More Than Playing Games: Building a Democratizing Platform With Dan Sturman, CTO of Roblox

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“We don’t launch and figure out safety later. That is not the way we do it. It’s got to be part of the launch plan.” 


So many tech companies take a slash and burn approach in order to get their product to market as quickly as possible. Dan Sturman, CTO at Roblox, shares why Roblox takes a much more deliberate approach concerning its platform that is the foundation for many different worlds.

Key Insights

The Rules of the World (4:59) 

Sturman makes the point that Roblox is setting broad enough rules, based in physics, so that developers can create a wide variety of experiences. He also explains that the rules at Roblox can be changed by creators. For any company trying to build a structure to foster creativity, there are lessons here. First, don’t shy away from establishing guidelines. Second, allow flexibility within the rules themselves. 

Creating a Civil Environment (22:11)

A respectful culture should be a given whether in a physical, digital, or in a hybrid, metaverse, environment. But a decent culture does not magically appear. Instead, it must be created. Too many companies have abdicated their social responsibility to make sure their spaces are conducive to civil discourse. Both freedom and responsibility are essential in any functional environment.

“I think it’s one of the big differences about like these metaverse platforms is kind of your core identity…The whole civility aspect for us is really huge. I don’t know if everyone else will follow us on that, but the safety-civility thing — it shouldn’t be about trolls and crazy volatility…I don’t want to go to a conference and be heckled. I don’t want to go to the shopping mall in real life and be heckled. [It should be the] same thing in the metaverse. You should be able to go to places which are reasonable, right? And there’s standards of behavior and so on.” 

Promoting Meaningful Educational Systems (15:03) 

Too often education is removed from meaningful applications. Roblox’s platform can help self-directed learners work on their programming skills as they create fun experiences for themselves and for a community. This sort of meaningful learning model ought to be applied across systems, whether they are traditionally considered educational or not.

“The world’s been struggling with how do we do a better job on STEM education for a long time and particularly…how do you democratize that STEM education and make it really accessible? And I’ll tell you this, having your first taste of programming building a cool game that you can share with your friends in five minutes versus it being Intro to Python and let’s do a sort of a list. They don’t compare with each other at all. So, I think there’s a real opportunity here to just kind of build this all out…”

Can discovering talent truly be done differently? (26:34)

Many business leaders chat about the need to find new talent and the struggle to do so. But the question must be asked: What’s really being done differently to discover talented people who might be overlooked otherwise? There is certainly room for innovation. The initial step is an openness to try a new approach.

“We’re doing some innovative things to find talent. If you are applying [as] a new college grad to Roblox, we actually now have you play a Roblox game. But it’s a very specialized Roblox game where we have a team of learning scientists that kind of look at how it plays out afterwards and understand what are your strategic thinking skills and creative skills and problem solving skills…”


About the Guest:

As Chief Technology Officer at Roblox, Dan Sturman heads up a world-class team of engineering leaders in our App, Game Engine, Developer, International, Economy, Safety, and Platform Engineering groups.

Prior to joining Roblox, Dan served as Vice President of Engineering & Support at Cloudera, where he led a team of 600+ engineers and oversaw all software development and customer support. He previously served as Vice President of Engineering at Google, where he led the development of cloud products including Google Compute Engine, Google App Engine, and Kubernetes, as well as the internal cluster management systems that manage Google’s fleet of servers.

Dan holds a Ph.D. and MS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BS in Computer Science from Cornell University.”

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Episode 358