[ICYMI] Uplift Games: Roblox’s 60m user smash-hit Adopt Me! has a new parent

Adopt Me! is a Roblox smash hit. A truly ludicrous success, that targets a slighter younger than usual age group, allowing them to build a home, explore a world, and look after a wide variety of pets. A formula that has let it hit over 1m concurrents and over 222bn lifetime plays.

Despite all of the game’s success, we’d challenge anyone to name its developers, who to date are largely known informally as Team Adopt Me! It’s something that even Josh Ling, director of business operations, is happy to admit.

“When I joined the team in June 2019, there were only three of us. Since then, we’ve scaled to 40 people we’ve been working under a series of entities that nobody’s heard of. Not only has nobody heard of us as a team, but nobody’s heard of Roblox. A lot of people don’t understand what Roblox is, especially if they don’t have children in their life.”

So the Adopt Me! team is now coming together under the name Uplift Games. A geographically distributed team that’s focused on its key title, and exploring the creation of new Roblox titles, with big ambitions and a long-term plan.

Josh Ling, Uplift Games

“We’re really trying to build a game studio that will last for decades to come, that will be as revered as some of our favourite studios today, but for this new generation of Roblox games, of metaverse games.”

And the move to formalise the identity of this huge success story comes alongside a push to more than double the team size.

“As Uplift we’re hoping it’ll be a lot easier to hire people, we have 40, and we’ve scaled quite rapidly. We’ve gone from four to 40 in less than two years. We plan on having 65 by the end of this year, and then we’ll hit 100 at some point next year.”

And the success of the game is behind that growth.”That’s all driven by a single Roblox game. We’re self funded. And we aren’t seeking investment at the moment,” Ling clarifies.

ADOPTING A NEW PERSONA

One potential reason for the somewhat nebulous nature of this smash-hit team is that it’s been fully remote and globally distributed from the off – after all, not having an office building does somewhat reduce the pressure to put a sign over the door. Sophie Sirera, director of Uplift Games UK, explains more.

Sophie Sirera, Uplift Games

“At the moment, we’re really spread out, in the UK we’re all over the place. And we’re now registered in eight states across the US. So that ranges from California, Washington, Utah, Ohio, so we’re all over the place.” Bringing all those staff together, as employees, under one roof, so to speak, wasn’t easy Sirera tells us.

“It’s been a big task, but it’s so rewarding to have everyone all in one place now. Having Uplift really creates a platform for everyone to grow,” she says. To that end the new studio will bring current and future hires “all sorts of benefits that positively impact our team’s lives. It’s great for people to be able to have things like health care, we’ve got some really generous PTO [paid time off] policies. We’ve got unlimited holiday, which is a really nice perk for everyone.”

From personal experience though, I can say that unlimited holiday on paper doesn’t necessarily pan out into lots of additional days off. But Uplift Games looks to have thought that through.

“We’ve put in a minimum, which I think is quite unusual,” replies Sirera. “That’s 28 days a year, encouraging people to really take it. And as well as that, on the sick front, we’ve put in place some long term disability insurances that people really have good protection in whatever scenario.”

And such benefits should help the new, but not new, studio recruit as it looks to grow rapidly to hit that 100 staff mark. More immediately Sirera tells us: “We’re currently looking for eight roles. And that varies from things like engineering managers to head of production. And also more behind the scenes roles, such as finance.” After all, someone has to keep an eye on those healthy balance sheets.

So just what is the secret behind Adopt Me!’s success? Ling sums up the game’s appeal for us.

“Adopt me! is a new type of game, one that defies traditional genres. It’s not a shooter, it’s not a platformer, it’s not a racing game, what it is, is a platform or a space, a playground for social experiences. So players can join, exploring this world we’ve created, they can build houses and decorate them, they can collect all of these pets and raise them and they can trade the pets as well, we have a full in-game trading economy. And so players can live out these virtual lives, with their friends online. It’s the fantasy of home and pet ownership, without any of the actual difficulties.

And the secret is listening to the players and giving them tools to play with: “A lot of the play is driven by the players. So what we do is, instead of clearly defining what players do, we give them tools to create their own sort of fun experiences, such as challenges that they can challenge each other to, like a virtual version of the playground.

“I’ve worked with young gamers for over five years now. And they’re just so imaginative. I think we’ll see more and more games like Adopt Me! which give players the tools to do their own thing, you’re seeing it on Fortnite, you’re seeing it on Minecraft. I think we’ll see it more.”

MOVING BEYOND ROBLOX?

With the biggest titles on the platform we’re always curious as to whether a game such as Adopt Me! could move beyond the platform it was born on, to standalone. Ling is open to the idea but points out Roblox’s strengths.

“We have a really good working relationship Roblox. Adopt Me! on Roblox is our primary focus at the moment. Is it possible? Yes, but I’m a big fan of going to where the players are. And at the moment the players, they’re on Roblox, they’re on Fortnite, they’re on Minecraft.

“If you start to go off platform, you start to encounter all of these user acquisition issues. Roblox also provides a lot of support for us in terms of things like hosting and development tools, those are problems that we would have to solve or hire people who understand these issues. So yeah, we’re really focused on Adopt Me! on Roblox and possible new Roblox games as well at the moment, but who knows what might happen in the future.”

Like any other studio looking to follow up a big hit, Uplift Games will be experimenting and iterating ideas for both Adopt Me! And potentially new titles too?

“Exactly. So right now we’re scaling up the team. A game of Adopt Me!’s size, in a traditional dev environment might have 200-300 people working on it. We have 40 people in our studio. There’s still a lot of growth left in Adopt Me! that we want to capitalise on. So we’re really scaling up for that.

“But the goal would be to create a team which can rapidly prototype. The people on the team have a lot of ideas that they would love to see happen, it’s just about building the studio, building the team and supporting the prototype.”

GOING GLOBAL

One area of potential growth for Adopt Me! and for Roblox more generally, is building market share away from English-speaking users.

“One of the roles we’re hiring for is localization project manager,” Ling tells us. “So at the moment we’re very English focused. Our audience is spread across the world, but we’re primarily North America, EU, and then some rest the world. We’d love to localise Adopt Me! into as many languages as we possibly can. We’re looking to target Spanish first, for instance. And I think Roblox has a lot of great potential as a platform in these new territories.

The framework is there, he adds: “Roblox has a lot of localization tools, as well, that are very easy to use. So it’s just about finding the right person to help us localise all these words, and all these updates that we’re doing.”

And with the distributed nature of the team, supporting a global player base should come naturally. But how does the team manage the varied hours?

“At the moment, we’re only set up for hiring in the UK and North America, which still covers five different time zones,” replies Sirera. “We have the core hours, which I think are three till 7pm BST, which is when there is an overlap of hours. But people really work the hours that they want to, so long as they’re there for the key meetings. Some people work late into the evenings in the UK, they might shift their hours, but personally I log on at nine and then try to log off at six, work a normal day.”

Everyone works asynchronously, their own hours,” concurs Ling. “So it’s totally flexible. We have people like Sophie and others who want that sort of nine to five job, but it’s also a great job for parents, for instance. Maybe they work a little bit in the morning, and then they take care of the kids, take them to school, and they work in the evenings later on. Our studio is about doing your best work, but also making sure the work fits around your life as well, rather than having to try and fit your life around the work.”

NATIVES AND VETERANS

As a platform with innumerable games, Roblox has proven to be relatively opaque to much of the industry, even with the flurry of recent reporting around its IPO, actual industry experience of making (or even playing) games on Roblox is limited. While most successful Roblox developers have never made content outside the platform.

Uplift Games is hoping to bring together these two, currently distanced, groups, says Ling: “We’re merging the two. Roblox has a lot of native developers on it. And a lot of them are quite young. These are the ‘teenagers in their bedrooms making millions’ kind of stories. Our two co-founders came from that sort of background and we have a lot of talented Roblox people on the team. But we also have a lot of talented industry veterans as well.

A recent update to the game added a variety of ocean pets for players to adopt

“And so we’re meshing this native Roblox talent, who understand the platform in and out – to a level that would be impossible for someone who came from off-platform to achieve – and we’re combining it with traditional industry expertise.

“And it’s been really interesting seeing Roblox people learn more of the industry standards of production, but also seeing industry people learn the sort of weird nuances of this Roblox kids platform with all its strange engine quirks and stuff.

And it goes way beyond the technology, Roblox has its own design culture, its own visual standards.

“There’s just some extremely strange nuances of Roblox compared to the wider industry,” continues Ling. “Sometimes you sort of shake your head at them. But then, you know, a million people play it. And it’s been this fascinating journey, learning all about it and exploring this stuff.”

It’s certainly an exciting proposition, despite it’s somewhat simplistic appearance, Roblox is arguably well ahead of titles such as Fortnite and Minecraft, in terms of creating the metaverse, with its platform-centric outlook (as opposed to a game-centric one) providing far more scope of ambition for the army of content creators that will be needed to create such a virtual world. A world that Uplift Games looks very well positioned to be a big part of.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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