Roblox has proved itself as a destination for branded virtual experiences
On Christmas Day, Warner Bros. will debut its highly anticipated sequel, “Wonder Woman: 1984.” Audiences, however, didn’t have to wait for the film to stream on HBO Max or visit a theater to experience the heroine's DC Comics world. As part of its marketing strategy, Warner Bros. turned to popular video game platform Roblox to create an entire universe for the platform’s 36.2 million daily active gamers.
In June, Warner Bros. and DC created “Wonder Woman: The Themyscira Experience” on Roblox as a way for viewers to explore Diana Prince’s Amazonian homeland while playing minigames, winning badges and dressing up avatars with virtual gear and clothes inspired by the movie. Since the delay of the film’s release, the experience has been updated with more minigames and a greeting to gamers from Wonder Woman herself: Gal Gadot.
The results are promising: The experience has had more than 18 million visits from new and returning users, with millions of virtual items won by players, according to public Roblox stats.
Themyscira is one of the more elaborate branded experiences on the platform as brands seek to reach consumers where they are: immersed in social-driven video game worlds, a trend enhanced by the pandemic keeping people home and on their smartphones. From concerts to scavenger hunts, brands across categories have been experimenting with launching virtual experiences on Roblox, garnering millions of views with each effort.
In November, Lil Nas X became the first major artist to use Roblox for a fully virtual concert. The event from Columbia Records brought in 33 million views following four performances, compared to the 45.8 million viewers Fornite saw last April with its Travis Scott concert. Also in November, Roblox had its first book launch party with Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player Two,” his sequel to the bestseller “Ready Player One.” The author partnered with the platform to create a treasure hunt and virtual Q-and-A. In total, the event brought in more than 20 million views. A month before, Atlantic Records hosted an album launch party with performances for pop artist Ava Max that had 2.5 million visits.
Roblox operates similarly to an online arcade where players, masquerading as avatars, play together in a series of minigames. Roblox, which was founded in 2004, refers to its platform—now available across iOS and Android apps, Macs and PCs and on VR headsets including Oculus Rift and HTC Vive—as the “metaverse,” a term used to describe shared virtual spaces.
The pandemic has done much to boost Roblox’s popularity. In November, the San Mateo, California-based company, with more than 830 employees in offices around the world, filed for an IPO, and the filing reveals just how much it has grown in the past year. Daily active users grew by 82% from 17.1 million in September 2019 to 31 million in September 2020. Fifty-four percent of Roblox’s now 36.2 million daily users (the platform last reported 150 million monthly users in July—up from 115 million from February 2020) are under the age of 13 and play for an average of 2.6 hours a day on more than 18 million experiences. It’s most popular game, “Adopt Me!,” has been played more than 10 billion times.
This activity has led the platform to introduce more new experiences and live events, often with brands at the helm. “Brands are realizing the power of expanding to the metaverse,” says Christina Wootton, VP of brand partnerships at Roblox. “During physical distancing, what we’ve seen is people coming onto Roblox to attend virtual events. They can engage with their favorite fashion brands and movies.” The platform is also looking into ways it can further develop player experiences. Roblox recently acquired Loom.ai to give avatars facial expressions for future experiences including concerts.
Roblox’s first major brand partnership came in 2018 with Warner Bros’ film “Ready Player One.” Warner Bros. created a treasure hunt accompanied by virtual items and the event demonstrated how engaged players on the platform can be. The event garnered 13 million viewers and players spent more than 47 million hours playing quests. Since then, Warner Bros. has worked with the platform around similar events for films like “Aquaman,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and now for “Wonder Woman.”
Andrew Hotz, executive VP of worldwide digital marketing at Warner Bros., calls Roblox a “virtual sandbox with strong connections to the world around us.” “Roblox is another avenue to develop and hone people’s imagination,” he says, adding that he is a parent to a Roblox fan. “The potential for exploration and creativity is seemingly endless.”
If a brand’s team doesn’t have its own capabilities to create experiences on the platform, Wootton says Roblox connects brands to the platform’s video game developers. Roblox’s 7 million developers are the backbone of many of the platform’s game content, and collectively made over $209 million in the first nine months of 2020. Wootton says the cost ranges widely depending on the project.
Increasingly, Wootton says brands are reaching out to developers directly—to be incorporated into their virtual worlds or create new ones—as well as to developer studios that are emerging to create experiences for the platform. In December, YouTube influencer Ryan Kaji brought his toy-unboxing YouTube channel “Ryan’s World” to Roblox, which will sell gems that can be exchanged for virtual goods. In November, Mattel worked with Roblox studio Gamefam to bring a Hot Wheels World to Roblox.
Wootton imagines that someday, just as with social media, brands will have their own specific teams dedicated to creating experiences on Roblox. However, Roblox is also meticulous and strategic in choosing which brands it partners with and does minimal pitching itself—despite having produced some 20 branded partnerships in the past two years. Wootton says the platform has surveyed its players asking exactly what kind of brands—across celebrity, fashion, sports, movies and other categories—they would like to see on the platform.
“Our community always comes first, so we wanted to be sure we were bringing the most authentic experiences to the platform,” she says.
Real cash for Robux
Roblox’s young gamers are spending real money on the platform, accounting for the majority of the platform’s revenue. Every day, according to the IPO filing, 455,000 gamers purchase the platform’s in-game currency called “Robux” (100 Robux converts to $1) that they then use to pay for virtual items to outfit their avatars or simply collect. In the first nine months of 2020, players forked over $1.2 billion to buy in-game currency, a 171% increase from last year. Roblox takes a cut, ranging from 30% to 70%, on virtual items that brands and developers sell.
In 2020, Roblox introduced its Premium Payouts program, which rewards developers with Robux based on the time players spend in their game. The platform’s revenue has grown by 68%, from $350 million in September 2019 to $589 million in September 2020, according to the company’s IPO filing.
Virtual items are how most brands first experiment with marketing on the platform. In October, Gucci launched its Gucci Sneaker Garage with virtual editions of Gucci looks and shoes. In August 2019, the National Football League released uniforms for avatars to celebrate its 100th anniversary and Nike released item bundles for Air Max Day in March 2019. In April 2019, the WWE launched the option for gamers to play as WWE champions and build out characters with virtual items.
In some cases, brands are giving away branded virtual items as rewards for completing in-game quests or simply offering free item downloads. Ahead of Netflix’s premiere of “Stranger Things Season 3” in July 2019, the streaming service launched limited-edition items for avatars, such as the Scoops Ahoy hat and Demogorgon mask. Users could download two for free and then find more by answering daily riddles and puzzles, with help from clues Roblox shared on social media. “The main goal here was really all about creating something interactive that fans will love,” says Chris Lee, head of interactive gaming at Netflix.
With a focus on virtual e-commerce, it’s not surprising that in September, Roblox named Ex-Walmart exec Barbara Messing its first CMO. Messing, who leads several dozen employees, says her goal heading into 2021 is to build awareness.
“We believe that Roblox is about that combination of social, gaming and entertainment and media,” she says. "It’s really a place where people can connect and have experiences together. The opportunity for Roblox is to really tell that story more broadly and get even more awareness of the richness of its experiences.”