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Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Roblox

Roblox wants to shed its ‘metaverse’ label


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

June 30, 2023 | 6 min read

The online gaming platform doesn’t want to just be known for the ‘metaverse’ any more as it seeks high profile partnerships with sports brands. Its head of sport explains why it’s moving on from the term it helped popularize.

A promotional image from the Roblox Partner Program

The platform's newly announced partner program is designed to entice marketers onto the platform / Roblox

Tian Pei, Roblox’s head of sport, has been kept busy over the past few years with high-profile partnerships with Fifa, McLaren, Nascar and others. The platform helped codify many of the expectations brands have had for metaverse activations through those partnerships, but now it is looking to develop long-term partnerships rather than one-offs.

Pei says that her hope is that brands increasingly think of Roblox as a platform on which they need a permanent presence, rather than solely dipping in and out around big events. While she believes those time-sensitive activations have a place, she says brands should “have a presence on Roblox, just as they do on Instagram”.

For example, the platform’s pre-existing WimbleWorld experience is continuing in the run-up to this year’s tennis tournament after a first showing last year.

To that end, she explains that Roblox’s presence at conferences like SEG3 is in service of providing education for brands about the benefits of a long-time presence on the platform. Part of that process is about de-emphasizing the term ‘metaverse’, which carries with it some expectations, and instead reprioritizing Roblox itself as a platform in its own right. “We’re not talking about the metaverse,” she says, “we’re talking about UGC”.

She says that a second part is about emphasizing the variety of options that brands – and in particular sports brands – have when choosing to market themselves on Roblox. First and foremost is the fact that Roblox’s audience has aged up with the platform and is, therefore, older than might be expected. It has just introduced experiences and worlds that are restricted to anyone under 17, for example, to cater to the 38% of Roblox’s users aged 17 and older in 2022.

Brands also have options when it comes to building the experiences on the platform. Many other ‘metaverse’ platforms allow the use of their creative tools for UGC and brands from all sectors have used that to effectively self-serve their own marketing experiences. At Cannes, Roblox heavily pushed its new partner program, designed to bring more advertisers into the self-serve fold. Its initial group of signed partners includes “early adopters who are already setting the standards of marketing in immersive spaces and are close to the Roblox ecosystem today”, including Dentsu, Dubit and Vayner3.

In addition to that option, Pei cites the work Nascar did within the existing popular game mode of Jailbreak as an example of how brands can insert themselves into already-popular games and experiences.

However, it is also possible for brands to work with the Roblox team directly to create higher-end experiences with better fidelity and models should they choose. The platform overhauled its Materials tools, for example, to provide a more detailed set of textures and models for branded experiences.

Proof and attribution

Secondly, Pei says that brands are learning about the various means by which they can activate and convert audiences on the platform “whether that’s through revenue, which [brands] have as a priority, naturally” or through engagement with audiences. She points out that Roblox’s audiences aren’t necessarily sports fans, so the attraction for teams, leagues and sporting organizations is to speak to brand-new audiences.

Pei says that the priority for Roblox is to prove the link between its digital experiences and real-world benefits. She says that bringing Roblox “into the physical world” is something that’s very much on its agenda, which is especially relevant for sports brands. She says that while there are any number of third parties that can demonstrate the link between online activity and real-world consumer decisions, Roblox is seeking to deepen its own ability to do just that.

The metaverse is just one aspect of web3 and while Roblox does not integrate any blockchain tech and therefore can’t provide tokens or NFTs, Pei notes that AI is an inevitable focus for anyone working in tech and web3. It, too, is therefore a major priority for investment at Roblox.

There are still issues with marketing on platforms like Roblox. It is incumbent upon those teams to prove that audiences are not just of the sizes that are claimed, but that the platforms are good environments in which to market. Whether Roblox can shake the ‘metaverse’ label as the hype wears off is yet to be seen, but its investments in tools for advertisers demonstrate it is serious about being an environment suitable for marketers.

Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Roblox

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