Minecraft made the combination of the old 8-bit art style and Lego-like open worlds fashionable. And Pixowl is exploiting the same opportunity with The Sandbox on mobile devices. As the company’s user base zooms past 10 million, the San Francisco company is contemplating how to turn that into 100 million users.
That’s why Arthur Madrid, the chief executive of Pixowl, has enlisted a couple of industry veterans to join as advisors. Pixowl has recruited industry veterans Ed Fries, the cofounder of Xbox and former chief of Microsoft Game Studios, and Randy Breen, the former CEO of SGN, to give the company advice about growth and moving to new platforms. They join current advisors Eric Hautemont, the CEO of Days of Wonder, and Sunil Gundera, the former vice president of Disney Mobile.
That’s a pretty solid group for a 2.5-year-old company. But Pixowl is having a good run. The Sandbox has 350,000 daily active users, and it has 500,000 fans on Facebook. It spends almost nothing on marketing, but it is often compared to the highly successful Minecraft.
“It is quite exciting to be able to add Ed and Randy to help us with what we can do next in both world-building and education,” Madrid told GamesBeat. “This is about how we are going to go from 10 million to 100 million.”
Despite some similarities, The Sandbox is quite different from Minecraft. It is based on four classical elements and the laws of physics. The player becomes a “deity apprentice” and sets about creating his or her own universe by combining different resources such as lightning, lava, sand, or glass.
Fries said in an interview that he was drawn to the game because it was similar to an older game that he enjoyed, Powder Toy.
“It lets you take different elements and drop them in a box and watch them interact,” he said. “It resonated with me, like Powder Toy turned into a game.”
It is educational as well as Pixowl is starting work on turning The Sandbox into a classroom title that can teach things like physics. Fries said his children play titles like Minecraft, Roblox, and Terraria, which are all part of the movement toward user-generated content. He would like to see The Sandbox make it to more platforms like consoles.
Sebastien Borget, the cofounder and chief operating officer of Pixowl, said in an interview that the company is testing its new work with dozens of teachers. It is targeting kids ages 12 to 18, as well as parents and teachers, in an effort to get even more word of mouth in learning circles.
“I have followed the progress of Minecraft and Roblox and watch my own kids in their construction of things,” said Breen in an interview. “The interface is more painterly, and it is more interesting to those who are intimidated by 3D presentation. The thing the range of its potential is wider as a result.”
He said that while Minecraft is big, there’s room for other experiences. Sports fans, for instance, will play multiple sports games.
Pixowl has 25 people now, including 20 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. About 70 percent of the team is now working on The Sandbox. But two other titles are in the works as well. Borget said the company will try to expand into new regions like Brazil and Asian countries. The company is already getting good demand in places like South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.