Entertainment and commerce have always gone hand-in-hand in the real world. So why wouldn’t they do likewise in the metaverse of virtual worlds like Roblox?
Roblox is a platform that’s part game, part a place to see virtual concerts and events and even an entire virtual community and economy in one. And Christina Wootton manages the brand partnerships. When she thinks What the Future, she’s looking at how brands can bring commerce to the community.
Matt Carmichael: The company has described itself as a human co- experience platform that will eventually support these experiences in the entertainment, learning and business markets. How do you envision the role of the entertainment components in that evolution?
Christina Wootton: Roblox is an entertainment platform. We have millions of immersive original creative experiences, and they’re already engaging with entertainment brands. For instance, we’ve seen Warner Bros. partner directly with one of our top developer studios for the game “Adopt Me” and integrate “Scoob!” into the game for their release of the movie.
Carmichael: Who takes the lead in the brand partnerships?
Wootton: Our team has been working with strategic partners, and we talk about their objectives, connecting them, if needed, with our developer community because they know what’s going to resonate well with our audience and what’s authentic. But we love seeing that this organically is happening, that brands are coming on board and reaching out to developer studios, sometimes without us even knowing.
Carmichael: Obviously, there’s platform reputation that you have to be considering as well with these relationships. So how does that all balance and work?
Wootton: We’re creating a self-sustaining ecosystem so that we will provide the tools to our developer community and see what they do with them. But to launch that, we make sure we establish a framework of how you should use those tools. At the same time, our developer studios are also showing us what they can do. We get to see what they do, how they take the tools and how they actually make it even better.
Carmichael: The idea of the metaverse is expanding around Roblox. It was a much less crowded space when you launched in 2004. How does that change the role both for you, but also for just brands and entertainment?
Wootton: As the global audience gets larger and more time is spent in the metaverse, brands are realizing that they definitely need a persistent presence in the metaverse. It’s all a learning process, but brands are definitely interested more and more in getting into this space.
Carmichael: Does this become a direct retail channel of sorts? Is there opportunity to create essentially a mirror economy in the metaverse?
Wootton: We’ve had Gucci and Stella McCartney come onto our platform and create virtual items based on their real-world merchandise. They do want to still have that scarcity, and replicate what’s going on in the real world. The fashion brands are very interested in how they can blur the physical and digital worlds.
Carmichael: How are brand partnerships different in a metaverse than they are in the “real verse”?
Wootton: Sometimes it’s similar, but I think the important thing is that brands need to be aware that in the metaverse, just because you have that really amazing IP [intellectual property] in the real world doesn’t mean that you could just create an experience and expect that IP to automatically be popular and resonate. You really have to understand the community and create experiences that are authentic.
Carmichael: You mentioned that sometimes brands have preconceived notions of how they want to replicate their real-world experience in the metaverse. How do you get them to loosen those constraints and explore new possibilities?
Wootton: The more we work with our partners, we build that trust to say, “We want to show you some examples of what works well on our platform.” It’s a slow process because a lot of IP holders are sensitive to how their IP is portrayed in another space. And you’ll see that developers create interesting artworks that aren’t what you’re used to seeing from a “professional” brand advertising banner. But the click-through rates are really high because the platform is built for other users.
Carmichael: As market researchers, the idea of doing research in these virtual spaces to support the brand experiences is evolving. How do you see research in this world?
Wootton: With the metaverse, you can do a lot of testing and get real-time feedback, especially with fashion and retail. There are so many resources and so much money spent on creating products that you don’t really know yet how that’s going to be received by your consumers and fans. You can actually test that out virtually. You can create a virtual shoe and get feedback from the users on which outfits they are adopting first. Maybe the users are even helping with the design process.
Carmichael: When you’re working with brands, with whom do you work within the organization? Are brands starting to have specialists in brand metaverse extension? Is it an R&D function? Is it like, “Oh, we’ve got this 20-year-old who…”
Wootton: Sometimes we’re working with the marketing team, sometimes it’s the interactive team or the licensing team. But we have seen, which is really, really amazing to us, that a lot of our partners are starting to talk about building out internal teams to help them bring their brand to the metaverse. Just as when companies were building social media teams, you wouldn’t launch a social media channel and never post anything.