(Note - I have an update to this post after a conversation I had with Roblox's CEO David Baszucki on Friday October 2, 2009. He was very professional, but Roblox is still blocked for my 9 and 7 year old kids)
We were over a good friend's house the other day and their kids were really into this online game called Roblox. So while at their house I let my two kids start accounts because it looked to me like it was owned by Lego (I found out later on it is not). The kids played around with Lego like characters in sparse environments and generally looked like they were having a good time. Both kids provided my email and I received one back fairly quickly. Things seemed simple enough until today....
- My security system on my son's laptop kept flashing a warning about it not being Parental Safe. So once I figured out what my password was, I realized that it was not the site itself but the URLs from the advertising that was being served. (ROBLOX FAIL)
- I've been buying online advertising since 1998 so I started to get worried. The ads were being served by your typical ad networks and the ads themselves didn't seem kid friendly. In fact a lot of ads were from Verizon and AT&T. Then I thought to myself - cookies.....
- As this screen shot shows the top 728x90 banner ad has the name Chicken7578 which my son kept saying that's his friend's name so that it must be his friend's ad. Once I saw that, I clicked on the ad but it was blocked by Bit Defender (my security system). (ROBLOX FAIL). Seems a little bit of a stretch that was his friend's account, but I've seen worse in online advertising and I know that can be done in Facebook so why not Roblox....speaking of social networking
- I reviewed what Roblox is and it is a moderated game/forum where user's can generate games. Sure it claims it meets Government restrictions for being kid privacy safe (1998 COPPA) but as opposed to liberal minded folks that think bureaucrats in Washington can determine what works for the masses, I don't; especially when you view that game right in the middle of the homepage (ROBLOX FAIL)
- User generated game content means that well you are never sure what will pop up. Like this game entitled "Can You Blow Up The Eiffel Tower? - Nuke". That's not something I want my little kids playing or even seeing - especially surrounded by a suspicious looking banner ad that looks like it is using a friend's account in the ad. (ROBLOX FAIL)
- When I examined the sign up process again I realized there are no real confirmation checks to get parental permission. Your kid can open up a moderated account without your permission. BTW - that Blow up Eiffel Tower game still appeared on the home page for an account not confirmed.
- Finally, this isn't a game built by a company you know has a track record for being kid friendly. It uses Lego looking avatars but has nothing to do with Lego. Their About Us link has very minimal information which again worries me. Google only turned up info that they are funded by a venture capital firm and angel investors - again not a big return on searches. (ROBLOX FAIL)
Is Roblox safe for your under 13 year old kid? Well I uninstalled the game and left it on the block list. That user generated game about blowing up the Eiffel Tower surrounded by suspicious looking banner ads was enough for me. Throw in that they try to look like Lego, I can't find out much about them online (other than Googling Roblox Sucks), and they stand behind a Government Act as why they are child privacy safe was too much for me.
If you want my opinion, I wouldn't let an under 13 year old kid play this game.
*****A NOVEMBER 15, 2011 UPDATE*********
Dear Roblox Wiki clicks,
Thanks for the traffic. It's been over 2 years since I made this post. I've moved on and so has my son when it comes to gaming.
Feel free to make your comments to defend Roblox. Please refrain from parental advice and cursing. It devalues whatever positive commentary you might have. I think the folks at Roblox would be very impressed with your love and defense of the site, but now my son chooses other games to play and has never asked me again about Roblox.
I had considered disabling comments from this point on, but I decided against it because of your passion. However, as I wrote above we moved on, so while your appropriate, tasteful comments might sway some other parents, it means nothing to me unless he chooses to play again.