Roblox is a phenomenon, letting players create their own games with its large set of tools. You’ll find just about anything you can think of on Roblox, from dinosaur games to anime adventures. Dealing with that level of user-created content can be challenging for any developer, but in bringing Roblox to China in 2021, the Roblox Corporation had to overcome an entirely different set of censorship hurdles.
Vice obtained a set of leaked documents that give us an inside look at what that process was like. In 2019, the Roblox Corporation announced its plans to release the game in China, in partnership with gaming giant Tencent. Roblox would eventually launch in the summer of 2021 under the name LuoBuLeSi, but it shut down mere months later. Looking at the list of restrictions in the documents, it’s no wonder it didn’t last.
On paper, these restrictions seem logical. “Must not tamper with historical facts, cultural events, and historical figures” and “must not incite national hatred, promote ethnic discrimination, or undermine national unity” are two standouts. These make sense on their own, but when coming from a Chinese government that doesn’t acknowledge an independent Taiwan and has committed atrocities against the Uyghur people, it’s easy to see how these rules would simply reinforce a corrupt government’s grip on information.
This resulted in Roblox offering Chinese-specific servers, relegating players in the country to those hubs. The company was also expected to collect and authenticate player names and restrict player time to only a few hours per day. On top of all this, the documents show that Roblox Corporation expected Tencent to hack its game, which is quite accusatory regardless of the abundant restrictions.
In-game purchases were refunded when LuoBuLeSi shut down, and players may receive bonuses if it relaunches in the future. That’s a big if, although the documents do say that the two companies remain committed to making Roblox a success in China.