarts to learn other development tools.
“It’s a platform with a lot of players, meaning that we can get the attention of a lot of people,” user bauer102 said. He further commented on the potential power of game development in ROBLOX, noting “Lua is just an awesome, dynamic language.”
Litozinnamon concurs. “There is no way I could have created a game with a different development tool to achieve the same accomplishment I have here in ROBLOX.”
People who have developed a game using ROBLOX are quick to note it’s an excellent tool and distribution channel. While many have already taken advantage of it to earn serious game development experience and community cred, we’re always working to give users more power. This is a significant driving force behind improvements to our building kit, ROBLOX Studio, our expansion to mobile devices, and how we prioritize development of our rendering, networking and physics engines.
We want every ROBLOX user to believe they have the power to be a successful indie developer — and every right to be part of the game development democracy.