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Why limited-time brand activations rule in Roblox — for now

Brands have flooded into Roblox over the past year, working with both the metaverse platform and its creator community to launch custom-built branded spaces. So far, the Roblox brand activations that have garnered the most press are persistent, always-on experiences such as Vans World and Gucci Town. But while this type of activation is gradually picking up steam, limited-time, event-based Roblox activations are currently far more popular among both users and brands.

For brands looking to burnish their metaverse credentials, always-on spaces are perhaps the best expression of a true metaverse — a persistent, immersive space in which users can make changes to the environment around them and experience those changes during future visits. But persistent Roblox worlds are also a much heavier lift for brands, requiring them to work with Roblox creators on an ongoing basis and dedicate internal resources to consistently refreshing the space with updated content.

Much lighter lift from the brand side; Allows for experimentation and quick pivots; Offers point of entry that can transition to always-on at a later time; Fits into brands’ natural marketing cadence; Provides a safer opportunity to connect with users; Drives move traffic and engagement than always-on activations — at least for now.

“We aim to update every couple of weeks,” said Matthew Warneford, whose company Dubit has designed persistent Roblox worlds for brands such as Viacom. “Now, some of that can be smaller content updates — it might be new clothes, weapon upgrades, new levels to existing games. And then we also try to get new engines, new capabilities or functionality updates, every other month, generally speaking.”

According to Warneford, a brand like Viacom is a natural fit for a persistent Roblox space thanks to its wealth of homegrown intellectual properties.

“Things like Ninja Turtles, Avatar, Spongebob — they’re one of the few brands that you can very easily imagine being a virtual theme park in the metaverse,” he said. “And so they came into this knowing that they have the inventory of content that can sustain that kind of experience.”

The reality is that many brands would be better served by dipping their toes into Roblox via limited-time events or activations, rather than persistent worlds.

“We’re newbies in the metaverse world, and how do we try something out and then scale from there and figure out how to build out more robust experiences, if there is receptivity, or if we need to pivot and try something different?” said Jeff Jenkins, evp of global marketing at the clothing brand OshKosh B’gosh, which launched a limited-time branded Roblox game titled Fashion Runway last week. “It gives us the optionality to do that, versus some of the always-on experiences that are there. The brands that are creating more always-on experiences, I would say are a little bit further down the road in their experience in the metaverse.”

What’s clear is that, for the most part, limited-time Roblox activations are receiving more traffic and engagement than their always-on counterparts.

In October, a free burrito experience by Chipotle received massive engagement, with some users speculating that the rush of traffic caused the platform’s servers to crash.

“Chipotle is probably the best-performing branded event experience to date. We’ve done two of them now, and that may lead to them having a persistent world, and they have some amazing bones to work with,” said Josh Neuman, president of MELON, the metaverse development studio that designed the experience. “So sometimes it even can be a hybrid, where we enter the space as an event, with a mindset that it might transition into a persistent world. But the initial entry point is event-driven, and we’ve seen massive engagement.”

Limited-time events are more successful because there is a clear impetus to experience them before they go away, according Warneford and other experts. They can also fit more easily into brands’ natural marketing cadences: after all, most brands’ marketing campaigns are usually time-limited rather than always-on.

“One of the big reasons we wanted to run across this time is one of our biggest times for OshKosh is back-to-school,” Jenkins said. “After the three months, we’ll see where we go from there, whether we extend or whether we do something else.”

And with rising concerns over child safety in Roblox, limited-time activations offer brands an opportunity to connect with users in a manner that is arguably safer than always-on experiences, which require more consistent moderation and monitoring.

This was one reason why clothing brand Happy Nation partnered with safety tech company SuperAwesome to plug into BayView, one of the company’s pre-existing Roblox experiences, for a limited-time activation. “We wanted to make sure that we were doing it in the right way, and really safe,” said Susan Anderson, vp of creative at Happy Nation. “But we also wanted to authentically engage with the tween customer where they know they are creating, spending time, interacting.”

Despite the current predominance of limited-time activations, some metaverse experts believe the expansion of persistent branded virtual spaces is inevitable. They draw parallels between today’s proto-metaverse platforms and the early days of social media, pointing out that today almost every brand has a Twitter or Facebook page.

“I believe that the only interesting long-term avenue for brands is to have a persistent experience, and I think that’s part of the learning and the evolution,” said Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO of metaverse design studio Supersocial. “Like what happened between 2010 and 2015, when smartphones and the iPhone app store and the Android app store really became a phenomenon and went from novelty, which is where we are today with the metaverse and Roblox and these types of experiences.”

To address the unique needs of these persistent spaces, Raz-Fridman said, he anticipates that brands will begin hiring live operations producers for virtual spaces, just as they currently employ social media managers. And as brands experiment with one-off events, they create virtual spaces that they can later build out into persistent, always-on worlds.

But for now, most brands are still in the early days of bringing their metaverse talent in-house, and limited-time activations remain the easiest — and most engaging — form of Roblox activation.

“How many brands, or how many portfolios of IP, can create a Disneyland?” Warneford said. “There’s not many brands that can build their own theme park, and even a theme park needs new rides all the time. It needs constant maintenance, staff, attractions and so on; there’s not many that can do that.”