Friday, August 1, 2008

Social Web Example: ROBLOX Virtual Playworld

In prior posts, I provided a definition of social web as well as how household-name businesses such as Jeep and Nike are embracing the social web in order to more closely engage their respective communities of passion.

In this post, I'd like to focus my attention on the intersection of the social web and online virtual worlds. While I find the recent news about 3D virtual worlds interesting, the highlighted examples such as Vivaty, Google’s Lively project, and the Electric Sheep Co.’s WebFlock feel a little empty and unremarkable from a "meaningful interactions" perspective.

I consider ROBLOX Virtual Playworld a much better example to explore. Why? Because it is an online destination that not only satisfies kids' social and entertainment needs but also addresses their hunger for creativity and learning.

To get a better feel for what ROBLOX is all about, just view the following video which illustrates ROBLOX in action:

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

ROBLOX enables 100's of thousands of kids to interact and play within virtual worlds while learning design, engineering, science and programming. I find the educational aspects so remarkable that I wrote a post earlier this year stating that ROBLOX was grooming our future open source developers.

Since that post, my son has spent countless hours designing, building, and scripting his own customized virtual worlds. For example, he created a very popular Baseball Stadium where you can almost smell the grass on the field while having fun throwing, fielding, and hitting the baseball. It is a modern stadium complete with hot dog stands and a giant blimp hovering over it.
He spends a lot of time using the ROBLOX Studio development environment PROGRAMMING the behavior of the elements/objects within his worlds. For example, he creates complex 3D behaviors within the world by calling mathematical functions that enable the bat, for example, to swing at a wide variety of angles rather than just back and forth. He also adjusts the impact on the ball so that it bounces off at varying speeds.

He leverages the "social" features of the site (beyond the Forum, Wiki, and Blog) including "friending" other people on the site, sending email-like messages to each other in order to ask and answer questions, chatting online while playing within a particular world, voting for "favorite places", etc.

Using my 7 Key Attributes of Social Web Applications, I think ROBLOX scores pretty well. Every user has an Identity; the information is not rich likely due to the fact that we are dealing with kids so onlineprovacy is important. Their Reputations are based on how they conduct themselves online as well as the quality of the places and/or scripts they create. They don't offer much in the way of Presence. People can strike up Relationships with eachother, but not nearly as robust as what you get on sites like Facebook. You can't really Group your friends as far as I can tell. Conversations happen via Forums, chat, and their built in email/messaging system. And Sharing happens all the time since people can share objects, scripts, places, etc.

ROBLOX Business Model
Standard membership in ROBLOX is free and provides the ability for kids to receive an avatar, play within the worlds, as well as design, build, and save a single place of their own. ROBLOX also offers Builders Club which is a premium service that gives kids the ability to create and manage multiple places. It also enables players to earn ROBLOX currency (called "ROBUX") which can be used to purchase premium items in the ROBLOX catalog that enable much greater customization of avatars and interactive creations. I like the fact that ROBLOX offers a free way for kids to get started and then charges extra for increased value.

Bottom-line: ROBLOX provides a great example of how combining the social web and online virtual worlds provides value beyond entertainment and social interactions. As they say on their website, ROBLOX believes "in the theory that kids learn best by making things - by engaging in the creative and complex process of imagining, designing, and constructing. Provide them with a safe and nurturing place to build, give them the requisite tools, and let them play."

NOTE: ROBLOX has a great web page for parents who want to learn more.


Anonymous said...

I love this post. It gives a bunch of reasons not to hate the game. Many people do beause of the fact that Roblox is still in public alpha.

I have been playing the game for over a year now, and I love how I get to design a map, and figure out how it will work, all in my head. After playing for a year, LUA has really become easy, and helps me if I ever want to program stuff some day.

I have my own fan-blog on Roblox, and you can reach it from the Roblox News-Blog. I love posting about those new places that were exelently coded and built. I even post stratigey guides for those really complicated places.

I posted about what Roblox should do to polish its game up, with Clans and Testing included. Both were considered by the devs, and a Testing site even was started for the game. I hope I make a diffrence in the game.

Anyways, I love your blog. Keep on posting!

Shaun Connolly said...

Thanks for the comment. From your blog I can see that you are one of the passionate ROBLOX-ians; there are lots of you out there!

Having been a developer, I understand the importance of testing, so I think it's great that you're helping the team improve in that area.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. After playing for so long, I really know how to run the game through a gauntlet of tests to really test the next version.

But what really concerns me is where the Roblox Community is going. Since the game is mostly made of kids, around the age of 7-13, There can be a bit of concern.

Many of the players I face everyday are a bit more "wound-up" and tend to get mad a little easier. Thats why the older players like me tend to play with the other older players. But this severs a link from the Newbies to the Veterans, and their knoledge of the game doesnt go as far. Thats why I started my blog and posted stratigey guides, but not many people read it, let alone the News Blog.

There also seems to be a bit of a problem with how the new users build their places. Newbies, not knowing how to work anything, tend to comprise their places completely of what the other players have made availble. This tends to set off the Veterans, becuase back then, when the game was small, people did have to make everything from scratch. Now the new players just take whats avaible to them. I find the whole thing a bit funny, but mostly stupid.

Players like your son are what make the other players happy: They are constantly pushing what Roblox can do and set new "fads" for games.

They really make Roblox, Roblox.

Shaun Connolly said...

I understand that it is sometimes frustrating to have new players take your best ideas, tweak a little, and voila...a new place.

Since I am an open source guy, I taught my son that this kind of reuse and remixing is a good thing. Moreover, the stronger developers are actually mentoring the younger players by enabling the younger players to see the code behind the more complex behavior.

Bottom-line: Take pride in the handful of younger players learning from you.

Mark said...

As a member of the ROBLOXian community, I find it very enjoyable. Yet, many members think negatively toward the creativity. Many members, including myself, hate that games are the same old thing, obbys and tycoons and ect.

I love to see ROBLOX appear in many blogs and talked of in a good way. And I really hope more members learn LUA so we can create some really good games.

I myself need to learn it still, though. Hehe.