Metaverse hype has cooled, but brands still find Roblox, Fortnite attractive

The metaverse hype bubble that formed in 2021 may have finally burst in 2023, but that doesn’t mean that the underlying technologies won’t play a critical role for years to come. Early metaverse expectations, as with virtual reality back in 2016-2017, were simply far too high. That said, platforms like Roblox and Fortnite continue to do well with major brands across the globe. It’s about repositioning what these platforms can offer advertisers.

According to Tian Pei, Roblox’s head of sport, brands should be looking at the platform not so much for quirky, metaverse-like activations, but as a place to maintain continual engagement with consumers, much in the way that a social platform like Instagram is used. Pei explained recently to The Drum that Roblox is deliberately de-emphasizing the whole notion around a so-called metaverse. “We’re not talking about the metaverse,” she said, “we’re talking about UGC.” Of course, user-generated content (UGC) has been Roblox’s bread-and-butter from the beginning. The UGC aspect has led to game developers working exclusively within the world of Roblox who have landed deals with stalwart brands like Coca-Cola and the NFL.

Ultimately, as The Verge pointed out in April, both Roblox and Fortnite are battling to control a UGC-driven future, which could one day lead to a creator ecosystem similar to what’s been established by YouTube. Fortnite’s advantage is that it caters to an older audience in general, although Roblox has seen its demographic shift slightly older in recent years, with 38% of its users aged 17 and older in 2022.

Brands want to get in front of both audiences. Nike, for example, signed a multi-year deal with Epic Games to create a custom island in Fortnite that players can visit to pick up sneakers for their character. The tennis tournament Wimbledon, meanwhile, is seeking to “future-proof” its brand by offering experiences in both Roblox and Fortnite. TV’s reach has diminished, especially among younger consumers, so the goal for Wimbledon is to engage them digitally.

There are numerous ways to attract and engage players in the worlds of Fortnite and Roblox, but they need to feel authentic, and giving away items for free never hurts. That’s precisely what Nike is doing, as any visitor who spends more than 10 minutes in Fortnite on “Airphoria” island (through June 27) will receive an in-game gift of Air Max 1 ’86 Back Bling sneakers that their character can wear.

The encouraging news for brands looking to leverage either Roblox or Fortnite is that both audiences appear to be more receptive to engaging with brands in exchange for rewards than the general gaming population, according to Interpret’s New Media Measure®. In fact, Interpret’s data shows that 36% and 37% of Fortnite and Roblox players, respectively, do not believe brand advertising to be disruptive to their gaming experience (compared with 32% of general gamers).