Game discovery is fundamentally broken and only getting worse, it needs to be fixed

As a Roblox developer, I completely rely on Roblox’s discovery systems in order to make a living and fill servers with players. Game sorts, sponsored advertisements, banner & skyscraper ads, and social discovery features all have to work in tandem to ensure games are being surfaced to players, especially new games.

Unfortunately, discovery has been getting significantly worse as of late 2021. From critical sorts such as “Friends Playing” being removed, to front page sorts having limited slots, and many other problems, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to launch a new game on the platform without external off-platform exposure. This post serves to highlight the problems with discovery on the platform, and how it could be improved.

A/B tests that hurt discovery

One of the major issues over the past few months has been the constant A/B testing that goes on with the game sorts. There have been many changes to the home and discover pages that directly affect how games are surfaced to players. Most of these changes actively hurt a game’s ability to be surfaced to players, and result in newer games not being able to be launched.

Home page

  • “Continue playing” sort being removed and re-added repeatedly over the course of a few months, which makes it impossible to re-visit games you recently played!
  • “Friends playing” sort being removed and re-added repeatedly, resulting in less exposure to games I would likely play, since I share similar interests with my friends!
  • “Favorites” being moved to the bottom of the home page sorts, which makes it very hard to re-visit favorite games

There was a feedback thread that was made for the above points. What was the response to this? Were any changes made? Nope. Absolutely 0 communication, and nothing was changed even though a fair amount of developers asked for the changes to be reverted and stopped. I had to physically walk up to a product manager at RDC, explaining why the changes are impacting me in order to get some changes reverted. Where’s the communication here? Why are we being ignored / kept in the dark about something that directly impacts us, and can potentially hurt our livelihood? Where’s the “RESPECT THE COMMUNITY” core pillar Roblox stands on?

… and there’s more:

  • “Favorites” being limited to only 25 slots, forcing me to manually type out a web URL to see more of my favorites. If I favorite a game, it means I want to play it again in the future. Not have it buried so I forget about it.
  • Catered / genre sorts only having 10 slots, making it impossible to see games that I would otherwise play. Again, see the above point.
  • Game genre sorts not appearing, then re-appearing at seemingly random, making it very hard to play games of a specific genre when I want to
  • Game genre sorts not matching what a player wants to play. At seemingly random I’ll be recommended with a genre that I want nothing to do with, and none of the genres I want to play show up at all!

The genre sort issues could be solved by allowing games to specify a genre. We had this. It was removed. There have been
numerous.
posts.
about.
adding.
genres.

And yet, we still lack the ability to find & tag games of specific genres. As a player, if I want to play a scifi game, I can’t! I have to randomly refresh web pages until I see a game that fits my interests! As a developer, if I want to target an audience that likes platformers, I can’t! I have to pray the algorithm’s RNG shows a “platformer” sort to players, who, half the time, won’t even like platformers!

Steam has genres. Epic games has genres. Itch.io has genres. Google play store has genres. Literally any platform, ever, period, has genres. So, why can’t we? It would help games targeting a specific audience get more discovery, and it could even help improve the CTR of targeted sponsored advertisements! Instead of having your sponsored game be buried on the front page, it could have more exposure under a sort for “scifi” or any other genre!

Discover page

The discover page is one of the main ways to discover new games as a player. It can make or break the success of a game. So the algorithms on it should be balanced and fair, right? Unfortunately, as it stands at the time of writing this post, they are not. Various A/B tests conducted on the “discover” page have made it nearly impossible for new games to get a foothold.

  • Sponsored games do not appear in any sorts. This drastically impacts the viability of running sponsored ads, and hurts non-top experiences / smaller developers.

  • “Top Earning” was renamed to “Suggested” and moved to the top, pushing “Sponsored” further down, forcing you to scroll down a bit to see sponsored games (https://twitter.com/WhoseTrade/status/1499529450257592323)

  • Various sorts have a limited amount of games on said sort. Game doesn’t show up within the first few rows? Oh well!

  • Games that fall under a specific keyword are not shown most of the time. Search “tower” on the discover page. “Tower of hell”, despite having > 25k CCU, does not show up at all! Games with much less CCU, worse ratings, etc are shown ABOVE IT. Searching is fundamentally broken because of this issue.


    An example of the above happening

  • Games that are exploding in popularity do not appear on the front page. At all. @TheAmazeman recently launched a game, “Tsunami Game”, and it quickly gained a lot of players. It never appeared on the “up and coming” sort, to the point where it even seems like the sort is manually hand-picked by Roblox staff : https://twitter.com/TheAmazemanRBLX/status/1494786337001463808. This is extremely disrespectful to developers, and outright does not work.

These complaints have been made by many other players and developers alike:
https://twitter.com/search?q=roblox%20game%20discovery&src=typed_query

Sponsors are effectively useless

With all of the negative changes being made to the algorithm & sorts, sponsored advertisements have become paperweight. @Spathi and I dumped R$ 40,000 into a sponsored ad. We received almost no player traffic from it due to the changes. Of the 144,000,000 impressions, only ~1,000 players clicked. The fact that sponsors aren’t even visible without scrolling down a bit can certainly be a major cause of that. Other developers, such as @TheAmazeman suffered a similar problem : https://twitter.com/TheAmazemanRBLX/status/1488339680282112004.

CCUs as a whole are being hurt

In 2021, Roblox had a huge growth in its daily active users, and the trend is continually going upwards:

With the massive growth in DAUs, you would think games would be getting discovered easier. Unfortunately, due to the fundamentally broken nature of discovery, sponsored ads, and searches, it’s actually become harder to successfully launch a game, despite the huge growth in DAUs.

Conclusion

Overall, it is extremely hard as a developer to launch a game on the platform in its current state, due to the fundamentally broken changes being made to search & discovery. Roblox’s vision is to build the metaverse. How is there going to be a metaverse if players & developers can’t find anything?

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The reason platforms like YouTube dont suffer from issues like this is because of two things

  • The creator can specifically target their content towards certain audiences
  • YouTube knows what the viewer wants to watch means it can better push this content.

With the amount of analytical data Roblox collects in the backend, you think we would’ve got better game discovery with the Recommended For You, which was an amazing feature when Roblox first launched it, since it pushed games to me I might want to actually play.

Now however, the sort is filled with the same stuff that gets pushed on the Games page and are already big name games.

Another decision that was in the wrong decision was removing Genres, this was granular searching for people who wanted to find specific games, but now, because Genres serve no purpose out of being a tag, it makes discovery harder.

I brought up in the other thread where the Continue Playing tab kept disappearing is that:

My current solution for this problem would be to add the following features:

  • Tagging. Add it already.
  • Use the data to properly recommend people games they want to see
  • Bring back Genres.
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It was pretty disheartening for me to launch a game on this platform that was “wowing” all of my developer peers, (shovel sim) and never making a dent in the discoverability.

I’ve easily spent half a million robux on sponsors and ads running various experiments.

My issue is the tools that are given to us - specifically banner ads and sponsored ads, while they do kind of work (cost per user is about… 2 robux?), the users that are clicking those ads are extremely low quality.

I was able to see with my external analytics tools that users coming from sponsored ads had much higher rates of leaving immediately, not spending, and downvoting.

So it really feels like a “pay to have your game downvoted service” right now.

This is 100% due to us having no way to target specific genres with our ads. If I only showed people my game who wanted to play simulators or pet collection games, I’d probably be getting more engaged users, even if the cost per user was higher.

47 Likes

I stopped playing and trying to play many/any Roblox games because unless you fit the target audience of the handful of top games then it feels extremely difficult to find anything that looks interesting enough to be worth playing. No offence to the top games, they are definitely well made and appeal to a lot of people, but if your game taste is anything different good luck finding anything.

As both a player and I developer trying to launch a new game I really hope Roblox improves things.

As a player I’d love to have tags or genre’s or something to be able to narrow down my searches instead of throwing words into the search bar that just maybe might relate to the type of game I want to play and hoping something interesting pops up.

As a developer I’m honestly kinda lost with how to promote a new game. Roblox admins, if you’re reading this, please at least take this away with you. It currently feels impossible to reach my desired audience without going off platform (friends, social media, etc.) There is no way to target ads to a particular interest group. If we could add a few tags to our games it’s be super awesome to be able to run adds to people interested in certain tags. I think it’d be a win for both players and devs. Players get recommended games they’re much more likely to be interested in. And devs can get a much warmer and engaged audience more quickly.

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It’s always amazed me how Roblox removed genres in favour of oddly specific game-type sorts. Why are we restricted to sorts like Tycoon, Simulator, Obby, etc? These aren’t just disincentivising developers from exploring new (and potentially popular) genres, but they’re limiting game diversity and potentially ageing-down a platform which strives to be an ‘all inclusive metaverse’.

I was quite suprised to see the friend-related sorts disappear too, as I’m sure as many others discovered was an incredibly useful sort for discovering new games.

One thing I agree which confused me over Christmas: how were games like @TheAmazeman’s Tsunami Game virtually invisible on discovery, while other experiences over three years old were thriving on ‘Up And Coming’? Tsunami Game’s been one of the most unique and entertaining quick-games I’ve played recently, and if it hadn’t been for his outside social media presence, I wouldn’t have discovered it at all.

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On this topic, users cannot currently hide their favorites from their profile. This makes using favorites problematic for medium to high-profile users, as it implies an implicit approval of that game, which may not be true.

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Does Roblox take steps to monitor and defend against actions taken by bad actors to manipulate algorithm-impacting data (such as crash rate on devices)?

Theoretically, a bad actor or group of bad actors could attack a game by botting the crash rate of a certain device, effectively taking that device off certain sorts or reducing its visibility.

Additionally, in the past few weeks there have been several outages, some of which impacted certain games more than others. These outages have lasted several hours, with some games dropping player counts by >80%, while other games were relatively unimpacted. Are these outages affecting sorts or crash rates for our games? If it did, this would be an unfair bias towards certain games that were impacted versus others which were not.

Overall, it feels like my livelihood is currently being decided by the whims of a robot algorithm that is highly susceptible to manipulation and error. How are people expected to build careers on a platform where launch momentum is decided by the rolling of a dice?

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I used to use the discover page all the time to find stuff to play. Ever since genres were removed, I only found it to be useful to see the top experiences on Roblox. However, I can’t even use it to do that anymore. In fact, I now only use it once in a blue moon. I actually find myself using Friend Activity on my home page more often than the discover page.

I can rarely, if ever, find the type of game I’m looking for. If I have to use other sites to do so, then that should automatically be a red flag with how game discovery works on Roblox.

Not only that, but I also used to have an experience that would pull in at least two million visits a month on average. Most of those were due to the game being featured on the Top Rated sort. However, in 2020 the experience was practically killed off by an update to the discover page that limited the amount of experiences that were visible on the See All page for many, if not all, experience sorts. That affected my experience because it was no longer visible on that sort due to it not being above the cut off. The MAU for my experience dropped more than 95% just from that one change alone.

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I whole heartedly agree that discovery just isn’t there today. I personally have a hard time finding new games to play and my younger sisters do too. To me the Discovery page feels like a bunch of different sorts for the same games. The same games just being reshuffled depending on category.

  1. I wish the Discovery page was less packed. It’s overwhelming. I wouldn’t mind a few side-scrolling categories for games like we have currently but dozens of those feels exhausting to get through. Create a written list running down the page for Popular games and other categories. The icons could be very tiny so you can pack a lot of quick glance titles and select a game based on name instead of flashy images.

  2. Genres should absolutely come back. If they were removed for being underused, that’s a fault on Roblox making genres not visible enough. The suggestion below has an idea to make that possible.

  3. Allow me to sort the Discovery page how I want. Every list on the internet whether it’s for clothing or car rentals or plane tickets allows me to do this. Sort by Players counts, Filter in or out genres with Checkboxes, Sort by name (Z-A or A-Z).

  4. Give existing categories another look. Up and Coming is an absolute “scam” for some with games having a great launch week. Top Rated is abused by bots giving bad ratings (or at least was in my time, maybe this has changed) so allow games that become Top Rated to stay up there longer before disappearing.

  5. Give us even more recommended games at the bottom of a Game’s page. Or better yet, a full tab/page dedicated to it. Let me scroll through dozens of games related to the game I’m becoming bored of.

  6. Edit: I believe some staff-curation could go a long way. Like the App Stores having daily features with written information on each feature. Almost like what the Roblox Blog used to do but daily and more brief. When thinking to other app stores, checking back month after month usually nets me new games to look at. On Roblox, it’s almost always the same games. Sometimes this makes sense (like for Popular) but every category looking the same as the months go by makes Roblox feel like a very small world.

Ads personally have decent reach compared to off-Roblox. The click and play rates are higher than what you’d find off site. Yes ads are about that useless out there. I think devs should focus on social media platforms where ever kids are hanging out. TikTok is THE place right now for example. Better ad targeting would be nice but the current and system is no slouch.

Sorry if this got long. I’ve had some of this in my mind for months and have been meaning to make a post. The current games page is overwhelming with media and images. I’d love to see things simplified and revamped.

63 Likes

And on this topic, I wish I could create my own Categories of “Favorites”! Think playlists on YouTube. And let me choose to share or not share each.

This could actually end up being a powerful way to discover games through players who know how to find games very well. Select users could be known for having a great selection of games in organized playlists on their profile.

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As a Roblox player, I spend 95% of my playtime revisiting games I already know and love - I favorite these games, or just let them stick to the top of my Continue Playing. The #1 way I find new games is through the Friends Playing sort, because my friends have similar taste to me.

I used to really like the home page because it had all of these sorts that were perfectly relevant to me - but now, the sorts on the page randomize and disappear day-to-day, sometimes even between page refreshes to the point that it looks far more like a bug than an A/B test. Right now, the layout tends to be Continue and Friends Playing (which I think is great, they should be there), 10 entire rows of what seems to be random categories, none of which interest me, and finally Favorites, which is at the bottom for some reason instead of the top.

Finding and playing games, even ones that I have explicitly favorited, is a frustrating and unreliable experience on Roblox due to the way the homepage works, and I’d very much like to see it returned to its previous purpose as a hub to see my friends and a small collection of games that are extremely relevant to me - instead of being a narrower copy of the Discover page.

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This sounds fantastic. I’d love to see the option to create curated game playlists.

To add onto it, if Roblox added genres or tags back you could even tag a playlist and Roblox could use data on what games get put together often in playlists to curate a better recommended sort for each game.

Or even just replace the “Recommended” section with a “This game featured in” section and then feature top playlists with that game in it.

I think this could be a huge win for everyone, and like you said I’m sure some people who know how to find games could create some epic playlists and would become well known as a source of good games/playlists. For the UGC direction Roblox is headed, player curated playlists seem like they’d fit right in.

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As a developer who has released a game recently with @Fennecpaw, our game has had a sizable fanbase, however no matter how many updates we put out, no matter how many advertisements we run, getting onto one of these sorts picked by the algorithm seems like an almost impossible task.

It really frustrates me when low quality content is able to rise to the top and stay there for countless days because the algorithm would cause a positive feedback loop, leaving high quality games with small but dedicated fanbases in the shadow, and the only real way for the algorithm to notice is if Roblox themselves hoists it up or if a popular Youtuber or Tiktoker shines light onto it.

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Here’s yet another example of discovery acting completely strange. A mutual of mine, @devaleporbet, recently released a game called ‘Find The Chonkers’ following the current trend of ‘find the X’ games. Because mostly younger players tend to play these games, he made the game with mobile being the primary focus. However, he’d noticed something odd with discovery : If you search “find the” on PC, the search algorithm correctly surfaces “find the” games to you. However, if this is searched on mobile, there’s an arbitrary cutoff where the algorithm stops surfacing “find the” games, and instead surfaces random gibberish.

This is what the search looks like on PC, notice the lack of a cutoff:

This is what happens on mobile, notice how the desired search results arbitrarily cutoff after n rows & you are instead surfaced random experiences:

Issues like this literally prevent games from being shown to players that are actively engaged with a particular genre that would want to play the game.

I cannot emphasize enough how serious of an issue this is - I’m starting to consider options other than Roblox longer-term because of this!

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Comparing Roblox’s discovery to something like Steam makes Roblox look like a joke. Players have to rely on the “Recommended for you” sort to find games they like (which is useless since it seems to be based on games you have recently played, and those are just going to be the games that are on the front page).

Roblox lacks basic discovery features such as tags, reviews, and genres (we used to have genres, but Roblox removed the ability to search based on a genre for some reason). Instead discovery seems to be based on keywords in your games title and description yet this information isn’t made clear when you are creating your games description / title.

Steam allows developers and players to add tags to their games, so why isn’t this on Roblox? I used my Steam Discovery Queue to find this game, and there are user defined tags, reviews, and developer tags that tell me everything about the game I could possibily want to know before purchasing it.

Store Page:

Developer Tags:
image

If Roblox integrated something similiar to the Steam Discovery Queue every player will be able to find games they might like easier, and this feature has the potential to be more effective than Steams discovery as with Roblox a large majority of games are free and no download is required to play the game. This is something that Roblox needs to have, it is almost impossible to make the game you want to make if it does not appeal to Roblox’s discovery algorithms. Instead developers are forced to use an already established formula (ie: a simulator) that is designed to only increase playtime and engagement.

I recommend checking out the Steam Discovery Queue so you can see how valuable something like this could be to Roblox: https://store.steampowered.com/explore/

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Hello folks, Roblox search & discovery PM here. First, let me acknowledge and thank you for all the feedback provided in this thread and elsewhere. We are very grateful for such a passionate and involved community.

Please rest assured that we hear you and that we are working hard on making Roblox better for developers and players alike. While we can’t respond to every post, we actively monitor the forum and use your feedback to inform our roadmap.

We have some exciting changes coming up this year, please stay tuned for future announcements!

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Thank you for the response. I’m glad that our feedback has been seen, and I’m looking forward to seeing what changes happen later this year! :slight_smile:

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