Roblox game on smartphone screen with stock exchange graphs rising, 19th Mar, 2021, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Roblox/Courtesy

Brazilians get their game on during the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s not surprising that digital entertainment has boomed during the last 15 months. But, gaming is off the hook! LABS reviewed the latest gaming-related data from Pesquisa Game Brasil’s research and discussed the future of online gaming in this Q&A with Craig Donato, chief business officer at Roblox, the wildly popular global online platform

Gaming is popular in Brazil. While that’s not exactly a newsflash, consider this: Out of roughly 212,559,417 people, nearly three-quarters of the country’s population (72%) say they play online games at least once a week, and 45.6% play daily. That’s according to Pesquisa Game Brasil (PGB), an annual market research report on gaming in Latin America that is co-produced by Blend, ESPM (a business, marketing, and communications school), GoGamers, and Sioux Group.

The newly released gaming report surveyed 12,498 people during a pivotal time period — from February 2020 through February 2021, in the midst of the global pandemic  — providing a window into gaming behavior during the height of circulation restrictions and social isolation in Brazil

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According to Mauro Berimbau, a professor at ESPM and a consultant at Sioux Group/GoGamers, one of the major drivers of Brazil’s growing gaming habit is the rise of the smartphone. “Console and PC gaming is very expensive in Brazil, and typically only upper-class Brazilians can afford those platforms and games,” said Berimbau. 

Consider the monthly income of a Brazilian employee: BRL 2,467 (around $490), in the first quarter of this year, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). A new PlayStation costs twice that much, and that doesn’t even address the cost of having enough expendable income to buy games.

“Smartphones are more affordable, and they offer more value because you can do more with them, like pay bills, watch movies, or play free games,” said Berimbau.

Mauro Berimbau, a professor at ESPM and a consultant at Sioux Group/GoGamers. Photo: Personal archive.

In our study, 41.6% of all gamers — including, for the first time, those who identify as hard-core gamers — said the smartphone is their preferred gaming platform. And 45.4% of them said they play only free games.

Mauro Berimbau, a professor at ESPM and a consultant at Sioux Group/GoGamers.

In response to pandemic-induced isolation, Brazilians have turned to gaming in a big way — and 46% of them said they played more games than ever before. Although the total number of people gaming remained steady at 72%, the time spent in a single session increased dramatically. 

In the space of just one year, the number of people who said they spent between three to six hours in one gaming session nearly tripled from 12% to 31%. Smartphone gamers stayed and played even longer. Single sessions more than tripled, jumping from 11% to 35%. 

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Mobile gaming in Brazil is going in only one direction — up. Statista reports that projected revenues will reach $814 million in 2021. PGB’s study makes it clear Brazilians spent, and continue to spend, more time playing games during the pandemic. But one company, Roblox, really caught our attention. If you’re not familiar with the name, ask your kids. A whopping 67% of people who use Roblox are less than 16 years old.

What is Roblox and why is it so popular in Brazil?

Roblox isn’t a game — it’s a platform. Users can play free games, create their own games to share, or sell game enhancements to earn virtual currency called Robux. Creators who earn enough Robux can then convert it to actual currency to spend in real life.

Roblox is a huge, global phenomenon. More than 42.1 million people play it every day. In 2020, Roblox proved to be lucrative for game creators. Roblox paid creators more than $329 million last year.

It definitely seems Brazilians love and know about Roblox. PGB tracks game-title awareness, and Berimbau noted that 43.7% of Brazilian PC and smartphone gamers (combined) know about Roblox. 

PlayerCounter tracks the number of Roblox players online in real time and ranks the top-five countries. Brazil (7.85%) comes in second only to the U.S. (20.21%) in numbers of active daily players. Russia, the U.K. and Turkey round out the pack for countries with the most frequent gamers.

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The future of Roblox in Brazil and beyond

Given the platform’s popularity and economic potential for game creators/players and developers, we decided to check in with Craig Donato, the company’s chief business officer, for a Q&A about Roblox’s plans in Brazil and Latin America.

Craig Donato, chief business officer at Roblox. Photo: Roblox/Courtesy.

Lauren Simonds: The pandemic’s social isolation caused a major uptick in online gaming in Brazil. PGB’s study found that between Feb. 2020 – Feb. 2021, people who said they spent three to six hours in one console/PC gaming session increased by 19%. The growth in single smartphone gaming sessions jumped by 24%. Do you see a similar increase in Roblox gamers based in Brazil or other Latin American countries during that period, and do you anticipate that to level-off when social distancing restrictions relax? 

Craig Donato: The pandemic has caused enormous suffering around the globe, and we are hopeful for a return to normalcy. We’re proud that during this time so many people turned to Roblox to stay socially connected — to meet, play, socialize, and have joyful experiences together with their family and friends. 

Even as restrictions ease up across the world, people continue to make meaningful connections and share memorable experiences on the platform. In Q1 2021, we saw 104% growth in engagement and 87% growth in daily active users in markets outside of the U.S. and Canada. 

Together with our community of creators, we are quickly expanding the range of experiences on the platform — from new, high-fidelity user-generated content (UGC) worlds to music concerts and art/fashion events like the Gucci Garden immersive experience that ran from May 17-31. We see a lot of stickiness in our growing number of daily active users, and we will continue to focus on our key growth areas like expanding our international presence and demographics.

LS: Beyond Roblox enthusiasts having a lot of free time on their hands during the last 15 months, what else accounts for the gaming platform’s tremendous popularity and growth? 

Donato: Historically, two network effects have driven our growth: social and content. With respect to social, the number-one way that people come to Roblox is by getting invited by a friend. The more friends you have on Roblox, the more fun it is.

With respect to content, the more we have on the platform, the more users we attract. As more users join, more content creators are inspired to come to our platform and create new content. More content drives more users; more users drive more content. These two viral loops continue to help us grow organically all around the world.

Technological innovation also plays an important role. Developers can create content that runs across various devices as soon as it’s pushed into the cloud and, at the same time, [that content] auto-translates into multiple languages. We’ve been focused on mobile, which is the most difficult form-factor for creating an immersive experience. We’ve been making ongoing investments into the infrastructure, developer tools, and other important growth areas.

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LS: Citing JP Morgan, this article reports that almost two-thirds of Roblox users are younger than 17, and they spend more than 2.5 hours a day playing games on the platform. Do those numbers reflect the participation in Brazil? What about the rest of Latin America?

CD: Expanding our demographics is an important part of our growth strategy, and we are working on enabling creators to build experiences that are more tailored towards older users. Our demographics continue to expand with users over the age of 13. They grew by 111% in Q1 2021 and now account for 49% of the user base. I can’t break down the numbers by specific markets.

LS: PlayerCounter tracks the global number of Roblox players online in real time. Currently Brazil ranks second in the world with 7.85% following the U.S. at 20.21%. And Statista projects that gaming will draw about USD $1.4 billion in consumer spending across Brazil in 2021. How important is Brazil to Roblox? Where does it rank in terms of your strategic markets?

CD: We are actively growing our international presence and are deeply interested in growing in Brazil, which is one of our top international markets. Our larger mission is to build a platform that enables billions of users around the globe to share digital experiences with other people — something industry analysts and science-fiction writers call the Metaverse. [Editorial note: The article explaining Metaverse was written by Roblox CEO and founder, David Baszucki.]

We see several key growth factors for achieving this important mission. One, I already talked about, is expanding our demographics. The other one is international expansion. For example, we’re rolling out machine translation, which automatically and dynamically translates all the experiences on Roblox into 11 different languages, including Portuguese and Spanish. 

LS: A DevForum post back in April 2020 claimed there were no Roblox servers in South America, despite the platform’s popularity on that continent. What’s the server status today, and what are your plans for adding servers and building out other infrastructure to support the gaming platform’s huge popularity in Brazil?

CD: The services and infrastructure that power our Metaverse platform are massive and global. To ensure we can provide the best possible experience for our users and developers, we’ve spent the last several years building our own infrastructure with a focus on reliability, performance and cost. 

We are actively building it out all over the world, focusing on high-usage areas, and we now operate more than 21,000 servers from data centers and points of presences (PoPs) across several continents. 

Our geographically distributed model aims to provide a low-latency and high-performance experience to our global user base, and we’ll continue to expand our footprint to meet demand. For example, we’re currently building and evaluating data centers in several rapidly growing markets to help improve developer and user experience. 

LS: Ahead of taking the company public earlier this year, Roblox posted a job vacancy for Head of International Development for Latin America. Has that vacancy been filled, and can you discuss the company’s goals for expansion in Brazil and LatAm? 

CD: We have not yet filled that role. We’ve been organically growing around the world and now have a large base of users and creators in Brazil and Latin America. We will continue to invest in better supporting our Brazilian and Latin American communities.

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LS: Creators/developers can monetize the games they create using Roblox Studio, and there are branding opportunities as well. Big Blox Brasil is a notable example. Can you discuss the economic opportunities that Roblox’s open platform offers?

CD: Experiences on Roblox are free to play. Users have the option of buying virtual items to customize their avatar or to enhance their experience (e.g., buying a virtual car) and for that they use Robux, our virtual currency. 

Creators earn Robux from those transactions, which can then be cashed out in their local currency or invested back into their experiences on the Roblox platform. 

This system provides a powerful economic incentive for the community to develop better and more engaging content on Roblox’s platform. In 2020, more than 1.25 million developers and creators earned Robux and the community, as a whole, earned approximately $329 million.

In 2021, we believe that we’re on track to share nearly half a billion dollars with our community. 

Craig Donato, chief business officer at Roblox.

And we see many new creators, as well as developer studios, joining our platform. It’s inspiring to see Brazilian developers like Redneon Studios whose game Corridor of Hell has garnered more than 500 million visits, or iBugouzinho and its multiple games with millions of visits (and more in development), or to hear stories of UGC creators like Caio Cabral who supported his family through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

LS: Following on that, who owns the gaming content built within the platform — the people who create them or Roblox?

CD: Developers own the rights to their content but grant us a license per our Terms of Use. [Editorial note: According to Roblox Developer Economics page, profit is split approximately evenly between Roblox and developers once Infrastructure, hosting/support, and app store fees are paid]

LS: Roblox recently announced a partnership with Hasbro, with both Monopoly and Nerf product tie-ins slated for the U.S. market. Can you share anything new and exciting Brazilians can expect from Roblox soon?

CD: There is always something exciting going with new brand partnerships and music events. We’ve just hosted a game jam challenge in partnership with Brasil Game Show, where dozens of developer teams created games for prizes. 

In May, we hosted a weekend-long dance party with pop star Zara Larsson in celebration of her new album release, and her fans in Latin America could enjoy the event with others anywhere in the world. 

Watch out for our upcoming announcements. We have an amazing brand partnership coming up that will be exciting for our Spanish-speaking users and anybody who loves to dance. Plus, the message we want to bring through this partnership is very much aligned with our Roblox values of respect, inclusion and belonging.