Breaking down the options: How brands are engaging with virtual audiences in Roblox

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Roblox had an average of 49.5 million daily active users in Q4 2021, a 33 percent increase year-over-year, according to the company’s Tuesday evening earnings update. This rise in user activity has naturally piqued brands’ interest — but it might be a challenge for inexperienced brands to navigate the available options. In addition to selling virtual items, there are three primary methods for brands looking to activate in Roblox: injecting themselves into pre-existing experiences, creating time-limited spaces and building permanent, branded worlds.

“There’s this kind of natural trajectory for brands,” said Roblox chief business officer Craig Donato. “The first is that a lot of brands get in by just simply creating virtual merch. Gucci came on our platform, they just started offering virtual merchandise, and had a lot of success.”

Many of the branded virtual items in Roblox are uploaded to the platform’s Avatar Marketplace, allowing players to use them freely throughout Roblox experiences. To activate inside pre-existing Roblox communities, brands have also partnered with established in-platform developers for collaborations such as NASCAR’s recent foray into the popular cops-and-robbers game Jailbreak. The motorsports brand worked with Jailbreak developer Badimo to insert NASCAR vehicles into the experience.

“The next step up is what we think of as ephemeral experiences,” Donato said. “They’re generally promotional in nature; they last for weeks or months. Actually, Gucci made this transition — they had a fashion event that they were hosting in Florence, and they did a virtual version of it.”

Unlike the first type of activation, these time-limited brand experiences come with their own dedicated branded spaces, such as the Ralph Lauren Winter Escape, which ran from December 8, 2021 to January 3, 2022. Some experts believe that this type of Roblox activation currently offers the most value to brands.

“We really focus our in-game experiences around one-to-two-week experiences,” said Charles Gabriel, vp and head of global advertising for WildBrain Spark, a digital media company partnered with prominent Roblox developer Gamefam. “The beauty of that is, you’re going to create this exclusivity that I think a lot of brands want, and you’re going to create what I believe is that scarcity play. There are certain weeks, certain weekends and certain holidays that are going to be highly sought-after, and brands are going to need to really start to think ahead of the curve.”

“Those are relatively easy to pull off,” Donato said of limited-time activations. “It’s a new medium; creating interactive experience isn’t [brands’] work. So creating something that captures someone’s attention for weeks is pretty doable. Creating something that keeps someone’s attention for months is very difficult.”

Indeed, persistent branded worlds — the third type of Roblox activation — present a bigger challenge for brands than seasonal or time-limited activations. Companies such as Nike and Vans have developed permanent and immersive worlds — NIKELAND and Vans World — but to keep players engaged, they have to consistently refresh their virtual spaces with original content. “It’s almost like the next generation of social media,” Donato said. “I’m investing in a presence. You don’t start an Instagram account, throw up five photos, and then move on. It’s a commitment to always be changing, always be updating the experience, and we’re starting to see brands now step up to the plate for that.”

Persistent branded worlds are certainly a bigger lift than other types of Roblox activations — but they might have the most potential upside, too. These days, it’s a given that every major brand has a presence across all major social platforms; in the future, it could be a similar no-brainer for brands to maintain persistent and immersive virtual spaces.

“A big part of the learning curve for brands is really understanding that, if you are building your own dedicated world inside the platform, you need to think about longevity — you need to think about how we are building and continuing to invest in that world,” said Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO of the Roblox developer Supersocial. “Because if you just do it one time, one-off, you’re probably better off experimenting within an existing game world.”

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