When identical twins Ben and Matt Horton began making serious money from creating video games, their parents couldn’t believe it.
“It was quite bizarre at first, because I was doing a paper round and they were blown away,” says Ben. “They said there was no way a paper round can make this much.”
His brother Matt adds: “It was a significant amount of money. They thought we were doing shady stuff online.”
As it turned out, the brothers had produced their first big hit – a game called Boat Ride, launched on the online gaming platform Roblox – and they were just 13.
Seven years later, Ben and Matt work full-time on gaming, with Ben specialising on the software side and Matt doing video production.
Their games have been played more than 100 million times and each of them earns £100,000 a year.
It all began as a hobby when the pair had some free time over the Christmas holidays. They were already enthusiastic gamers on Roblox and found it easy to start developing their own games.
“Anyone can learn, a 10-year-old kid can learn to make a game,” says Ben.
Now the brothers share a flat in their hometown of Crawley, having dropped out of sixth-form to concentrate full-time on game development. Their closeness as twins is important to them.
“We’re not telepathic, but I kind of know what he’s thinking and he knows what I’m thinking,” says Matt. “In our whole life, we’ve not spent more than two days apart from each other.”
Despite their new-found wealth, the two say they are “not big spenders” and are “not very materialistic”.
Treating the family to a holiday and helping to pay off their parents’ mortgage have been their biggest items of expenditure, with most of their income invested.
“We just want to be able to live comfortably for the rest of our lives,” says Ben.
‘More than just a game’
Roblox has seen huge success built on the work of developers like Ben and Matt.
It’s already the world’s largest user-generated games site, and its value rose 60% to $ 47bn after its first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Versatility is one of the key reasons it’s been a hit, says Candice Mudrick, head of market analysis at gaming data company Newzoo.
“The Roblox business model is more than a game – it’s a platform that encourages creators to build experiences for other users. While many games have some form of user-generated content, it’s more uncommon to find games whose entire business model is built upon it,” she says.
But competition is stiff among top developers on the platform. The firm recently said that more than 1,250 developers earned at least $ 10,000 in robux, the platform’s currency which can be converted to cash, in 2020. Only about 300 earned $ 100,000 or more.
“This indicates that although the broader creator community is strong, the top earners are still a small group,” said Ms Mudrick.
She added that a big challenge for the firm and its army of developers will be “maintaining its young audience as they age, while at the same time also expanding to new, older, demographics”.
Quinn Byron-Dyer started playing Roblox when he was just 10 years old.
A decade later, he was at intern at the company’s head office in San Mateo, California, and he now supports himself through his work as a Roblox developer.
Quinn, now 22, says playing and building games on the platform initially appealed to his “creative side”.
“I got more seriously into developing stuff about 2015 onwards and from then, the money just built up from there I guess,” he says.
A recent graduate with a degree in computer games design, he believes that Roblox is popular because it’s “really easy to get into”.
“You don’t need any requirements, you can start making stuff for free, you don’t have to have any qualifications.”
And importantly, Roblox provides the audience. “It is so much easier to get people playing your game when there’s already loads of people playing similar games out there,” Quinn says.
How much has he earned from Roblox? He says he’s not sure.
But as someone who has worked on hit games such as Murder Mystery 2, which has been visited 4.4 billion times, Quinn is looking forward to getting his own place once he moves out of his parents’ house, post-pandemic of course.
How do his parents feel about his career? “They were obviously a bit unsure at first, about what it all means,” he says. “Because it was all very new, quite a new industry, it took a bit for them to understand what it was all about, but they are supportive of it.”
Fiona, meanwhile, joined the platform in 2008.
She’s a developer based in Toronto who teamed up with her partner to create Super Power Fighting Simulator. The action game, in which players enter different realms and fight battles, has attracted more than 100 million users.
She says that level of popularity generates about $ 30,000 to $ 40,000 per month.
“Roblox has changed my life,” she says. “I went from playing Roblox every day as a kid, to making a successful income from it.”
“I’ve seen many young developers who have been able to make millions per year from developing on Roblox,” she adds.
Fiona made the decision to buy shares in company on its stock market debut, and is keen to keep working on Roblox games. “I’m excited to see where Roblox takes us within the next five to ten years,” she says.