Gaming’s rising stars: Is Roblox the new ground floor for game devs? | GamesBeat Summit 2024

Of all the talks at GamesBeat Summit 2024, I thought one of the most interesting was a panel I moderated dubbed Gaming’s Rising Stars: Developers building businesses on Roblox.

Before a crowded room of much older game industry leaders, we talked about how user-generated content (UGC) games on Roblox (and Fortnite and Minecraft) could be the new ground floor for game developers. At a time when layoffs have plagued the industry and made it so hard to find jobs, we’ve seen enormous growth on Roblox.

In its most recent quarterly report, Roblox said its DAILY active users in the quarter ended March 31 hit 77.7 million, up 17% from a year ago.

We gathered a panel of young rising stars on Roblox to talk about the opportunity. They included Clarence Maximillian, CEO of Maximillian Studios; Anne Shoemaker, CEO of Fullflower Studio; and Aiden “Rynity Rift” Montreuil, founder of Railrose.

Our aim was to draw attention to how more game developers are growing up on these platforms and developing their skills so they can break into an industry that is increasingly tough to get into. Our panelists said it involves growing up with games and being authentic to what gamers want on these platforms, where you can find everything from Lego-like blocky graphics to Call of Duty style realism.

Amid the sea of bad industry news, Roblox and other UGC platforms are among the bright spots. We talked about their experiences and what it takes to succeed. And be sure to sign up for GamesBeat Next 2024.

Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.

Left to right: Aiden “Rynity Ryft” Montreuil of Railrose, Anne Shoemaker of Fullflower Studio and Clarence Maximillian of Maximillian Studios.

GamesBeat: I’ve been covering games for 27 years, but I’m not the expert on stage. In fact, none of you are likely to be experts in this room [for this session]. It’s an interesting turnabout. It feels like user-generated content is on the rise. The ability to make games on platforms like Roblox is a big part of the future. It also feels like it’s the ground floor for the game industry right now. I’ll have our panelists introduce themselves, including when they started making games and how old they are now.

Clarence Maximillian: I grew up five or six hours north of here in Cupertino. From a very young age I was breaking, hacking, and creating things. I’m 25 now. I started really young. Right now we’re helping work with Roblox and its core leadership team to help evolve the platform moving forward. We created a video game called Frontlines you saw in the video there, which has amassed more than 100 million plays in less than a year. We have tens of millions of unique players, many of whom came from our platform to play Roblox for the first time ever.

Anne Shoemaker: I started making games when I was 13, around 2013. I’m now 24 years old, and I started a company called Fullflower Studio in 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, because everyone was gaming at the time. We have created Mermaid Life and My Droplets. We’re about to release a new game called Monkey Raft. So far we’ve accumulated 150 million visits.

Aiden Montreuil: I had a bit of a different start than everyone else. I started with creating accessories for the platform in 2020, for their catalog. Since then, I’ve amassed around six million sales across all my items. I’ve been using that money to fund my studio, which is releasing a game in a few months. It’s our first release, and we’re pretty excited about it. I’m 21 years old. I got started on the platform in 2013.

GamesBeat: Our theme is about resilience and adaptation. The industry is full of layoffs now. A lot of people are getting out of school and having a hard time finding jobs in games. But how much do you agree this is the ground floor for getting into game development?

Maximillian: It’s extremely hard right now. It’s not just the game industry. It’s the whole entertainment industry in general. I know a lot of friends who are having a hard time. They spent 20 years, for example, at ILM, and they’re having a hard time finding another job now. I see things in waves. I’m not sure as much as we’re hitting the ground floor as–we’re in a special inflection point right now. What I mean by that is, I think the industry is yearning for a new change.

One of my mentors from a while back gave me this piece of advice. He said, complacency is the biggest of all evils in business. When you create a successful product, don’t hyper fixate on it so much. Pat yourself on the back and move on and create the next big thing. I guess I’m not trying to say that–for all of you who’ve created successful products, I think you should invest in it and maintain it and update it. But I think right now the industry is going through the mud. A lot of the companies who are leading the industry right now are doubling down on the same products from the past 20 or 30 years, with no real innovation in between that.

I think players are yearning for new content and new IP to play with. To me, the solution is to take risks and to innovate. I think we’re going to see a lot of that from the indie community, especially from Roblox. We’ll see a lot of upstarts who aren’t exactly afraid of taking risks. For a lot of them, they don’t have anything to lose. They’re going to be creating the next bold and creative IP of the next generation. Hopefully some of these guys will come to the top in 10 years or so and lead the industry into new directions, in a much more positive light.

Shoemaker: For me, I think mostly–Roblox is a great place to start because of the low barrier to entry. A lot of people just starting off as a solo developer can hop on the platform and create something so quickly. When I started, I was creating games just by using already made assets on the platform. I was able to create a game when I was 13. At the time it got to 100 players, which isn’t a lot at this stage, but it was pretty cool being a 13-year-old and getting that.

As I grew up on the platform, I was able to continue making games on my own. That’s really great for college students who are having a hard time getting into the industry. They can start right away and create projects and show people that they’re very passionate about what they’re doing. Eventually be able to get a job in the industry because they’ll have that experience without needing to have a job. As they say, you need 10 years of experience, but you also need to be young. People can’t really get into the gaming industry until they have that experience.

Montreuil: The low barrier to entry in Roblox is really important. You can start very young. I was very young when I started, and so were a lot of my friends. Gaining experience on the platform is very easy, having done it myself. Failures on the platform aren’t very big failures when you’re young. When you’re just a kid creating on the platform, you can try something and see it fail. You can iterate on it, make it better, make it more successful the next time you try it. As you keep iterating you get better. When you’re older you’re able to make something that can maybe change people’s lives and hit a mass audience.

College is becoming less important because of that. You can go in and iterate and try things and see what works and what doesn’t without having to pay thousands of dollars in tuition. If you don’t have access to a college education like that, you can still go in and get that experience. I think it’s the new ground floor in the sense that getting that experience in the industry is a lot easier.

GamesBeat: I always liked that line from Jurassic Park. “Life finds a way” to get around barriers. Games also find a way onto any platform. The interesting thing about this platform, though, is that it’s not dominated by everyone who’s dominated gaming in the last 30 years. It’s a platform where, in some ways, those incumbents are not even trying. I know of one company called The Gang that has 200 people and a lot of veterans on the team, but they’re more the exception in this case.

I wonder about this issue of authenticity. What does it mean on top of Roblox? How do you successfully get started on the platform? What do you have to watch out for? Why is it that the young people who grew up on Roblox are the ones who are dominating the platform?

Montreuil: I’ve been working at a company called Sawhorse Interactive. We work with a lot of worldwide brands, more than a dozen now. The important thing that makes a branded game do well, from what I’ve seen, is including developers who are experienced on the platform, who’ve been there for a long time, who know what works and what doesn’t.

Going on the authenticity part, having people who know what works and what doesn’t on the platform, as well as people from off the platform–mixing that together, I think, is the dream team. You have the years of experience in the wider industry, and then the years of experience on the specialized platform that you’re trying to go into. Brands come in and think they know what’s best, and they do outside of the platform, but when they come in, they don’t exactly know. Authenticity is hugely important, using people that already exist on the platform and have experience.

Mermaid Life has more than 87 million plays on Roblox.
Mermaid Life has more than 87 million plays on Roblox.

Shoemaker: Being a person on the platform and showing off what you can do, that’s relatable to others. You see a lot of young people on the platform making games, and the great thing about that is the people that are playing the games are the same age as those creating them. It’s inspiring. It makes people feel like it’s something that they can do, that they can get behind. At the end of the day, I don’t think that people really care about companies. They care about what other people are doing. Having these young folks at the forefront of creating games on Roblox is just really inspiring. Everyone wants to support that.

Maximillian: Creating games, like starting anything in general, is extremely hard. It’s a lot of work. Although we’re showing our successes here, it’s been five or 10 years since we got started. We started young. A lot of people, when they’re starting they think a great idea is everything. But what I think is more important is everything in between. All the arguments, debates, conversations, iterations. Polishing it to go from concept to worldwide release.

What makes it extremely hard is that everything–that process in between, usually there’s something going wrong, at any time. No matter how prepared you are, there’s always something that goes wrong. What keeps us going to keep creating these games is–it’s almost the love of it. Paying homage to the older games that have come before us. And not only that, but the goal of a studio is to bring back the magic we felt as a kid picking up a controller. How can we transport that to the next generation of creators?

We’re talking about creating games on the platform and how we can succeed. One of the biggest things I see when new people come into the platform, new people trying to create new game companies, is that a lot of them are not exactly gamers themselves. Gaming has been on an upward trend, and they’re trying to ride that. What happens when these new studios or corporations come into the industry is that instead of hiring gamers to create their games, they’re hiring data consultants. Data is great. There’s a lot of things you can do with data to improve on what already works. You can figure out market trends. But I don’t think you can figure out the fun of a video game.

For any game developers here, I think you all know that the trade secret of making a very successful game is finding that fun. The biggest piece of advice I could give is just picking the controller back up and going at it and saying, “Is this something I want to play four or six hours a day?” If the answer is no then something has to change.

GamesBeat: Clarence, in the video you showed, the narrator was just astounded by the quality of the graphics you could create on top of Roblox. Where did this insight come from, that something like that could work and you could hit that quality level? People compared it to things like Call of Duty. You just wouldn’t ordinarily think of this as a Roblox game.

Frontlines is a first-person shooter on Roblox from Maximillian Studios.
Frontlines is a first-person shooter on Roblox from Maximillian Studios.

Maximillian: At GDC somebody asked me, “You’re working on this super high-fidelity game called Frontlines. You’ve been working on it for years. What if someone doesn’t want to play your game? What if it just doesn’t work out?” I think the beauty of platforms is that there’s content for everyone. For example, if I go to Netflix and I don’t like horror movies, there’s drama and action and comedy. There’s always content for you to enjoy.

The problem with Roblox a few years back, before we started Frontline, was that a lot of the content was catering toward one demographic. There was one kind of genre on the platform. There wasn’t anything else. We saw an opportunity in that. We wanted to tackle that specific demographic, the aged-up demographic. We also saw some statistics where around 45-55% of the players at the time, two or three years ago, were starting to age out of the platform. They’d been there playing games for 15 years. They couldn’t find new content anymore and so they moved toward other platforms.

We just filled in that need. Like I said previously, I think what’s more prevalent–we built this game out of love. People, although they might not be able to articulate what it is, they could feel the care and the love that’s put into it. We could say that we looked at market trends and data, but I think people just took note of the amount of care we put into the product, and they wanted to invest their time in it.

GamesBeat: You’re currently receiving third-party funding on this new project, Project Underground. Can you talk about that and how you pursued that funding?

Maximillian: It helps that we have a successful game already. It’s making money. From an investor’s POV, “If this guy totally screws up, at least we have a piece of the first game and we can make our money back that way.” Jokes aside, I was starting six or seven years ago from open ground. One thing that I noticed in a lot of startup founders, they’re starting their first company, doing their first product, and they have super ambitious goals. They want to create interplanetary travel or cure diseases. Which is great, and those founders should keep that vision and never stray away from it. But one of the most important things I learned is to create realistic steppingstones to get to that larger vision. And de-risking those steppingstones so you can create a profit driver for investors to get them their returns.

One other thing that I noticed that helped us get funding–not only having a realistic idea of how to get to a much larger vision, but also coming in prepared. That means knowing your numbers – how much you want to raise, why you want to raise that much, where the money’s going to go. How is that going to take you from where you are right now to where you want to end up? Coming in prepared is the biggest thing. Every investor has told me that you can’t really predict the future, but you can at least come in and show that you’ve put some care and time into researching the topic.

GamesBeat: Anne, your content is very different from Clarence’s here. Do you want to talk about what you were going for with games like Mermaid Life? What was key to making that work?

Shoemaker: I created Mermaid Life with–at the beginning, when I started my studio, I wanted to create higher quality experiences on the Roblox platform. But at this point I notice that there are a lot of people who still enjoy the clunky, funny style of the Roblox experiences on the platform. You can still find an older audience really enjoying that. I don’t think it’s necessarily about the beauty of the game. It’s about the design of the game, the mechanics you put into it. People can find that the most fun on the platform.

But I do also–I am passionate about creating experiences that are beautiful. I think I put too much emphasis on that. I’ve mostly created beautiful showcases without necessarily considering the mechanics of the game. I really want to take a step back and focus mostly on playing more video games and figuring out the things I want to create. Kind of re-evaluating what I want to bring to the platform and go from there.

GamesBeat: Aiden, it seems like your focus is on horror. What’s your take on the approach that’s going to work?

Montreuil: For horror games, visuals are very important. Sound design is very important. You need a perfect combination that goes together well. Having a more realistic style definitely helps with that. We’re going for a very realistic style, but at the same time, we’re allowing you to have your own avatar in the experience. You can have the blocky body. You can be whatever you want to be. We’re mixing the whimsical feel and a high-fidelity feel, so when you see your friends, you recognize them. “Oh, that’s my friend’s avatar.” But you still have the scary, eerie vibe around them.

Aiden Montreuil speaks at GamesBeat Summit 2024.

Visuals are definitely very important, but as Anne said, it’s not the basic factor. The big factor is what the game actually is, how it plays. When you play a game you can feel the audience it’s meant for, no matter how it looks. How it plays is definitely what we’re going for.

GamesBeat: You’re looking at intellectual properties that can start on Roblox, but also scale up to other platforms. How are you approaching that?

Montreuil: Roblox gives you the opportunity to make a lot of different types of merchandise. There have been games that have spun off book series. There are games that have shows. What’s really important is that we all grew up with games on this platform. We all know–if I were a kid, what would I want from this experience? When I was eight or nine, what would I have bought? We’re approaching our game with the idea in mind that we’re going to be merchandising. We’re designing some important props in the game that look very cool in the experience but could also work well in person. We have a journal. We’re putting some cool logos on it so it looks accurate to the game, but we’re making a physical version. There are a lot of opportunities to merchandise physically from Roblox.

GamesBeat: If you’re looking forward five years, what do you think the future holds for Roblox developers?

Maximillian: For us specifically, Roblox has been a place where we can really put our imagination to work, where we can build and create whatever we want. Right now we’re in a fortunate spot where we not only get to do what we love and create what we want to create, but we’re also able to sustain an income and continue doing what we’re doing. It’s been hard for a lot of creators beforehand to do what they want to. I think Roblox is a platform to help those creators move forward.

Shoemaker: I see the Roblox platform growing a lot. We’re going to see a lot more creators and players coming on the platform. That’s going to create a more saturated market, but that can be a good thing. It’s going to bring more unique experiences. People are going to need to find their niche and bring something new to the platform. You’ll see a lot of people trying to follow the most popular games on the platform, simulators and that kind of thing. But if you look at some of the games that are coming to the platform today–there’s one called A Dusty Road. You may not have heard of it, but it’s completely unique. It hit 500,000 players concurrent. Seeing those kinds of games come to the platform, it gives me hope that you don’t need to follow what’s popular. You don’t need to create simulators and so on. I’m really excited for the future.

Montreuil: We all started Roblox when we were very young. We’ve all grown up to the point we’re at now and started developing games. When Roblox exploded a few years ago, you saw a massive number of younger children playing on the platform. You’re going to see them use what they’ve learned on the platform, and that’s going to lead to an explosion of creativity. That’s going to combat that saturation. When you grow up on the platform like that, you know exactly what you’re looking for. You’ve played games and thought, “I would have done this differently.” Now you can. You have the opportunity to go in and change and iterate on other people’s experiences, even if they’re really old. You might remember something you played as a kid and decide to make something like it. Now you can.

Roblox art from Rynity Rift (Aiden Montreuil).

GamesBeat: Another topic we’re going to hit later today is the combination of user-generated content and AI. Rich Vogel, who’s worked on a lot of MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies, will be talking about that. I wonder what you also think of this chance to accelerate user-generated content through AI. What predictions would you make?

Montreuil: User-generated content needs a human touch to it. You need to have, at least, an artist advising it. AI could be a great tool to help developers and users. It might help cut costs for smaller studios. But if you have the opportunity, you should at least use artists to advise what you’re doing. You don’t want to lose that human touch, that human creativity in user-generated content. That’s what gives it its charm.

Shoemaker: It would be really helpful for people who are just starting out. Maybe they won’t know how to animate, or how to model in 3D, but they have an understanding of programming. They’ll be able to use AI to assist them in creating games, even if they’re still learning.

Maximillian: It ties back to what I mentioned before about de-risking. AI, rapid prototyping and everything, it helps us to get to a better polished final product, and get there faster. I think we’re going to see a workflow where people are starting to test things more. And not only that, but take more risks because of it. Through that you’ll see an influx of creativity, more bold products that wouldn’t have been done before.

But I’m also curious–Aiden mentioned that there still needs to be artists watching over the process. I totally agree with that. The current state of AI, that’s definitely the case. Dean and I also had a conversation before this where–there’s going to be an AI takeover sooner or later. Who knows? I can’t predict what will happen with AI in the next five years, but I’m excited for it.

Author: Dean Takahashi
Source: Venturebeat
Reviewed By: Editorial Team

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