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Automation, Gameplay and Turning Kids into Creators with Roblox VP of Engineering, Adam Miller

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It’s a fact of today’s world that everyone is spending more and more time looking at screens. Especially kids. But that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, especially if looking at that screen is unlocking creativity and new skills. Roblox is making that possible.

Adam Miller is the Vice President of Engineering, Technology at Roblox, which is building a streaming platform architecture for the gaming world. Roblox puts the tools of creating games into the hands of its more than two million users, and they have taken that freedom and run with it. 

On this episode, Adam and Ian discuss how Roblox has helped bring more creativity into the lives of kids, and the challenges of building a gaming platform that is as easy to use and seamless as any traditional streaming platform.  

Best Advice: “A first time VP of engineering is probably moving up from another role and getting a wider scope. And the big challenge there is always to think at more of a system level instead of an individual problem level. So when you see something that you want to improve or fix to think of it at that system level, how do we fix this systemically?”

Key Takeaways:

  • What is Roblox and how are people using it?
  • Technology under the hood
  • The impact Roblox has on the younger generation
  • The future of Roblox and gaming

What Roblox is all about

Roblox is trying to create a platform for virtual creation. On the Roblox platform, you can create your own virtual 3D experience and share it with other gamers and friends. In any given month, more than 2 million people are accessing and creating on the Roblox platform. And by creating games on an open-source platform, there is more opportunity for new ideas that could never get funding elsewhere to have a chance to live and thrive. The platform also creates a deep sense of community, which then goes out and evangelizes for Roblox. Some players even go on to become developers and start their own companies focused directly on creating Roblox content. In fact, last year the top team of creators who started on the platform brought in approximately $10 million.

“The idea is that these creators make this content and as they get better and better and more engaged, the content level starts to go up and they can make really popular things. They can turn it into a full-time career and even make some money out of it. Their job is making awesome Roblox content.” 

“Developers realize they can turn this into a business, they rent an office, they incorporate this, they’re hiring people because they’re so wired into the community. What normally happens is they’ll have a few people on site and then they’ll have this web of people around the world who are creating content or doing one-off jobs or they’re filling some specific role moderation or creating scripts or whatever it is. And they might have a loose network of 30 or 40 people that they’re all indirectly employing. It’s kind of the workplace of the future in some ways.”

Under the hood at Roblox

Roblox looks simple but there is incredible complexity under the hood. The idea was to build a streaming platform architecture but for the gaming world. What they wanted was the ability to move from one Roblox experience to another quickly and with ease. To do so required intense technical creativity and skill. After 14 years working in the core architecture of the platform, there are still bugs and kinks to be worked out. Plus, you have to add in the bugs that crop up in the games designed by users. So there is a battalion of people working on those all the time. 

“The Roblox architecture fundamentally is a streaming architecture where you can join any game and it loads everything in real-time without having to pre-download the game. That’s actually a really hard thing to do. So we put a lot of work into making that game load really quickly and bring all the assets over the wire and have a very compelling virtual world. That’s the basics of our streaming architecture that lets one player jump from one game to the next without having to think about it. You can be in the new game in five seconds and you can do it on multiple platforms. So whether you’re on a desktop, whether on a mobile device, you don’t have to think about it. You can be with your friends. If you and your friends want to go play another game, you can quickly just jump into that game. Whatever it is, you have that commonality of experience.”

How the platform is helping kids learn

Roblox was created so that kids could use the platform and inspire their creativity. The success has been profound. Children who use Roblox are engaged and learning new skills and testing the boundaries of their technical skills. 

“One of the great ways we help kids is by providing a hook for something really interesting. When we give them a platform where they can create something that’s a game or they can play with their friends, that is something that they see the value and they want to jump in and engage with that. And I think that’s a good way to get them engaged…. They’ll start diving into the scripting and the coding. Maybe making small modifications at first. I think that’s a good place to grow from.”

How Roblox is implementing automation

Thanks to machine learning and A.I., Roblox is looking at ways to implement automated processes for everything from moderation to safety procedures. From there, Adam says that he hopes there can be a way to use automation and A.I. to enhance gameplay and world-building by creating a generative A.I.

“I think we’re probably going to have ML built into just about every team and every product we have.” 

What does the future look like for Roblox?

Despite the success Roblox has had, Adam says that he believes that the company is only 10% of the way toward accomplishing its mission. Currently the company is pushing to expand internationally. They are working with Tencent in China to bring Roblox to that country. Plus, Roblox is looking to expand the age range of users. At the time of recording, half of all Roblox users were under the age of 13. That user population is a key focus for the company, which hopes to appeal to every age group. Part of the problem is sourcing content that will appeal to all different age ranges — a difficult task considering the rapid rate of change users go through as they grow and mature. 

“We’ve always been working on creating a platform to enable immersive 3D experiences and virtual social play. We still have a long way to go to get there. We’re probably only 10% of the way there. We want to have something that’s so much more amazing then where we are today, so there’s a lot of core tech we still need to build and I feel a hunger to get there that we have so much left to do.”

“What we’re not doing a great job of yet is surfacing the different content to different groups and that’s such a big thing. It’s more than just age range. It’s all about having niche content, long-tail, things like that. When you think about all the platforms out there that serve long-tail content, Youtube or Netflix or whatever, they’re doing great discovery that’s very tailored to who you are. You watch one video, they show you others that look like that. We’re barely scratching the surface on that. We haven’t even really done it yet. Everyone sees the same things. So when we unlock that, we unlock the ability to have experiences that appeal to a lot of different types of people.” 

Episode 105