Roblox is disruptive innovation
From b-list gaming platform to creator of the Metaverse Roblox is the company to watch. Roblox has the potential to overtake the gaming industry, and the entertainment industry as a whole. In this post I’m going to explain
- what Roblox is
- what makes it special
- why it’s disruptive
- and Roblox's path to the Metaverse
What the hell is Roblox anyway?
Is it like Legos? Minecraft? Is it for kids? What is this thing?
Roblox itself is not a game. Not like Super Mario, Half Life, or even Fortnite are games. Roblox is a gaming platform that allows ordinary people to build and play games with their friends.
Let’s take a look
For Roblox beginners there’s no hand holding. You create an account and then you’re staring at a messy UI with no clue what to do. There’s no context, no in-app tutorial, no explainer video, nothing. But behind that messy UI is an almost endless world of possible experiences.
Click on something and see what it is, if it looks interesting, hit play. You could land on your new favorite game, or you could find yourself making new friends. The genius of Roblox lies in discovery.
It's amazing how limitless the possibilities are within this unique world of experiences. There are games that allow you to construct and launch your own plane. There are first person shooter games of all different types. I found a capture the flag game, Polybattle, with helicopters, jeeps, and tanks. It's not all shoot em ups though, there’s an soothing scuba diving game set in a lake full of sunken treasures. The Roblox game engine is free for everyone and simple to get started. Given enough imagination, technical skills, and time people can build almost anything with Roblox. Roblox has a unique, Lego-like aesthetic to it. But behind the toyish aesthetic is an experience that has an incredible amount of depth to it.
What is it?
- Game creation engine: Roblox Studio
- Online platform to launch games, customize avatar, and more
- 5,000 games have had more than 1m plays;
- 20 have had more than 1 billion plays.
- The most popular Roblox games, like Adopt Me!, outperform many AAA titles in key metrics like hours logged, number of concurrent players, etc.
- 75% of US kids 9-12 years old are playing Roblox
- Adults are now one of their fastest growing segments
- Brands are getting on-board like they already have with Fortnite
Roblox is global, with people all over the world logging in and building games. Roblox already supports the most spoken languages, and is adding more. They’re even working on automatic translation of in-game text. That would allow developers to create games in their own language and launch to a global audience in each users own language.
Roblox has been a slow burn. Roblox launched in 2006, but you’re only really hearing about it now. The early growth of Roblox was slow. Furthermore it appealed almost exclusively to kids
What makes Roblox special?
It's hard to understand the rise of Roblox, especially if you're not in the target demographic. From my research and playing it for a while here's why Roblox is special:
Roblox games are fun
The graphics aren’t great, so game developers have to focus on engaging people. Many of the games suck you in right away with simple mechanics and a fun premise.
Roblox is social
All games on Roblox are multi-player and social. Even if the experience is single-player, you play in the same space as others playing their own version of that game. It's easy to chat with people, make new friends, and play with your friends.
Roblox is creative
It’s like Legos or Minecraft, it’s a sand-box to create in and people create amazing things.
Most Roblox developers are ordinary people. Many of them were young kids that played for a while, then started dabbling in creation. Some of those kids kept at it and created some of the biggest games on Roblox. Roblox shares revenue with the developers and these kids got rich. The allure of riches always makes something a little special
Roblox is disruptive innovation
Roblox is a platform no one had ever heard of unless they had children. Then out of nowhere they're getting big, and setting up for an IPO. They're disruptive and the incumbents should pay attention before it’s too late - if it isn't already.
Disruption is not breakthrough innovations or a fast-growing technology company. Disruptive innovation is very specifically defined:
“Disruptive Innovation describes a process by which a product or service initially takes root in simple applications at the bottom of a market—typically by being less expensive and more accessible—and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.”
// To read more on disruptive innovation read HBR here
The key element of disruption is that the solution is 'inferior' to current solutions but serves a different market segment. Often the solution is lower cost, easier, more accessible and or has a feature that a market segment needs. Always disruption comes from the low end of the market and moves up over time.
Let’s look at Roblox. If Roblox is a game engine, then it’s definitely easier to use, and serving a lower-end of the market - kids - than it’s chief competitors. Unity and Unreal are the game engines du jour and for good reason. They're powerful, and so versatile they're using them to make movies now. Roblox is going after game developers that would not even think to define themselves as such. The digital camera overtook the camera not through professional photographers but ordinary people that wanted to take a bunch of pictures. Roblox could overtake Unreal not through professional game developers, but through enabling hobbyists.
Roblox is inferior at everything incumbents consider important like realistic lighting. What it is though is accessible to the low-end of the market. Furthermore, it has features that aren't baked into Unreal or Unity, like built-in distribution to millions of kids.
Lot’s of articles cover Fortnite "disrupting" the gaming and entertainment industry. And Fortnite + Epic Games + Unreal ARE revolutionizing the gaming industry. They've popularized the free-to-play model, they're fighting Apple, they've partnered with more brands than anyone, and much more. It’s possible though that Roblox is more disruptive than Fortnite. At the very least, I'd keep an eye on Roblox if I were Epic - and I'm sure they are.
Roblox has a path to the Metaverse
I've covered the Metaverse before in my Guide to the Metaverse in 15 minutes. No one should use the term Metaverse without understanding it well. But after spending some time researching and playing within Roblox, it is definitely a proto-Metaverse with a path to the Metaverse. Many of the foundational aspects of the Metaverse exists already within Roblox:
- User generated content
- Immersive experiences
- Persistent worlds and the ability to hang out with friends in them
- Avatars that persists across games
- Digital economy
What is Roblox missing?
For starters, Roblox is missing the realism that will be a big part of the Metaverse. It’s also missing the truly immersive layer to it. In most definitions of the Metaverse we are in it in a VR-like manner. Roblox is 3D, but it’s missing a sense of presence that VR would have.
It's missing intellectual property from outside of Roblox like you see in Fortnite. We’re starting to see some artists and brands begin to dabble in Roblox crossovers, but nowhere near what Fortnite has achieved. Part of the reason for this is that Roblox's current demographic has little money.
Adults are one of their fastest growing segments, but Roblox is still very much a kids platform.
Roblox is above all a gaming platform, as such it's hard to see any businesses operating within it.
I have a suspicion that these are all on Roblox’s corporate road-map. They will continue to add more realistic options to their game engine, or even have different versions of their gaming engine for more advanced developers and for kids. In the near-future I'm sure they will layer in more robust VR support beyond what they currently have.
It's a little hard for me to imagine Roblox as a serious business platform, even 10 years from now. That's the nature of disruptive technology though, it comes from below and then overtakes the existing incumbents in ways we didn't foresee. It's easier to see Roblox as disruptive to the entertainment, but not business. The Metaverse will be far larger though, and cover more real-world and business applications, as such it's hard for me to see Roblox as a serious contender for the Metaverse. Likewise it's hard to see other games like Minecraft as evolving into full-blown Metaverses for the same reasons.
How Roblox could expand into a business platform, while keeping the kids is a topic worth exploring in a future post.
Keep an eye on Roblox, they could win it all
Roblox has arrived on the scene and is expanding beyond tween gamers at a rapid pace. In their own way they're already a proto-Metaverse and could be an on-ramp to the actual Metaverse if they grow up. If you're interested in the future of the video game industry, and entertainment broadly, I'd keep an eye on them. Also, go try Polybattle, it's super fun.