A friend in the toy industry tells me that he makes toys for little kids because you can't survive marketing to older kids. After kids hit 12 (and often before that), they vanish into computer games and online worlds.
One place many of them are going, boys especially: Roblox, an online world where you can build stuff and share it with other people. Parents might like its strong Lego vibe over, say, World of WarCraft. To me it looks like Second Life with MineCraft bricks.
That combo doesn't do much for me, but I'm decades from its target demographic. And among the 8- to -14-year-old set, Roblox is doing big business. CEO David Baszuck told me he's recording 19 million play hours a month from 5.7 million unique users. It's the No. 3 property in terms of engagement time for kids, he says, citing ComScore.
Revenue in the four-year-old business is growing 75 percent a year, Baszuck says. The site makes money primarily by selling virtual currency (Robux), which can be used to purchase in-game items. Items can then be re-sold for more virtual currency. Users can also earn Robux through in-game activities like running their own events and creating their own virtual goods and arenas. There's no way to cash out of Roblox, though, so the in-game economics are somewhat unhinged from reality.
But Roblox is primarily a building game, not a market simulation. The game is physics-based and encourages both building things out of virtual blocks, and using scripting to code how items behave. I spent a few minutes manning a cannon on a blocky galleon, lobbing shots at a another ship (which my team eventually sank). It was pretty impressive, watching the planks fly off the bad guys' ship as we landed hits, even if the planks were toy-like, not realistic.
Roblox's construction and coding focus gives parents the "warm fuzzies," Baszuck says. It develops critical thinking and modern technology skills, not to mention entrepreneurship and some social chops (you have to build what people want). … Read more