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Ammon Runger has been playing games on Roblox since he was 10. Then he started making games. And like many others building games on the popular user-generated content platform, Runger wants to move up the ladder to making a living creating those games.
He’s part of what I call the Leisure Economy, where we get paid to play games (and create them), and he has already amassed a lot of experience for someone so young.
Now, at the ripe old age of 16, the Washington state native and high school student has more than 47,0o0 Twitter followers and 11,000 YouTube subscribers. He has worked for two years as head of marketing at Schwifty Studios, and his trailers have generated more than 5 million views. He also runs the “Creator Spotlight” segment posted on the official Roblox social media channels.
“What’s fun about Roblox itself is just the diversity of experiences that are on the platform,” he said. “There are so many different games that are on it. One of my favorite things about being on Roblox itself is just the sort of ecosystem that we have. There are tons and tons of people on like that are connected via Twitter or Instagram or Tiktok. And we all like a huge family. One of the cool things that I like about it is the freedom to be creative and just hop into Roblox studio and make whatever you really want to make.”
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Runger has helped the Schwifty Studios‘ Mad City YouTube channel hit 95,000 subscribers. Mad City is a cops-and-robbers game that is the 14th most-played game on Roblox with 1.7 billion visits. And he is working on the side for Backbone, which makes a handheld controller for the iPhone.
“That work helps me fund a lot of what I do on Roblox making games,” Runger said in an interview with GamesBeat.
A big opportunity
But time is short, and so he’s working on his own game, dubbed Legends of Clucky. Runger sees a lot of big teams moving in to create games on Roblox. Many of the top games are now made by teams with more than 10 people. And so while the getting is still good, Runger wants to take his shot at making a hit game as a native Roblox game developer who grew up with the platform.
It’s a big opportunity. Roblox’s games have become so popular that people have played the best ones billions of times. In 2020, on average, 32.6 million people came to Roblox every day. Also in 2020, users spent 30.6 billion hours engaged on the platform, an average of 2.6 hours per daily active user each day.
For the month of April alone, Roblox said daily active users were 43.3 million, up 37% from April of last year and up sequentially from 42.3 million in the month of March 2021. Hours engaged in April were 3.2 billion, up 18% year over year and flat sequentially from March 2021. These numbers enabled Roblox to go public in a direct listing in March at a valuation of $41.9 billion.
Still, Runger said that young game developers should be aware that the riches aren’t that easy to come by.
“My first bit of advice would probably be that success doesn’t happen overnight,” Runger said. “You can’t hop on Roblox and make a game overnight, and then expect it to be on the front page. Many games do blow up overnight. But I just want to help people who are interested in getting into Roblox development to know that it’s not that easy. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of learning to be able to make a game that is at the level that is required to have a successful game.”
Back when he was 10
Runger grew up as a fan of Doctor Who, and he would search for simulators of things that were in the show. And usually, somebody had made a version of the Doctor Who gadgets on Roblox. So he downloaded the game and checked it out.
“I just fell in love,” he said.
He spent a lot of time looking at YouTube videos to try to understand how to make games on Roblox. He learned scripting and programming and watched tutorials by AlvinBlox, a YouTuber who posted videos on how to make a car, how to make sounds, how to make doors open, and other things for Roblox games.
Runger’s games haven’t been successes, but they taught him a lot. His parents were a bit skeptical of the online interaction with people they didn’t know, but they let him keep pursuing his passion.
The road to pro
He made one called Mighty Skek Minigames, a collection of minigames dedicated to a YouTuber named Skek, who has 3.9 million subscribers. Skek had created his own avatar, and Runger built a 3D model based around that as a kind of homage. The game got nearly 100,000 visits. If you add up all of the work, Runger is making a good living at Roblox. His goal is to pay for college.
“I’m about 75% of the way there,” he said.
Runger’s situation isn’t unique. More than 1.25 million creators have made money in Roblox. But making a hit game is his ambition. He has two other friends — Raymond (who goes by Mac) and Owen (Aerecura) — at Team Clucky working on Legends of Clucky, and he is trying to make it a more polished production than he has done before.
“We’re pretty much friends. We do a lot of things together,” he said of his Team Clucky buddies.
The Legends of Clucky puts players inside a building, and they’re trapped. You have to hack terminals around the building. You get superpowers like X-ray vision, collect totems, activate them, and avoid Clucky, the big boss of the game.
Runger’s bid is to do what he can to keep Roblox for the kids.
Corporate game developers
Professional game development studios are making their mark on Roblox. Toya Studio and Zag Games said that their Roblox game, Miraculous RP: Quests of Ladybug & Cat Noir, has exceeded 100 million plays in just seven weeks. Runger is fine with that, but he also believes the native game developers — the kids who grew up playing Roblox — have an advantage when it comes to creativity.
“Corporations do a lot of advertising and paying people for sponsorships, and on Roblox that just does not work,” he said. “That’s not how children decide to play games. The corporations can be successful on Roblox, but there is a barrier about having a passion for Roblox that they have to get over. If you’re getting paid to make a game and told what to do, there is a passion or creativity that is lost.”
Runger added, “There is definitely truth to the shift toward studios with teams of people. But my personal reaction to that is I hope the people who founded the original games get to keep the drive they had to create games and keep their personalities in the games. When you create a game with a whole team, it can lose some of its charms and other sorts of corporate things start to creep in. I hope that the people who originally created the game keep their keep their creativity inside of it in one way or another.”
It will be interesting to watch how the tug-of-war between kid game designers and corporations turns out on the Roblox platform.
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