At first glance Roblox may seem like it's kid's stuff. But CEO and Founder David Baszucki sees the potential behind the online maker culture and is using analytics and game mechanics to make this company a household name.
In business school, I developed a service for middle schoolers to create their own online curriculum and study materials. Back then, I had aspirations of competing against Prodigy and Compuserve.
I am always on the lookout for similarly conceived products (yes, I am still kicking myself for not taking on Scholastic Online or Lego.com). It wasn’t until 2011 that I found one in Roblox, a company that enables kids to design and build their own online activities.
Today, Roblox is a user-generated virtual playground and workshop designed for children ages seven and over. Players can create virtual worlds with blocks of various shapes, sizes and materials. It can be thought of as online Lego. Roblox has roughly three million devoted players from all over the world who visit the site and spend 40 million hours building, playing and sharing their creations.
Mission Impossible: “Allow Users To Build and Share Online”
According to Roblox CEO and Founder David Baszucki, the site’s mission is to allow users to have the same experience online that their parents had (offline) as children, playing with construction toys, model racecars or erector sets (from Lego to K’nex). David believes,
"People at Roblox will ultimately be able to create something that (is) not even possible in real life, such as visiting each others’ creations and ultimately making games out of these creations that are playable by thousands if not millions of users.”
How does his service go beyond what we or our parents got with our Lego sets? If, for example, you want to build a bulldozer, you would not only search and find a fully simulated bulldozer on the site, but also hundreds of models that could be taken apart.
As David says, “You would see engines and treads and you (would) be able and share and buy these different digital assets. We want everyone to share and use 3D digital assets!”
Does this executive sound like he’s having fun or what?
The Maker Culture
David wants Roblox to be part of the ever-growing maker culture, which represents a technology-based extension of the Do-It-Yourselfers, who are known for more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking and arts and crafts.
Typical interests of technology-based makers include engineering, electronics, robotics, 3-D printing as well as creating new and unique applications of technologies. They also encourage inventing and prototyping. For more information, read Chris Anderson’s new book, "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution."
David, however, hopes to move beyond the online maker subculture and eventually make Roblox into a household name. He envisions his brand being synonymous with online building, creating, inventing and playing:
We want to be known as a kind of cool digital erector set that attracts everything from younger users up through the Maker Faire Crowds," as well as “all those people (who) have a passion for creating cool stuff (like) Erector Sets, sharing (their creations) and experiencing it with others.”
His reference reminded me of Gilbert Toys’ Print Ads from “Boys Today. Men Tomorrow.” There’s a whole group of individuals who are finally getting to relive their childhood and be part of the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) / Maker culture.