Why Roblox is a metaverse marketing on-ramp—despite Web3 interoperability – AdAge.com

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Roblox has become one of the biggest success stories of the metaverse. Yet despite the gaming platform boasting more than 200 million estimated monthly users—over 1,000 times that of Meta’s Horizon Worlds—and brands flocking to create experiences within it, there’s a growing debate over whether Roblox is technically even part of the metaverse. 
The platform’s lack of Web3 tools and unclear distinctions from traditional video games have stirred up disagreement among marketers as they navigate the nascent world of Web3. 
There are those like Kristin Patrick, for example, the chief marketing officer at Claire’s who sees Roblox as the closest approximation to a true metaverse due to its “shared community experiences and interactive events,” she told Ad Age. Claire’s launched its first “world” in Roblox, a series of branded districts, earlier this month.
Then there are marketers like Akbar Hamid, the founder and CEO of creative consultancy 5th Column, who believes that any meaningful metaverse must be built using blockchain infrastructure. While he’s willing to call Roblox a “closed” metaverse—meaning one that is cut off from other metaverse worlds—Hamid mainly sees the application as a traditional gaming platform that features metaverse elements.
Roblox, unsurprisingly, considers itself a part of the metaverse, citing as evidence its “shared experiences in immersive 3D spaces,” a spokesperson told Ad Age.
In the past four months alone, at least two dozen major brands have launched Roblox activations, from Walmart and Claire’s to FIFA and iHeartMedia. And in the first half of 2022, Roblox’s revenue jumped 34%, to nearly $1.13 billion. 
The platform launched in 2006, long before the term “metaverse” entered the mainstream. It saw explosive growth at the start of the pandemic as people looked for new ways to entertain themselves. Roblox was played by over half of U.S. kids by the summer of 2020, per The Verge
By October 2021, Facebook rebranded to Meta and the race for the metaverse had begun. Along with Zuck’s VR-scape, Roblox is now competing for attention from consumers and brands with Web3 platforms like The Sandbox and Decentraland. But recent reports showing low usage in Horizon and these blockchain-based worlds indicate that consumers don’t care about what is and what is not technically considered the metaverse.
Marketers, on the other hand, are eager to pin it down.
As 5th Column’s Hamid noted, Roblox is a closed platform, or not interoperable, meaning users can’t port their assets from Roblox to other digital worlds.
Interoperability is considered a core principle of Web3, ideally enabling users and their assets to flow freely between platforms that create a web of interconnected networks, or “open” metaverses. 
The Sandbox, for example, is interoperable with a variety of NFT collections, allowing users to bring their NFTs from unaffiliated projects, like Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), into the platform and set them as avatars. 
Yuga Labs, the company behind BAYC, is building its own metaverse in line with a set of criteria that will enable interoperability, which it calls “Open Object Standards.” The idea is that any platform that adheres to these standards will be able to integrate with Yuga’s world. Other companies, such as Microsoft, Meta and Dapper Labs, are forming their own groups to decide upon standards for an open metaverse network.
Metaverse marketing experts Chris Liquin, senior vice president of strategy at Web3 consultancy Vayner3, and Dillon Rosenblatt, co-founder and CEO of NFT platform Autograph, view interoperability as the rails upon which a true metaverse must be built. Like Hamid, they see blockchain as the technology that enables this, and Web3 tools, such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as equally necessary components.
“For [the metaverse] to be a pervasive part of our lives, I do think that Web3 tech is going to have to be a part of it,” said Rosenblatt.
Even Mark Zuckerberg, whose Horizon Worlds platform is expected to be another walled garden in the vein of Instagram and Facebook, has said that interoperability will make the metaverse better for everyone.
But, again, Roblox is not interoperable, nor does it include any Web3 technologies. 
“We are not considering minting our own NFTs or speculative currencies,” a Roblox spokesperson told Ad Age when asked about exploring these signature elements of Web3.
So what makes Roblox any different than a traditional video game?
Chris Neff, global head of emerging experience and technology at agency Anomaly, sees the collaborative aspect between players as a distinguishing feature of what he calls “Web2 metaverse platforms.” Collaboration is something less common in video games with computer-controlled opponents and one-dimensional objectives.
Web2 metaverse platforms, he told Ad Age, “serve as digital extensions of our physical world as opposed to contained environments.”
Similarly, Roblox considers itself to be more than a video game because its “experiences are social”—and players “are in the same [virtual] space with other people, interacting through digital identities,” according to a Roblox spokesperson.
Fortnite and Minecraft operate similarly to Roblox, offering players a vast landscape to build, socialize, complete challenges and participate in an in-game economy. Like Roblox’s currency, Robux, Fortnite has V-Bucks and Minecraft has Minecoins, which players exchange with real money to purchase assets such as avatar skins and tools in order to customize their personas.
By these standards, however, a game like Grand Theft Auto, in which players roam about freely and can interact with other players online, should also be considered a “Web2 metaverse.” The same could be said for Call of Duty’s live gameplay, as well as massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like League of Legends and World of Warcraft. Each of these titles even offers in-game currencies exchangeable with real money, which can be used to build a digital identity.
“There’s a trend between these really popular games and them actually having elements of what people might believe the metaverse is,” said Autograph’s Rosenblatt. 
But as opposed to this diluting Roblox’s claim to being a metaverse platform, Rosenblatt sees it as evidence that the metaverse—at least some early form of it—may not be a new phenomenon at all.
“I think that it’s a strong example of how people have enjoyed [metaverse experiences] for a long time,” he said.
Even if Roblox is just the latest in a tradition of metaverse-type platforms, there is something different about it, too. Brands are discussing the platform and its brethren in the same breath as larger “Web3 strategies.”
Samsung, for example, used Roblox to host a Charli XCX concert in May, several months after it opened a virtual destination in Decentraland and dropped a batch of NFTs. Then, in September, it launched a world in Fortnite
“People can be players [in Roblox and Fortnite] as well as creators and builders,” said Cristina Lawrence, metaverse lead and executive VP of social content and engagement strategy for Razorfish, Samsung’s digital agency partner.
The evolution of static player to active participant sounds a lot like the transformation that Web3 advocates say an open metaverse will enable. To this end, Roblox is a veritable on-ramp to an open metaverse, said Vayner3’s Liquin. The platform allows players to become familiar with relevant concepts, such as digital identity, economy and socialization, while in a closed, protected environment.
It also doesn’t hurt that Roblox is incredibly populated, meaning each branded experience can reach a substantial number of consumers. On the other hand, platforms that already promise an open system, such as The Sandbox and Decentraland, are reportedly barren
Liquin has been pushing clients toward closed ecosystems like Roblox because a critical mass of “real” metaverse demand effectively exists nowhere else. 
“Unless you’re just trying to practice your immersive storytelling and NFT skills as a brand marketer, there’s really no purpose to play in those [open] spaces,” he said. In this sense, Roblox may actually be the closest approximation we have to the massively adopted ideal.
This isn’t to say that open metaverses will always be empty. But consumers need to interact with experiences they currently understand, said Autograph’s Rosenblatt. Once a foundation is established, then new technology like blockchain can be introduced to make those experiences better.
“I think [Roblox is] getting the whole world comfortable for when the Web3 metaverse’s innovation really comes out,” he said. “They’re priming the herd to be ready for that.”
In this article:
Asa Hiken is a technology reporter for Ad Age covering the intersection of Web3 and marketing, including crypto, NFTs and the metaverse.


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