Who needs awesome gear IRL when you can deck out your Roblox avatar with the latest and greatest merch you didn’t know you needed?
A few weeks ago, Metallica, the heavy metal band that all my high school boyfriends listened to a little too loudly in the 90s, announced a collaboration with open-world game Roblox. Fans could log on to the popular game and check out songs and merchandise from Metallica’s new album, 72 Seasons. The group called it a “listening party,” where fans could virtually unite with the band and enjoy some heavy metal. “Were you trying your hardest to find two fanbases that will never unite?” asked Twitter user Lil Space X when Metallica announced its plans online. Lil Space X took the words right out of my mouth.
But the idea of Metallica on Roblox brought me back to a conversation I’d had with my Roblox-obsessed middle daughter a few months back. “Mom, I finally got the Nike hat I’ve been wanting!” I was excited for her, but also confused. Firstly, I didn’t even know she wanted a Nike hat. Secondly, I didn’t know how she would have acquired said hat. As the primary shopper in the family, I had not purchased her a Nike hat, and it wasn’t her birthday, meaning it was unlikely one was gifted to her. “Huh?” I asked as she brought her iPad closer to me to show me something. And there, on the screen, was her avatar proudly wearing a Nike hat. It was, to my non-gaming mind, interesting. A Nike collaboration with Roblox made more sense than a Metallica one did, in my mind at least, but still, I wondered, why were brands in general collaborating with Roblox?
Roblox: the what, where and when
We’ve talked about Roblox on this blog before. It’s a large, open-world game with seemingly endless possibilities to grow, explore, play and socialize. We discovered it during the Pandemic in 2020 when my daughters used it daily to chat and engage with friends whom they couldn’t see in person. Keeping them safe while they play has always been top of mind.
Roblox has about 43 million users around the world daily and about 202 million per month (source). Almost 30 percent of users are based in the United States and Canada. Roblox users skew young though, with almost 70 percent of users under the age of 16. Users are almost a dead split of male and female. Launched in 2006, Roblox now has more than 40 million games available to players. Roblox players spend, on average, about two hours a day in this virtual open world. Suffice it to say, Roblox is a virtual powerhouse.
Roblox: the who
With so many daily active users, it maybe shouldn’t be a surprise to me that brand collaborations are becoming more and more common on the platform. Besides the Nike collaboration I mentioned above, Roblox has also, in recent years, done notable collaborations with Chipotle and Ralph Lauren, to name a few. In 2021, Chipotle gave away $1 million in free burritos at a virtual store within Roblox (players may have had to virtually engage to find the burritos, but they were able to redeem their virtual codes for IRL burritos from the restaurant!). Fans of Ralph Lauren can engage with its Roblox-exclusive game, The Winter Escape, and style their avatars in exclusive merch. Roblox even paired with ultra-luxe retailer Gucci in 2021 for an exclusive Garden experience that took guests on a virtual tour of Florence and experience the world of Gucci.
Roblox players can currently engage in a virtual scavenger hunt powered by both Vans and Gucci. Players have to navigate obstacles, find fabrics and patterns and more. The prize? A shoe accessory or skateboard backpack, branded of course, that can be worn by the player’s avatar when the scavenger hunt is complete.
Roblox: the why
All of these collabs sound super cool, even to my mom ears, but, even after my deep dive into Roblox collaborations, I still walked away with one question: why?
Let’s be honest: I’m not going to be creating my own Roblox avatar anytime soon. Even if I do covet Gucci in real life (someday I’ll own something Gucci- someday!), I’m not going to engage in an hours-long virtual scavenger hunt for some virtual swag, even if it is undeniably swanky. And while my daughter may think her branded Roblox merch is super cool, she’s not going to convince me to rush out and buy her a real Gucci shoe accessory to match her virtual one.
So why, then, are brands rushing to work with (and within) Roblox? The answer is, if I’m being honest, quite simple. It’s a new way to connect with an impressionable audience and create customer loyalty very, very young. These players, these kids, may not have buying power yet, especially with the vast majority of them still being younger than 16. But they will grow up, get jobs and have their own bank accounts and spending preferences. And the experiences they have now, as young kids on Roblox, may shape their future preferences and purchases.
I’m not a huge Nike wearer, I never have been. My kids didn’t learn about the Nike swish because they see it on my shirts and shorts frequently. While they likely have friends that wear Nike and see actors on tv shows that wear Nike, it is also incredibly likely that a large part of their affinity for the brand came from Roblox. And back to that Metallica collaboration… Metallica may still be cool with Gen Xers and Millenials, but their kids, my kids will, on principle, refute anything I find cool. My kids would never connect with Metallica because their dad loved the band back in the 90s, but, when Metallica pops up on their beloved Roblox? Well, now that’s cool. And so a fan is born.