Larry Andreini thinks he can take on Pixar. The founder and CEO of Ridemakerz, a rapidly growing chain of stores where boys can custom-build their own toy cars, is building a virtual world for his 6-to-12-year-old customers and their cars. This virtual world is in closed beta right now, and will launch early next year. So will Pixar’s World of Cars and startup Webcarzz.
There is a gap on the Web between Webkinz and Club Penguin and the more adult social networks of MySpace, Facebook and beyond, particularly for boys. Other than Pirates of the Carribean Online, there is not much out there yet. Andreini wants to parlay the loyalty of his customers into a virtual world where they can design and play with the exact same cars they can buy in his stores. Making that connection between the virtual and the real, even if it’s just a toy, is where he thinks he’ll have a leg up on the competition. The virtual world he is building is also pretty advanced and goes way beyond being a slick brochure for his products, although it is that as well. Kids don’t have to buy a car to play in the virtual world, but the experience is better if they do.