September 26, 2022

Roblox, the highly valued user-created game platform, has taken out any reference to “games” in its user interface. This seemingly minor semantic change could still have major implications for the Epic Games v. Apple trial.

The Verge noted that the Roblox “Games” tab is now called “Discover”. However, the URL still has the address. The website and mobile Roblox apps refer to individual games as “experiences”, while the term “game” appears to have been dropped.

Roblox spokesperson said that the term “experiences” is consistent with how Roblox has changed its terminology to reflect our understanding of the metaverse. Roblox is an online community that allows people to do things together in virtual realms. Over the years we started to refer to these worlds under the term “experiences” because they better reflect the variety of 3D immersive places – from obbys [obstacle course] to virtual concerts – that people can enjoy with their friends.

What’s in the name?

In the Epic Games trial vs. Apple this month, Roblox’s definition of what constitutes a game and whether Roblox hosts user-created gaming content has been surprisingly important. This is because Apple has different App Review standards for gaming applications, particularly those that stream unreviewed content from the cloud like Roblox.

These distinctions are crucial to Apple’s argument regarding in-app payments made on iOS Fortnite, and the control it exercises over Epic’s games. Epic also argues that Epic should be allowed to operate its own game store on iOS.

Roblox’s website can stream millions of subgames within the Roblox app and not submit each one for review. It’s difficult to argue that other gaming apps do not deserve the same rights. However, if Roblox is an “experience”, similar to DLC maps in a preexisting game then Apple’s review policies may be very different.

The vast majority of Roblox’s user-created “experiences”, in the most basic sense, could be described as games. Many games are akin to the most popular game titles. They offer interactive play areas with clear goals, rules, and scoring. Roblox’s most beloved game, a virtual pet simulator called “Adopt Me”, has even launched a full-fledged studio called Uplift Games in order to continue working on other titles.

However, at the Epic Games Vs. Apple trial Apple Senior Director for Marketing Trystan Kosmynka attempted to argue that Roblox’s offerings were not games. Kosmynka believes that games need to have a clearly defined beginning and ending, along with challenges for players to overcome. He said, “I see the Roblox experiences similar to the Minecraft experiences.” These are maps. These are worlds. They have limits in terms of their capabilities.

Kosmynka, however, asked the App Review team whether Roblox (which he mistyped to Roboblox) “follow[s] [our guidelines]” and was told that he was surprised that the review board approved the application. Stoney Gamble, Apple’s representative, pointed out that the original game rejection was in late 2014. This was because the streamer was playing games that we didn’t like. These games are not subject to review. The app was approved in early 2015, a month after it was rejected by Apple’s executive review board, which has the final say on matters like this.

Roblox is complying with Apple’s demands regarding raw dollars and cents. Roblox points out that 24.9 percent of company revenues are spent on its Developer Hub by App Store Fees. These fees are demanded from platform holders such as Apple, Google, and console manufacturers. These are the fees Epic was trying to avoid when Epic launched Epic Direct Payments in Fortnite on iOS. This is what sparked this entire legal drama. Epic would almost certainly not agree to a similar cut even if Apple allowed it to host its own iOS “store-within-a-store” gaming offering, much like Roblox.

Roblox’s situation demonstrates the double standard Apple uses in its content review process. It shows how Apple treats content in gaming apps differently than content in non-gaming apps. This is true regardless of whether Roblox refers to these games as “experiences” or maps or any other terms it may come up with.

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