What Makes a Roblox Branded Game Launch Successful?
Let me start off by saying up front that we at Metaverse Marcom have so much respect for all of the brands and developers building experiences on Roblox. We firmly believe that everyone who works in this exciting new space is moving the entire ecosystem forward one test at a time, and we know that building anything creative can be extremely difficult.
That being said, we feel it's important to analyze what's working and what's not working in the space honestly and openly. By learning from each other's hits and misses, we believe that brands, developers and consultants like us will be able to make better experiences overall that will delight players and help our businesses grow significantly.
Delivering Value Through Actionable Insights
In a recent conversation with a couple of our regular readers (thanks, MD + KC), we heard what's valuable about our content is how our insights shed light on what's working and not working with other brands' Roblox activations/tests.
That really resonated with me because my career has been built on answering those two simple questions over and over again. What's working? What's not working?
By answering those questions, you set yourself up for success. If you test various iterations of what's working, over time you should see remarkably better results. And when you know what's not working, you should start doing less of that (or stop that entirely if possible). When you do more of what's working and less of what's not working, you can see very sizable KPI improvements.
Comparing Two Roblox January Releases Side by Side
In order to dive deeper into examining what's working and not working for brands on Roblox, this week we decided to do something different: compare two recent releases that have had very different results thus far.
H&M - Loooptopia
At the start of January '23 (around January 2nd), global fashion retailer H&M released an experience called Loooptopia. As of this writing on January 23rd, the experience has 301K visits, which is relatively low for a new branded game release. Usually, we expect to see brands getting close to or surpassing 1 million visits within the first week or two.
Australian Open - AO Adventure
Later in the same month (around January 16th), the Australian Open tennis tournament released its own branded experience, which has already surpassed 3.6M visits in about a week or so. The game was released right as the actual IRL Australian Open tennis tournament began.
Given how these two branded experiences came out only days apart and how differently they've performed, let's compare them to see what lessons we can learn.
Game Performance Metrics
We've already noted that H&M has a low amount of visits, and AO Adventure has over 10x as much. But how do their other performance metrics look, and what do they tell us?
H&M - 84%
Australian Open - 75%
It's somewhat surprising that H&M has the higher user rating.
How did this happen? My guess is that H&M's rating is so strong because so few people have actually voted. As of now, the game only has about 550 user votes from early players (whom I'm guessing are avid H&M fans). If the game were to get an influx of users (who aren't necessarily fans), my prediction is that the user rating would decrease sharply.
H&M - 5.3 mins
Australian Open - 7.2 mins
Even though H&M is lower than the Australian Open, their 5.3 minute average session time per player is actually quite strong compared to other brand experiences. We've seen Walmart Land at paltry 2.3 minutes per user. Again, I'm guess this strong number is because there have been so few players to try the experience thus far.
The Australian Open's results are strong, but not outstanding. They're not the best we've ever seen (Hello Kitty is at 20 mins, and Warrior Cats is at 24 mins), but they're right in the middle of the pack. The game does a good job of onboarding you into the experience, showing you the various mini games you can play and rewarding you with free UGC, which collectively helps extend session time.
H&M - ?
Australian Open - 1.8
H&M doesn't have a "welcome" badge for new users, so we don't know how many unique players have played and therefore can't calculate this metric.
But the Australian Open does have such a "welcome" badge that has been claimed by over 2M players. The 1.8 visits/unique metric is quite low. That means the game isn't very sticky, and it's not providing players with much reason to come back repeatedly.
Just because the game has attracted millions of users in about a week doesn't mean that everything is working perfectly. It just means that the game's user acquisition is working. Engagement and retention look to be severely lacking.
I imagine what's happening is that new users are acquired through the free UGC items that are being given away. They hear about those freebies from influencers on platforms like TikTok and YouTube. They complete the tasks in the game, which takes about 7.2 mins on average. And, unfortunately, they typically don't come back again.
If the Australian Open is only treating this experience as a limited-time event to promote their brand and this year's tennis tournament, this is fine. Then they don't need to worry about retention. They should care more about reach metrics like visits. But if they wanted to build a persistent space for fans to come back to repeatedly, then this experience is not effective at doing that.
What's working: User acquisition for AO Adventure, driven by free UGC and TikTok video sharing
What's not working: AO Adventure user retention / repeat engagement
Leveraging Free UGC & TIKTOK
As mentioned, our hypothesis is that the AO Adventure been able to attract millions of users in a week by successfully giving away free UGC items to drive interest in their game.
H&M, on the other hand, has not offered free UGC (yet).
A H&M thumbnail on their Roblox game page says they will have UGC items, but it was a missed opportunity to not have them right at launch.
Why was this a miss? Because there are early users who clearly want this free UGC. There are comments in the H&M group like the following:
Meanwhile, AO Adventure has released 5 free UGC items through its experience: koala backpack, tennis ball head, surf board, beach ball, and Emirates plane. These items stand out as being very playful and totally out of the ordinary.
They stand in stark contrast to the realistic branded clothing (jacket, long sleeve shirt, pants, shoes) that H&M promises to deliver soon.
Free UGC plays an important role in building awareness for new Roblox experiences. When there's cool free UGC available, Roblox creators (many who are not paid by the brands) will make videos on TikTok and YouTube to share with their followers.
Here are screenshots of some AO Adventure videos from users, which have garnered over 2.3 million views on TikTok alone.
Considering that there's 2 million unique players to the game and 2.3 million TikTok views for related content, we're guessing that TikTok is HIGHLY EFFECTIVE (high conversion rate) at driving Roblox game visits.
H&M has just over 355K views to its experience on TikTok, which is very close to the 300K visits it has on Roblox. If H&M had free UGC to offer, certainly their TikTok views and Roblox visits would be much higher.
What's working: giving away cool, out of the ordinary UGC that spurs organic sharing on TikTok and YouTube
What's not working: releasing a branded experience without free UGC and having your free items not be super exciting for players to want (or creators to make videos about)
Game Play / User Experience
I played both branded games, and here's what I took away.
Loooptopia is Hard and Confusing
Even though I read text on screen explaining what to do, it' wasn't super clear how to play the game or its objective. I also was surprised that you had to level up several times in order to access new areas in the game.
After spending about 10 minutes exploring the entire map, I finally tried out the core game function, which was to create virtual clothing. Matching patterns and colors with clothing types was straightforward, but not at all exciting. With few reasons to stick around and with most upcoming levels seeming out of reach, I do not wish to play this game again.
AO Adventure Forces You to Win Free Stuff Right Away
When you open the game, arrows guide you to visit the tennis courts and play a match. Although I wanted to explore more than play tennis, I relented and played a match against the AI. I found the controls to be clunky, and I didn't want to play more tennis. However, even though I lost the game, I was rewarded with a sweet UGC item - koala backpack. It's cute and adorable, and I would totally wear it on my avatar.
I ventured over to the Emirates-branded area because I saw from the list of game badges that I could get another free UGC item from completing the obby there. I am terrible at obby's and kept failing at completing it. But my burning desire to keep trying again in order to get the cool Emirates plane UGC helped me see how effective the game was at enticing players with rewards.
What's working: Firm onboarding guidance that makes it easy to get free UGC right away, plus clear hints on how to get further UGC items
What's not working: making games too hard to figure out and making the levels / achievements too difficult to reach
Marketing - Assets & Promotion
Just a quick mention that H&M has a video trailer on their Roblox game page, and AO Adventure does not (at least not on its Roblox page). We've seen a trailer for AO Adventure posted on LinkedIn.
While it's only a sample size of two, it's interesting to see that having a professional video trailer did not seem to boost visits at all for H&M. And that makes sense because the issue for H&M is user acquisition, or getting people to check out their game to begin with (which again is hard since they're not offering cool, free UGC).
H&M does not have any brand partners within its Roblox game, but AO Adventure does. AO Adventure includes a dedicated area, NPC and free item that are all branded by its sponsor Emirates Airlines.
We're guessing that Emirates paid some fee to be part of this AO Adventure experience, and that would have helped the Australian Open cover some of the costs of building the experience. If Emirates paid between $50K - $150K to be included, that could have potentially covered anywhere from 20% to 50% off the entire costs of building the experience.
Our Recommendation - Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs
In his book Great by Choice, my business hero Jim Collins lays out a powerful, research-backed concept called "Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs."
"Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs is a concept developed in the book Great by Choice. First, you fire bullets (low-cost, low-risk, low-distraction experiments) to figure out what will work—calibrating your line of sight by taking small shots. Then, once you have empirical validation, you fire a cannonball (concentrating resources into a big bet) on the calibrated line of sight. Calibrated cannonballs correlate with outsized results; uncalibrated cannonballs correlate with disaster. The ability to turn small proven ideas (bullets) into huge hits (cannonballs) counts more than the sheer amount of pure innovation."
Making big bets (firing cannonballs) is hard when you're a company entering a new space (like Roblox). You don't yet know what works, what doesn't work, and what the Roblox community thinks about your brand.
So instead of placing big bets, like spending $1 million right off the bat on building a potentially unpopular experience, it's good to get your feet wet and gain your bearings with smaller tests (firing bullets). This could be selling branded UGC or integrating into existing Roblox games. Those smaller steps allow you to learn and better calibrate your efforts over several cycles.
And then when you do have those learnings and can better understand user behavior and the opportunities for your specific brand, then you can place bigger bets by firing cannonballs that deliver outsized results.
Stephen Dypiangco is the CEO of Metaverse Marcom, a strategy and consulting firm helping entertainment and sports brands enter the Roblox metaverse.