Web of Web3
For now, though, the platforms are siloed—an avatar in Horizon Worlds does not work in Roblox, and virtual goods bought within Roblox do not carry over to The Sandbox, a crypt- and blockchain-based game. On Roblox, apparel brands like PacSun can sell virtual goods, which are not yet available within Horizon Worlds. Players access Horizon Worlds through virtual reality goggles, while Roblox is mostly played through the mobile app. The Sandbox and Decentraland, two newer virtual worlds, are based on NFTs, but Roblox and Horizon Worlds are not.
The lack of interoperability does not mean that brands shouldn’t be pushing the envelope in these worlds. PacSun, for instance, has been operating inside Roblox since last year, when it started selling virtual goods, including digital hoodies and fantasy items like gold wings. Brie Olson, PacSun’s president, said the retailer is exploring The Sandbox, too. And PacSun has dropped multiple series of NFTs called Pac Mall Rats, which bring the brand even closer to the Web3 phenomenon. “Digital and virtual worlds are really limitless,” Olson said.
PacSun even welcomes counterfeiters in Roblox; when the company releases a digital hoodie, for example, it expects players will make replicas with their own spins on the designs, Olson said, referring to the phenomenon as “emulation.” “The whole purpose for us is to create community,” Olson said, “and we think that duplication is a strong recognition of brand affinity.”
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While counterfeiting is a Web 2.0 problem that's found on e-commerce sites like Amazon or eBay, within Web3 emulation fosters creativity, Olson said. “The future really is about crowdsourcing,” she said, “crowdsourcing your best ideas and allowing the flow to kind of go back and forth, back and forth between the audience themselves and the brand.”
The Roblox apparel could help drive product decisions in the real world, depending on how the virtual community receives the merch, Olson said. The players who duplicate the digital clothing could point the retailer toward trends, like tie-dying and marble washing, which could inspire the brand to try similar styles.
Last week, PacSun opened a new game within Roblox called Pacworld, which is a “tycoon” style game, a popular genre where players run their own shops and generate in-game currency. PacSun developed it with Melon, a metaverse gaming studio. “They really created this incredibly engaging, parallel reality that is just at its infancy of what PacSun is going to do in this space,” Josh Neuman, president of Melon, said.
PacSun is currently exploring the metaverse with its mall and virtual goods, but Olson said that phase two of its plans will take the brand deeper into “revenue and business opportunities.”
Enter the Wendyverse
As for Wendy’s, the Horizon Worlds “Wendyverse” is one of the first official branded venues within Meta’s virtual reality world. The fast-food restaurant doesn’t sell digital food or merchandise there, but the promotion ties into the real world. “Visitors can also discover promotions available in the Wendy's app,” Loredo said in an email to Ad Age. “Together with our partners at Meta and Horizons World, we are working toward a vision of integrating food delivery into the next phase of Wendyverse.”
Wendyverse also is a hangout for virtual reality avatars to shoot basketballs, play burger-themed games and other activities tied to NCAA March Madness, like a virtual net-cutting celebration simulation.
Meta’s Facebook and Instagram are part of a family of apps that reach 3.6 billion people a month, and Wendy’s has its own app. Wendy’s profile picture on Facebook and Instagram now feature the mascot wearing Quest VR goggles, and the restaurant is running ads on Facebook and Instagram that point people to the “Wendyverse.”
Roblox has 50 million daily active users, according to its latest quarterly earnings report. The players are typically teenagers, a high-demand group for marketers, R/GA’s Dick said. There have been reports that Meta has shipped about 10 million Quest 2 devices, which would be the universe of people who have access to the virtual reality platform. Meta does not divulge exact user numbers in its public reporting. Dick said that the number of people who play in Horizon Worlds is likely in the hundreds of thousands, but Meta’s Facebook and Instagram are part of a family of apps that reach 3.6 billion people a month.
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One of Meta’s goals for its metaverse is that it will be accessible through the app world. “We plan to launch a version of Horizon on mobile too, that will bring early metaverse experiences to more surfaces beyond VR,” Zuckerberg said in an earnings call with analysts in February. “So while the deepest and most immersive experiences are going to be in virtual reality, you’re also going to be able to access the worlds from your Facebook or Instagram apps as well, and probably more over time.”
The connection to Facebook and Instagram could wind up being Meta’s biggest advantage, and ultimately vault the ecosystem into the same territory as Roblox and other gaming worlds, Dick said. “Horizon may currently have a small userbase, but the Meta ecosystem is massive,” Dick said. “So, it’s about how to bring users from Instagram, or from Facebook, how do we start bringing them in to the Horizon ecosystem.”
Dick also expects that brands will be able to conduct commerce in Meta’s virtual reality world just as they have been able to enable shopping within its apps. “Meta is very smart about bringing brands in and making sure there is a seamless user experiences to move from a virtual world experience to a purchase.”