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    Roblox’s ad expansion plans include 3D portals to branded experiences

    • Roblox previewed a new in-game advertising format at its Roblox Developers Conference (RDC).
    • Immersive Ads, which are expected to go live next year, include the ability to build 3D portals that transport players of the online game to custom virtual worlds. Roblox positioned the offering as a way to help advertisers foster deeper connections with its community of 58.5 million daily active users.
    • The company is also scaling up a Marketplace that lets creators sell items for an in-game currency called Robux, with plans to introduce a mechanic that gives users control over the scarcity of their goods. The monetization play comes as Roblox’s growth cools following a surge in interest earlier in the pandemic.

    Roblox has become a magnet for brands that are eager to experiment in the metaverse, a loose term typically attached to experiences that blend together aspects of the real world with digital ones. Gucci, Nike and Gap are among the companies that have recently run activations tailored to the platform, including persistent spaces that evolve over time. The gaming purveyor is now making a bigger push for media dollars with the introduction of more robust ad placements, though they’re hardly traditional in form or function.

    A demo video shows Immersive Ads in action, with a Roblox character approaching a 3D portal to Vans World, the virtual skatepark the apparel marketer debuted last year. The portal is buffeted by Roblox Vans World posters, while a video previewing the experience and bearing a “Sponsored” disclosure plays on a screen overhead. After stepping through the portal, the avatar is transported to a branded space. Leaving Vans World works the same as entering it, with the player stepping back through the portal to the original experience.

    Immersive Ads allow brands to promote their bespoke Roblox venues to an audience made up of hard-to-reach younger consumers in the Gen Z and Gen Alpha set. For creators, it’s a potential money-making opportunity, as advertisers can shell out to appear in popular worlds where people are already spending their time.

    “It’s a fertile palette for creative exploration even though its relative scale is likely to be limited,” said Andrew Frank, vice president and analyst at Gartner, in emailed comments around the Roblox news.

    Brands have previously worked with established Roblox experiences rather than making their own from scratch. For a spring campaign around inclusivity, American Eagle integrated a club into Livetopia, an existing role-playing game on Roblox that’s drawn over 1.5 billion visits.

    Creators currently make money through Robux, and Roblox views the concept as key to expanding its creator economy. At RDC, the firm said over $580 million had been paid out through its developer exchange over the 12 months ending in June and that 2.7 million people earned Robux from their creations in June alone. Roblox aims to better support individual business endeavors by letting creators on Marketplace control the scarcity of their online goods and by allowing users to resell or trade items.

    “With these systems in place, we envision a future where all items will be in limited supply and everybody can find the items they love in a marketplace that’s personalized to them,” Chief Technology Officer Daniel Sturman and Chief Product Officer Manuel Bronstein wrote in a blog post around RDC.

    Roblox missed Wall Street’s targets around revenue and user growth in second-quarter earnings reported in August. Truth in Advertising, an industry watchdog, accused the company of deceptive marketing practices in a letter filed with the Federal Trade Commission last April. The RDC announcement took care to note that the Immersive Ads will be “clearly labeled” as advertisements.

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