👾 UGC to the metaverse
the proof is in the pixels
You are cordially invited to this week’s brew of High Tea, your dispatch of 🔥 internet culture served piping hot. This week: the rise of studios building solely for Roblox, combating creator burnout, and providing the building blox for the metaverse of the future.
Drink up! 🐸 ☕
p.s. if you’re not a paid subscriber, here’s what you missed from this week’s Bucks Fizz: our Thursday dispatch covering the best of TikTok’s unsigned and emerging talent.
what we’ve been sipping on:
Hey besties, we’re back from our High Tea Spring holibobs, did you miss us? It’s been a piping hot couple of weeks and despite us lounging about Toad Hall and taking the weight off our webbed feet (toad’s orders), your favorite phrogs have been racing to get back to spilling Sunday’s strong stuff, now bright-eyed and decidedly less green around the gills. Let’s dive in.
When is a game not a game? When it’s a metaverse.
As Week 2 of Apple vs Epic Games’ legal battle draws to a close, we can’t help but notice that Roblox has gone ahead and made some very intentional changes to its platform, days after Apple received hard questioning over whether Roblox should still be allowed on the iOS Store despite Fortnite being given the chop – ooh err. Changing the “Games” tab to “Discover” across the site, with developers now creating and managing “experiences” rather than “games”, is possibly in response to the ongoing court battle, possibly to further differentiate itself between its Epic Games counterpart, but also probably to further cement CEO Dave Buszucki’s intention to build a 3D immersive metaverse as opposed to a “gaming platform”. Our take? Roblox has always been much more than just a game, blurring the lines between a social platform, developer game engine and asset marketplace, despite the App Store categorization as such, but shhh for the purposes of the trial, you didn’t see anything right? Good.
From gamer to creator to studio maker: the professionalization of Roblox
Now we’ve addressed that elephant in the room, let’s spill. It’s no secret that Roblox has been focusing its energies on retaining and further growing its developer base as per the S-1. And as a refresh, back in November 2020 it stated 32 Roblox developers had made over a million that past year:
Despite 960,000 community developers earning virtual currency on the platform from September 2019 - 20, only 3800 of them qualified to exchange Robux for real world $ (you need a minimum of 100,000 earned Robux in your account plus other set criteria to qualify). The TL;DR? Success on Roblox is no mean feat. It takes time, testing and constant iteration based on community feedback, plus the need to constantly outdo other competitor games. With popular Roblox games commanding more players than AAA games on Steam, burnout among young creators is rife:
"Roblox is particularly bad for it because there's this demand for that weekly content drive and these young people don't necessarily have the experience to deal with that," said Ling. "They just work themselves to the point of burnout and then they stop updating the game for a few months and then it falls off the charts. And you see this cycle repeat again and again." – Uplift Games’ Director of Business Operations, Josh Ling
With Roblox, we’re seeing more and more developers moving to an independent studio model not only to avoid burnout, but also to legitimize and accelerate their success by employing more developers, and providing an example of a career trajectory on the Roblox platform itself. For successful Roblox YouTuber and game producer MeganPlays it’s WonderWorks Studio, for developer Alex Hicks it’s his own Studio RedManta and now this week it’s the turn of Roblox’s most popular experience Adopt Me, to enter the fray with the announcement of their new studio, Uplift Games.
For context, if you’re wondering just how “big” can this game be? How about 22.5 billion visits at the time of writing with a highest online concurrent player count of 1.9 million, kinda big.
Adopt Me, the brainchild of former Roblox players NewFissy and Bethink (who met in-game), is a simulation game that allows you to raise a virtual pet. The game has grown from strength to strength, even collaborating with Scoob!, the Scooby-Doo movie back in May 2020. Now the team wants to take their success and translate that into a fully-fledged studio that can employ 100 developers, with a twist. Launched this week, Uplift Studios is a fully remote “zero burnout” studio, fostering an environment that is diverse, inclusive and supportive of new talent from the outset. Oh, and did we mention the benefits package? Where do we sign up?
“We are a small, growing studio, and while we aren’t perfect, we strive every day to build the sort of studio we always wished we could work for. A place where unforgettable AAA-scale experiences can be created with an independent spirit, by people who live happy and healthy lives. This excites us.” – Uplift Studios
As we all know, creator burnout is a real thing, with creators under pressure to be consistent with their content output – at most daily, at least weekly. For solo developers this becomes a downward spiral and leads to breaks in development or even leaving the platform altogether. Friend of High Tea, Hunter Walk, leans into this in his January article on prioritizing Creator Wellness:
“So what do I hope Phase 3.0 looks like? It has Creator Wellness built fundamentally into the product itself, in a way which signals to both the creator and their community that this stuff matters.”
We think we’re just at the beginning of solo developers and micro-teams creating larger studios to capitalize on the opportunity within UGC metaverse platforms. While many traditional industry folks are still getting acquainted with the Roblox platform and game engine itself, we’re all eyes on our Gen Z to not only lead development on the next social gaming sensation, but also to built the blueprint for the gaming studio model of the future centred on the needs of creators themselves as well as their players. Phase 3.0 on Roblox is the development of games by creators building for the new creators.
kettles on: ones to watch
👛 it’s all Gucci: Roblox had been secretly uploading a ton of new Gucci assets to their Avatar Shop recently and today we got our answer why. On May 17 we can expect a new Gucci x Roblox experience, complete with assets that are directly connected to badges. Does this mean they won’t cost the metaverse? We aren’t so sure. But one thing we do know, we won’t let them steal from Kestrel and Ana Reloux again. 🙅♀️
👩🏼🎤 punk rock$. This week we had another mammoth NFT auction, with a collection of CryptoPunks selling for close to $17 million at Christie’s, no less. Not bad for a collection that was originally offered up for free, yes free. Back in 2017 all 10,000 were quickly scooped up, with founders Matt Hall and John Watkinson ending up with 1,000 themselves. A mere 9 (!) were auctioned off this week.
Okay you made it, now you can get back to streaming “Build a Bitch” because Bella truly won the internet this week.