CSO at VCCP New York, Jonny Shaw, says gaming platform Roblox is the biggest thing happening in media and tech today, and first mover mainstream brands could add real value
If you were to run a poll with marketers asking ‘what’s the biggest revolution happening in media and tech today?’ you would most likely get a lot of answers about TikTok. Some would probably also point towards gaming and the imminent launch of PS5 and Xbox Series X, or perhaps Epic Games’ epic fight with Apple about how Fortnite should be able to make money from their products on their platform.
These are undoubtedly big, juicy topics. But there is a bigger revolution going on that hardly any marketers are noticing or talking about. And it’s a revolution that provides a far greater insight into how media and media and technology are evolving in a cloud based, multi device world. That revolution is Roblox.
If you’ve heard of Roblox you’re most likely a parent of a child aged somewhere between 5 and 14. And if you’re one of those parents you’re probably annoyed that your kids want to spend so much time on it, and are constantly pestering you to buy them Robux (the in-game currency). But Roblux needs to be taken seriously. Its user base has exploded by 40% since the beginning of lockdown to reach 150 MAUs (monthly active users). At the end of February the makers raised $150m at a $4bn valuation.
The lead investor in the round was Andreeson Horowitz, the most successful and influential Silicon Valley venture capital firm of the past decade. The smart money is following Roblox as it represents something truly new. At first glance you might underestimate Roblox as it looks unpolished and chaotic, but this is precisely why it’s so powerful. It’s far more than a game - it’s a vibrant community and economy of play.
Roblox is a platform upon which pretty much anyone can build a game.
The millions of free to play games that have been built on the platform work as a kind of social network, with users able to engage and collaborate with each other across all of the games. The games that are built on the platform can be monetized with the addition of premium items that players buy with Robux. Roblox is on course to pay its community of developers $250m this year alone. But the best thing about Roblox is its pure, unadulterated and joyous form of play.
While the adult world stresses itself sick by playing questionable games with their real lives on social media, Roblox is a purely imaginary world where the only objective is to experiment and have fun. It’s unstructured play for a generation of kids who are getting less and less opportunity to play freely in the real world.
But to think that Roblox is only relevant for kids is to miss a vitally important underlying point.
The online world that we have today is really just the first version of the online world we’ve known, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it’s the best version. Kids don’t end up in Roblox because it’s marketed to them (the platform does virtually no outbound marketing) or because of peer pressure. They gravitate towards it because it’s fun and the basic system just works better.
Us adults would do well to learn from our kids. We all know the social platforms we use are making us feel confused and inadequate, but we continue wasting our time on them nevertheless. The promise of the internet was to connect the world and create new experiences that make our lives better. Today Facebook is not delivering on that promise, but Roblox most certainly is. Moreover, this revolution is happening now and offers exciting new challenges and opportunities for marketers. Roblox itself is relatively untouched by mainstream brands, and there is potential for first movers to add real value.
LEGO has benefited from brand collaborations for years, but Roblox is a far more powerful platform and ecosystem than LEGO has ever been. If CMOs want to help with education in a locked down world then there is no better place to head to than Roblox. Brands could experiment with original game creation on the platform, or they could work with some of the more established publishers. It would, naturally, be inappropriate to try and use Roblox as a traditional ad buy to raise awareness, but progressive marketers would do well to think of creative ways of collaborating to bring value to the communities they serve.
But the implications of Roblox for marketers go beyond Roblox itself.
The rise of the platform is an indication of how play is the basis for a form of online engagement that is more healthy and sustainable than social media has been able to deliver. Most promotions and loyalty programs, for example, are ultimately just basic games, but they are held back by being so badly designed and executed. The next generation of brilliant marketers will be the ones who start taking play and game design seriously.
If we are moving to an era where engagement trumps interruption, then it’s imperative that we learn the fundamental mechanics of rich engagement. Social media plays with engagement like a rudimentary slot machine - it’s nowhere near as smart or intelligent as we all like to think it is. Engaging customers with play experiences that are thoughtfully and intentionally designed is the brave new future for marketers.
Those who write off play as something that’s just for kids are nothing short of negligent. And at this rate the kids may well create the new future for business because most of the parents are asleep at the (roulette) wheel.
This article came from issue 9 of Marketing Society publication Empower. Read the archive here.