Decentraland, another virtual platform, experienced this fallout when media outlets discovered last fall that it had fewer than 1,000 daily active users, despite a billion-dollar valuation. The Sandbox, which was consistently announcing brand partnerships a year and a half ago, has also shown little life. The lack of new entrants in the time since these reports is a testament to the damage done.
But even though Roblox boasts over 70 million daily active users, brands are not insulated from their experiences becoming ghost towns. Forever 21’s “Shop City,” which launched in December 2021, is currently experiencing very few visitors. Upon multiple occasions in which Ad Age recently paid a visit, the world was virtually empty, seeing anywhere between zero and six users over 24-hour windows, as indicated by data on new badge activity. Forever 21 did not return a request for comment.
Similar scenes were evident in Chobani’s “Oatmilk Cosmic Race” experience, which launched in June 2022, and Red Wing Shoes’ “Buildertown” experience, which launched in November 2022. The Met’s collaboration with Verizon is also seeing very little traffic as the two entities decide how to proceed.
The cause of these ghost towns—all still available to play—is unclear, but a lack of “feeding the beast” seems a likely factor. The Met’s experience has not been updated since August, around the time it launched; Chobani’s has not been updated since February. Red Wing Shoes’ was last updated just over a month ago.
Supersocial, a company that develops Roblox experiences with brands, recommends that its clients update their persistent experiences at least every two weeks, according to Yonatan Raz-Fridman, Supersocial’s chief executive.
Spokespeople for both Red Wing and Chobani said their experiences were initially launched alongside campaigns that have since ended.
While keeping an empty experience online comes at no additional cost, a brand runs the risk of experiencing unwanted public attention, as in the case of Decentraland and The Sandbox. An alternative, Raz-Fridman said, is to switch the experience to private mode, which disables users from entering—also at no cost.
Another issue may be that some experiences are being unintentionally buried by Roblox’s discovery algorithm. Neither Chobani or Red Wing Shoes’ worlds appear when searched for on Roblox’s website, regardless of the keywords used. Roblox told Ad Age that it is aware of the issue and looking into a solution.
Negative reception could be another hindrance. Forever 21’s “Shop City,” which hasn’t been updated since July, has only 35% positive reviews—indicated by a “thumbs up”—and 65% negative reviews, or “thumbs down.” This picture is remarkably different from that of most branded experiences on Roblox, which tend to boast between 75% and 90% positive reviews. Of 16 brand experiences that Ad Age assessed, only two others maintained “thumbs up” percentages below 70%: Verizon and The Met’s world, at 69%, and Chipotle’s “Boorito” experience, at 66%. Chipotle did not respond to a request for comment.
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The takeaway is that most brands seem to be scoring well with users, and avoiding becoming ghost towns in the process. Mattel’s “Barbie Dreamhouse Tycoon” has amassed over 65 million visits since April and boasts 89% positive reviews. Walmart’s “Discovered” world, which launched in May, has brought in over 8 million visits and has 95% positive reviews.
To be sure, some brands entice users to give a “thumbs up” in exchange for rewards, so the metric is not entirely reliable. But it does provide a glimpse into how users are looking for quality in branded worlds.
Common ingredients for a successful experience are a satisfying and repeatable gameplay loop, the potential to grow through new content and offerings and, most importantly, a clear set of objectives, according to Raz-Fridman.
“Within one minute of entering a world, the user has to know what they need to do,” he said.