Identical 20-year-old twin brothers who made their first video game when they were 13 now earn at least £ 100,000 a year each.
Matthew and Ben Horton have even paid off their parents ‘mortgage and are funding their siblings’ college careers.
Growing up in rural Norfolk, the couple created their first game together on the Roblox gaming platform – making immediate money from their achievement – their sudden windfall meant their parents feared they were sharing drugs.
Despite no formal training, the pair became a huge success – they dropped out of sixth grade and made mega money from their games, videos, software and merchandise they created.
They now live together in Crawley, West Sussex, and plan to move to the US and start their own business, said Matt, who said: “We have applied for a visa. It would allow us to be where our audience and other developers are. “
The brothers have always loved games like the Lego series on PlayStation 2, and when they discovered gaming platform Roblox in 2010, they were able to create their own versions.
Matt said, “It gave access to crazy, interesting creations from hundreds of people. It was something new that was fascinating. “
Matt continued, “For the first three years after we found Roblox, we just played the games. Then, over the Christmas holidays of 2013, we started experimenting with making our own game and that really boosted our career.
“Roblox has free tutorials and templates, so anyone – whether they’re 10 or 70 years old – can make games.”
The twins aren’t the only people to have caught the gaming bug – interest in the industry has grown since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Newzoo, the leading global provider of games and esports analytics, predicts the international gaming market will be worth $ 159.7 billion (£ 120 billion) by 2020 – 9.3 percent more than last year – nearly half of which is attributable is on the mobile market, which is expected to grow to 2.5 billion players this year.
Matt said, “Engagement with our games has increased by 30 to 40 percent during lockdown.
“Before Covid-19, my videos were viewed five million times and when Covid-19 was hit they had an average of 10 million views, so they doubled.”
Matt and Ben’s first successful game, designed when they turned 13, was called Boat Ride and required users to navigate a Disney-esque world of attractions.
Free to play, the twins quickly found a way to make £ 5 a day by selling products or optional perks like a jetpack to fly through the game to enhance the experience.
Players can purchase items with Robux, Roblox’s virtual currency. The developer of the game in turn redeems all Robux they earn for real money.
While Matt taught himself video production so he could make trailers for the games, Ben learned to program and design user interface (UI), making them functional and enjoyable to use.
A perfect team, said Ben: “When we started we were 13 and worked from nine to five over the Christmas holidays.
“We only got about £ 1 a week in pocket money so £ 5 was a lot – about 5,000 marshmallows were bought!”
“We had a lot of candy in our room,” said Ben.
As avid athletes, the twins split their free time between athletic tournaments, training, school work, and all things gaming – meaning they often went to sleep at 11:30 pm, before waking up for school at 6:30 am.
Just before they started sixth grade, aged 16, they really started to make a profit, so Matt dropped out of school after two months to do full-time video production, and Ben joined at the end of the academic year.
“I had a lot of time to work on new projects and a few months later I released my most successful project, The Last Guest, which has already been viewed over 25 million hours and viewed 100 million times on YouTube,” said Matt.
“I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t dropped out of school.
“We have not had any formal training. We just learned by ourselves very quickly – repeating things and getting better. “
Matt continued, “There are so many tutorials online that anyone can learn for themselves, you don’t have to pay any money for courses. Everything can be done in your own free time.
“When I first showed my dad my income, he thought I was a drug deal because it was quite a bit of money! He was very surprised. “
Ben said his parents Mark, 51, who works for a congregation, and Caroline, 51, a children’s service manager, were initially skeptical when the twins explained how they had managed to earn so much.
He said, “They were absolutely skeptical about where this money came from. I think they thought we were just playing games, but actually we developed them and learned these skills.
But now they are very supportive.
“Our dad isn’t much of a tech, but he likes to write, so he’s a great person to brainstorm with. During dinner conversations when we lived at home, the three of us had to bounce ideas back and forth. “
But the twins’ best brainwaves originated on long bike rides together – including one for Matt’s latest project, a 60-minute animated movie called Bacon Hair.
Ben said: “One day we brainstormed a very long bike ride. It became 6:00 pm and we realized we were 50 miles from our house.
“It got very dark and our phones died.”
He continued: “We weren’t very well prepared, but we got so into thoughts and discussion that we ended up miles away from home. We had to follow the road signs all the way back and got home around 5am.
“But we came up with some really good ideas, so it was very productive!”
As identical twins, they tend to think in sync and work together for so long that they resolve conflicts quickly.
They both have their own side projects and their collaborations – with Matt breaking into YouTube video and animation making, increasing his subscribers to two million.
Meanwhile, Ben has made a video game called Guest World, based on a story by Matt called The Last Guest, which has been visited 50 million times.
But one of Ben’s most successful creations is a software application called HD Admin that provides functions and commands that other developers can use in their games and has received 2 billion visitors from their users.
Of the 20 games they’ve made on the Roblox platform, two big ones – Guest World and Roleplay World – have amassed a tenth of a billion game visits.
Despite enjoying considerable wealth so young, according to the brothers, their greatest reward is still to bring pleasure to people who play their games.
Ben said, “It’s really overwhelming to have so many people playing them and to have a community of people who are asking us for advice, or who are invested in what we do.”
Ben added, “Matt started selling stuffed toys or stuffed animals based on his movie The Last Guest, so fans are sending him pictures of the toys and other people will dress up as his characters. That is amazing.”
And the whole family has benefited from their financial success.
They have supported their sister Rebecca, 21, financially through her degree in travel and tourism from the University of Chester and will likewise be helping their brother Edward, 18, who has just started physical therapy at the University of Worcester.
Matt continued, “We paid for a trip to Florida for the whole family last year.
“We have also been able to pay off part of our parents’ mortgage.
“We have the freedom to travel, discover and invest in different projects.”
“And despite having different jobs in gaming, we both earn just more than what a senior software engineer is paid – so very low six figures, but building up,” he added.
In January, the brothers moved from their Norfolk home to London to work in a shared office space with other game developers.
But when Covid-19 hit, they moved back to Crawley, where they want to stay for the time being before hopefully emigrating to Los Angeles, California, USA, where there are more Roblox game developers.
Ben added, “When we settle there, we can work with people or even set up our own team full time. At the moment we are commissioning people, but we would like to have our own team.
“Matt can also make videos faster there.
“Roblox sets up developer co-sharing spaces in the US where you can work and collaborate for free.”
Matt, who cites film director Christopher Nolan as one of his sources of inspiration, is currently focusing on making better quality videos.
He said: “In my last movie I made all the animations. For my new movie, Bacon Hair, I hired people to work on the animation.
“I want to keep improving and have my films experienced by a different and larger audience.”
And, impressed with the way other Roblox gamers have built their businesses, Ben hopes he and his twin will do the same.
“We met the developers of a game based on the sinking of the Titanic at an event. They were our heroes when we started, ”he said.
“One company, DocMe, has gone from a two-person team to a team of 50 people in two years. It would be great to follow in their footsteps. “
And their advice to aspiring video game developers is to make sure they maintain a sense of fun.
Ben added, “Search and find out what makes your game fun. Discover the fun mechanics and develop your game from there.
“Get in touch with your community too – do your best to attend events and conferences.”
He continued, “Much success comes from learning and using the strength of the people around you.
“Until high school, we had no idea what we were doing. Roblox has helped us develop our skills and narrow our focus.
“It has enabled us to do something that we are passionate about.”
Matt agrees that a passion for creating and playing games is essential to success.
He said, “We have all done this because we enjoyed doing it. For five years we didn’t make money, we expected to go to college, but then it took off. We are really lucky. “
Roblox Studio is a free to use open access platform that offers step-by-step tutorials, templates and online forums to teach kids how to make their own games from scratch and all games are free to play. This year, Roblox is on track to pay out more than £ 190 million ($ 250 million) to the developer community, up from £ 83 million ($ 110 million) in 2019.