Starting Tuesday, Roblox’s 46 million daily active users will be able to enter the world of Vans via an interactive, 3D environment that will allow them to perfect their ollie, kickflip off a half-pipe, and design their own pair of Vans silhouettes and skateboards. A partnership between the wildly popular video game platform and the action sports brand, Vans World is the latest marketing marriage between Roblox and a growing number of companies looking to connect with young audiences where they’re spending most of their time.
Over the last several months, Sony Music Entertainment, BMG, Warner Bros., Hasbro, and even Gucci have all joined forces with Roblox. The platform has exploded during the pandemic, as the world’s population of kids and teens have been logging more and more time on screens. The company, which went public in March and has a valuation of $45 billion, saw its daily active users shoot up 85% year-over-year in 2020.
The collaboration with Vans is unique, however, in that Vans World isn’t a one-off marketing stint that will disappear in a matter of days or weeks like the Gucci Garden, where a virtual bag sold for over $4,000 (more than what the IRL version of the bag sells for) before the weeks-long experience ended. And musical performances like the Lil Nas X live virtual concert, which drew over 36 million people, are just that: events.
In contrast, Vans World will live on indefinitely in the “metaverse”—as the constellation of 20 million-plus games or “experiences” on the Roblox platform is known—showing how brands are thinking about how to integrate with Roblox in a more organic and long-term way.
“We didn’t build this to be there for two weeks,” says Julia Patkowski, senior manager of global brand digital marketing at Vans. “We plan on building and learning from the community and updating it and creating a true, unique experience that evolves with what we hear from the community.”
Christina Wootton, vice president of brand partnerships at Roblox, echoes this. “Brands should be thinking about this as you do with social media. You launch a channel on social platforms and you don’t just post once and expect your followers to stay there and be engaged. You really have to think of it as a commitment.
“We know with Gen Z, they do not want to be told what to wear, what to do. They really want to be part of the process and have the brand listen to their feedback. So this is a great opportunity for brands to really be engaged with that consumer and fan in a way that they can’t really do anywhere else,” Wootton said.
The idea behind Vans World is to tap into Roblox’s culture of self-expression and creativity. Roblox players all create their own, personalized avatars that they dress and accessorize, sometimes with products purchased in the avatar shop. “We know that shoes are something that’s pretty coveted in Roblox because they don’t exist as a metaverse item,” Patkowski says. “So being able to go into our experience and wear shoes and be able to customize your shoes and create shoes that are specifically speaking to your style aesthetic—that’s a big win and a great thing for anybody who’s playing Roblox.”
To create Vans World, Vans tapped the Gang Stockholm, a Roblox game development studio, which designed the mini-world based on real Vans spaces, including House of Vans, a skatepark in London. Thanks to a new, augmented physics layer that’s available to all Roblox developers, users have a realistic sensation of skateboarding. Naturally, after they design their own custom Vans, they can purchase the exact pair online.
Wootton says there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for building a presence on Roblox—for some brands and products it may make sense to integrate into an already-existing world, for instance. The trick is to “enter the metaverse in an authentic way. You can’t just bring your IP to the metaverse. Your have to really think about how that’s going to benefit the community and the users.
“Every brand should have a metaverse strategy. But you’re going to enter it in different ways,” Wootton adds.