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A hot potato: Roblox has rebranded itself as an “experience” creation tool to keep the game out of the legal battle between Apple and Epic, a plot we’re here to foil with this article.
"The term ‘experience’ is consistent with how we’ve evolved our terminology to reflect our realization of the metaverse," a Roblox spokesperson, who is coincidentally a science fiction fan but who doesn't let that affect their day job, told The Verge.
"Roblox is an online community where people do things together in virtual worlds, and over the years, we began referring to these worlds as experiences, as they better represent the wide range of 3D impressive places – from obbys to virtual concerts – that people can enjoy together with their friends."
Roblox’s player-created games used to be found under the games tab, now they’re under the ‘discover’ tab and are called experiences. Every copy of the word ‘game’ has been deleted off the Roblox website and app, with the notable exception of the discover page’s url: roblox.com/games.
Roblox has sometimes labeled its games as experiences in the past, and last year, Roblox CEO David Baszucki did call Roblox a metaverse. But the suddenness and vastness of the change on their website appears to have been prompted by the legal spat Epic Games v. Apple, which has called into question the definition of a videogame.
Epic doesn’t want the Courts to call Fortnite a game, because then the case becomes about Apple’s App Store games policy, instead of their general app policy. Apple wants to call Fortnite a game, but (charitably) doesn’t want to call Roblox a game, because then they’d have to apply their games policy to it (which is bad for Roblox).
Epic says that Fortnite is a "metaverse," just like Roblox. And if Roblox is, then Fortnite might be; they both host a variety of non-game activities and social get-togethers. To use the example provided by Roblox’s spokesperson, they’ve both been platforms for some fairly major concerts.
Speaking of the metaverse, apparently that’s what’s at stake in this court case. Apple’s lawyer said that:
"Epic speculates about a world where Apple is a different company. And it’s asking this court to make a big bet that that world is a better world than the one we live in. It isn’t."
(Because of the Windows phone, presumably.)
Apple’s head of marketing, Trystan Kosmynka, told Epic’s lawyer that "if you think of a game or app, games are incredibly dynamic, games have a beginning, an end, there’s challenges in place," with the exception of some small titles like Pac-Man and Minecraft. Hold on, I spoke too soon: "I look at the experiences that are in Roblox," he continued, as "similar to the experiences that are in Minecraft. These are maps. These are worlds." So Minecraft isn’t a game, either. Got it.
Kosmynka added that Apple shows that it doesn't think Roblox is a game by not labeling it as such in the App Store. Except that Apple does label Roblox (and Minecraft, too) as games.
Roblox’s de-gamification side step only serves to complexify the legal and policy debate around the App Store. Game streaming services, like Google Stadia, are required to offer each game as a separate app if they want to appear on the App Store. Roblox doesn’t have to do that. But if Stadia started offering a few services that weren’t games, like a 3D modeling program, for example, would it qualify for the same 'experiences' exemption from the App Store's policies?
Whatever Apple does, it looks like Epic's got them cornered. But that doesn’t mean that Epic’s won the case, it means that the verdict will affect even more apps, whether they offer games, experiences, or something else.