- 23-year-old Alex Binello is the co-creator and proprietor of “MeepCity,” a hit free-to-play game with 15 million monthly active players.
- “MeepCity” is the biggest game on Roblox, a game platform with 64 million users that’s especially popular with kids.
- Binello, an entirely self-taught programmer, makes enough from “MeepCity” to support his mother and brother, whom he recently moved from his hometown of Las Vegas to be closer to him in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Now, Binello has brought on his first two employees as he works on a master plan to turn “MeepCity” into a video game empire.
At one point, Alex Binello was working part-time at GameStop to pay the bills while he pursued a career as an independent game developer. Now, he finds himself at the head of one of the largest video game phenomenons you’ve never heard about.
Under the handle Alexnewtron, Binello is the co-creator and public face of “MeepCity,” a free-to-play game with 15 million monthly active players, – 100,000 or more of whom are playing at any given time. Those numbers put “MeepCity” in a league with “Pokémon Go,” “Candy Crush Saga,” and other popular free-to-play games.
“The game has blown out what I ever imagined it could do,” Binello told Business Insider via the phone on Thursday. “I feel like it’s a real company now.”
If you’ve never heard of “MeepCity,” there’s a pretty good chance that you’re over 18. It’s a role-playing game where players drive cars around, decorate their in-game homes, collect the titular Meep mascots, and even attend high school classes. It’s pretty chill, and it’s very popular with kids.
Notably, “MeepCity” is one of the biggest things going on in Roblox, a video game platform with 64 million users that’s giving its mostly-younger fanbase a path into entrepreneurial opportunity, even turning a select few teens into millionaires. If you want to play “MeepCity,” it’s only on Roblox.
Unlike “Minecraft,” “Fortnite,” or other gaming phenoms, Roblox is entirely generated by its users. It boasts 4 million developers, who have collectively created 40 million games on the platform, including “MeepCity.” On Friday, Roblox announced that it’s on track to pay out $70 million total to those developers this year, up from $30 million in 2017.
The heart of the Robloxian economy are Robux, a premium currency that the company sells to users for real money. If a player chooses to spend their Robux in a game, the game’s developer takes a cut. “MeepCity,” for instance, charges Robux for premium features like an in-game boom box, or bonus decorations for your virtual home.
Binello declines to go into too much detail about how much he’s made from “MeepCity.” He does, however, say that he’s making enough that he was recently able to relocate his mother and brother from Las Vegas to be closer to him in the San Francisco Bay Area, and to support all three of them fully.
More importantly for the future of “MeepCity,” Binello has also hired two of his Roblox friends and collaborators as full-time employees, with a base salary and bonuses tied to the performance of the game. That’s in addition to a few contract programmers and artists. Now, it’s his ambition to turn “MeepCity” from a smash-hit Roblox game into a genuine media empire.
“I have a long-term vision,” says Binello.
Notably, Binello is “definitely self-taught,” he says – he joined Roblox in 2007, when he was about 12 years old, and the game was only available for PC.
He started fiddling around with Roblox Studio, the included tools for building virtual objects in the game world, and eventually came up with a simple multiplayer game in the style of Pictionary. It was a reasonably big hit in the early days of the platform, and his Alexnewtron alter ego became a fixture of the Roblox community.
- Screenshot/Matt Weinberger
When he graduated high school, he decided that college just wasn’t for him. Instead of getting a formal education in programming or computer science, he would continue to try to hone his skills as an independent developer.
“I’m not really a school person,” says Binello.
Since then, he says, he’s learned a lot, from the basics of game design to building his own servers and matchmaking system to supplement those provided by Roblox.
The “MeepCity” story
At the time, circa 2012 or so, Roblox didn’t yet offer the Robux revenue split. In search of a way to make a living from his Roblox skills, Binello decided to try his hand at smartphone games. “Pears to Pairs,” a take on the classic family game “Apples to Apples,” racked up 50,000 downloads, he says, but failed to develop into a real business.
Luckily for Binello, Roblox came through in 2013 with its new revenue-split model. Binello was drawn back to Roblox, with the idea that his familiarity with the platform would give him a leg up.
“I knew I needed to succeed with the platform,” says Binello.
Eventually, he won the attention of Roblox headquarters in Silicon Valley, which invited him to intern at its Silicon Valley campus in the summer of 2015 – providing enough income that he could quit his job at GameStop.
During that internship, Roblox encouraged him to develop new game ideas, and the germ of the idea for “MeepCity” was born, which came to fruition in 2016. It was an instant smash hit – at first Binello had to institute a queuing system to deal with a larger-than-expected crush of players, who found the title without any marketing or ads.
“That showed me the potential of what I was making,” says Binello. It’s only grown since, going from 10 million monthly active players around the start of 2018 to 15 million today.
Binello praises the “modularity” of “MeepCity” as what kept bringing players in: The game has gotten loads of new content over time, and last year even extended into a new genre with the launch of “MeepCity Racing,” a full-fledged go kart racing game within the existing game world, designed to bring in older players.
Indeed, that’s how he views the future of “MeepCity.”
Now that he’s officially gone into the “MeepCity” business by hiring on employees, Binello envisions it expanding into a veritable video game empire. Just like with “MeepCity Racing,” he sees his team as bringing the existing game to new audiences by adding new modes and features. Another internship with Roblox, in the summer of 2017, gave him even more ideas for where to take the game, he says, and inspired him to move to the San Francisco area to be closer to HQ.
“MeepCity” can go beyond video games, too, Binello says. Last year, Roblox got into the action figure business by licensing characters from top games on the platform, including “MeepCity.” Anyone who bought the MeepCity Fisherman action figure got a unique in-game hat, plus 10,000 coins in “MeepCity” itself.
The promotion was successful, and Binello believes it could be a sign of things to come as he looks to future opportunities, in merchandising and beyond.
“‘MeepCity’ feels like a brand unto itself,” says Binello.