Just as they do in the physical world, goods, services, and entertainment power a thriving economy on Roblox. Our Economy Group develops the infrastructure that makes this possible; their vision is to create a vibrant, virtual economy that mirrors the real world.
“As a company, our goal is to have over a billion people on the platform. That means that a lot of what happens in daily life needs to be possible on Roblox,” says Antoni Choudhuri, who recently took on the role of Head of Engineering for the Economy Group. “And a big part of that daily life includes the economic factors which exist in the real world.”
So what do those factors look like on the platform—and what are the opportunities they enable? For Antoni, questions of how the Roblox economy will scale with the platform and how it will grow to serve the needs of the community are intertwined. “We have a few core areas we are currently focusing on in the Economy Group: Marketplace, Advertising, Developer Monetization, and Payments & Fraud. Between these teams, Economy is responsible for powering a healthy economic ecosystem that supports commerce of UGC and enables some top-performing members of the creator community to build thriving businesses on Roblox.”
To learn more about the team behind the tech, we spoke to four other members of the Economy Group: Product Manager Alex Amorati, Technical Lead Shweta Sharma, Senior Product Manager Shu-min Wee, and Senior Software Engineer Noah Crowley.
The Technical Challenges Behind Building a Thriving, Virtual Economy
To bring a thriving virtual economy to life requires tackling many deeply technical challenges. The team has been addressing several of these challenges already, ranging from innovations like building technology to allow UGC item scarcity (i.e. limited items & collectibles), to enabling Immersive Ads in experiences. Now they’re looking to modernize Roblox’s payments system to support greater scale.
Taking on these technical challenges starts with ”building empathy with the creator community,” according to Product Manager Alex Amorati. As users buy and spend Robux, our creators can exchange Robux for fiat currency, as in earnings, or can continue to reinvest in the platform. In 2022, about $618M was paid out to over 8,800 developers and creators who exchanged their earned Robux for real-world currency through our Developer Exchange Program.
There’s also a need to think about how to ensure the system is always available and reliable as it scales. Millions of transactions move through our systems every day. “We are constantly testing the limits and boundaries. Whether it’s scaling on the infrastructure side or on the application layer, we are designing a system that can handle the scale,” says Shweta. “We have to think about fault tolerance, at each level, so that if something goes wrong, we have a contingency plan.”
Reliability is also critical when building UGC item scarcity (i.e., when virtual items are made artificially limited). “When you’re trying to handle transactions and people’s actual money, you have to make sure everything goes right. As we work on UGC limited and collectibles, that is one of the key things we have to contend with from a technical perspective,” says Noah.
Highlighting the culture of innovation in the Economy Group
This team’s work impacts not only Roblox, but also the creator community. “Building a system that is going to work for our community is a key motivator for everyone to do their best work,” shares Antoni. “Shared responsibility, collaboration, and taking the long view are also aspects of the Economy Group’s culture that pushes the team to think outside of the box and come up with innovative solutions.”
Impact of work creates shared responsibility
Roblox measures its GDP using the same criteria and definitions used to measure those of entire nations. For reference, Roblox’s economy is currently about the same size as that of a small country. Roblox is powering a real economy, with real money and substantial real-world impact. This has created a shared sense of responsibility that is felt across the team.
For Noah, the potential for his work to impact the lives of this community motivates him to do his best work. “I’m most proud of whenever I’m able to advocate on behalf of our community to make sure that they’re constantly front and center. Everything we do is going to affect them more than anything.”
As a leader within the Economy Group, Shu-min says, “I like to remind people of the value of the work and how much it truly matters.”
Knowledge sharing accelerates progress
Over the ten years that Antoni has worked at Roblox, he has spent time in several roles across a number of different teams. As a newer leader in the Economy Group, he leaned on the expertise and knowledge of the team to help him quickly ramp up and navigate his new role. “There were a bunch of industry standard acronyms that were being used around advertising and finances of the company. I knew some of them, but not all. I was really impressed with the expert knowledge that everyone had in the organization. Everyone knew so many details ranging from how the business ran to our gross and net profit margins. It was quite impressive. Sharing that knowledge helped me get up to speed fast.”
Sharing expertise from various members of the team has become a key mechanism for how the team works and collaborates. “What the Economy Group does really well is learn from each other,” says Shweta. “Even though we’re fairly large, we always prioritize knowledge sharing across the entire group to accelerate ideation and solutions.”
As Shweta began exploring building out virtual subscriptions, one of the challenges that continued to come up was how to build the infrastructure so that it could scale effectively. To find the right guidance, she reached out to the Virtual Purchasing Team, who had recently overcome the same challenge. “I approached them, shared what we were looking for and asked them to share their experiences managing scale, what technologies they used. That information put my team on the right path. I’m grateful that we have a very collaborative environment.”
Taking the long view
From immersive advertising to innovations in limited-quantity virtual items to the modernization of a payment solution employed by a vast community of professionals and creators, many of the technologies that the Economy Group builds are on the cutting edge of the industry. That’s why taking the long view is critical.
“In typical Roblox style, we always operate with a long-term goal in mind, but start with the smallest of steps that move you in the right direction,” shares Shu-min. One recent example from her team: “Last year, we took our legacy payment system and moved to one that allowed for a more seamless user experience. As we continue to roll out new features and ways for developers to monetize, we’ll be able to build on top of this system and enable even more types of commerce.”
“What we care about is that we’re solving the right problems for our community, our users, our creators, and ourselves,” says Antoni. “There might be a short-term win, but a long-term headwind. I think the Economy Group strikes the right balance between long-term strategic thinking and innovation with tactical testing.”
Join the team building the virtual economy on Roblox
The Economy Group serves as an engine helping to power Roblox’s creation loop: creators make engaging experiences, earn and reinvest in their experiences, go onto create even more engaging experiences, and thereby ensure greater engagement and earnings.
“Every time we work on a new feature, we have an idea of how it will be used,” says Noah. “We get excited thinking about how our community will build their own business on our platform using what we’re building. And then, without fail, they end up doing way more than whatever we had thought of. The community is what continues to keep me here for sure.”
“The growth potential for Roblox and the creator community through this flywheel is super exciting,” says Shu-min. “When I first heard about what was going on in Economy I knew I wanted to be a part of it and thought to myself, ‘sign me up!’”
Want to learn more about what the Economy Group is working on? Tune in to the latest Roblox Tech Talks Podcast to listen to a conversation between VP of Product for Economy Enrico D’Angelo and CEO Dave Baszucki on their vision for the Roblox economy.