Roblox vs Second Life: Comparing the Metaverse Brand Rushes. Part One.
The year was 2006, and the digital landscape for advertising was on the cusp of a transformative shift. It was during this pivotal moment that brands discovered the Metaverse and began to venture into virtual worlds such as Habbo, Stardoll and most notably, Second Life.
Created by Linden Lab, Second Life was one of a number of innovative and emerging Metaverse platforms that allowed users to build, interact and trade within a 3D virtual world. This marked the beginning of a new era for brand engagement and interaction with consumers in a virtual setting and sparked a rush of companies entering Second Life and experimenting with different ways of promoting their products and services to a tech-savvy audience.
Fast forward to 2023 and the new place to be for brands wanting to enter the Metaverse is Roblox. Targeting a much younger demographic than Second Life, Roblox promotes gaming as a core user activity which is a key differentiator. In this article we compare the marketing and branding strategies deployed into these two virtual worlds looking at similarities and differences in the platforms themselves as well as the tactical marketing campaigns deployed.
Content Creator Economies
Roblox and Second Life both have robust and vibrant Content Creator Economies that empower users to contribute to and benefit from their virtual worlds. In Roblox, content creators can design games, virtual items and experiences, often generating income through the sale of in-game items or premium game passes. This has led to a thriving ecosystem of developers and entrepreneurs within the platform.
Similarly, Second Life enables users to craft virtual environments, fashion items and even entire virtual businesses, providing opportunities for creativity and commerce. Users in Second Life can sell their creations or services, further emphasising the platform's user-driven economy. Both of these virtual worlds underscore the potential for individuals to monetise their talents and ideas while enriching the overall experiences available to their respective communities.
A campaign strategy first created within Second Life and now being seen in Roblox is real-world brands partnering with existing Metaverse content creators. We pioneered this approach with our L'Oreal Paris campaign in Second Life.
Instead of creating a standalone experience, we promoted a range of cosmetic avatar skins with established virtual fashion and beauty retailers in-world. This enabled us to tap in to their existing user bases, traffic and footfall. This approach is now being leveraged well inside Roblox with a number of companies partnering with existing games and experiences.
Centralised Web2 virtual worlds, such as Roblox and Second Life, differ significantly from Web3 decentralised platforms, like Decentraland and The Sandbox, in terms of their governance and structure. The primary distinction lies in the centralised control exercised by platform operators in Web2 environments.
In centralised Web2 worlds, companies like Roblox and Second Life maintain strict oversight over the virtual economy, offering a sense of stability and security. This centralised approach allows for consistent user experiences, efficient content moderation and quick responses to issues, fostering a safer and more reliable virtual environment. Users benefit from a well-regulated economy, reliable customer support and a controlled environment that's conducive to creativity and entertainment. These factors also greatly benefit brands when considering Metaverse advertising and marketing campaigns.
Moreover, the Centralised Web2 model often simplifies transactions, as users can easily purchase in-game currency and virtual items through established payment systems. This ease of use has contributed to the popularity of these platforms, making them accessible to a wide range of users and in turn making them more appealing to brands.
Customisation within Roblox and Second Life serves as a cornerstone of the experience, granting users the tools to express their individuality. In Roblox, players can design their avatars, curate their in-game experiences and even develop games from scratch. This versatility fosters a unique sense of ownership and creativity.
Similarly, Second Life offers an immersive canvas for self-expression. From designing intricate avatars that mirror their real-world personas to creating bespoke virtual homes and businesses, users in Second Life can shape their digital identities with precision. The platform's emphasis on personalisation has fuelled a thriving economy of user-generated content, where creators can sell fashion, art, and virtual properties, further underscoring the significance of customisation.
In both worlds, customisation transcends mere aesthetics; it embodies the essence of digital self-expression, encouraging users to push the boundaries of their creativity. It's not just about looking unique; it's about being unique within these virtual realms, allowing individuals to craft their own narratives and experiences in ways that resonate with their real-world personalities and desires. Customisation, therefore, is not merely a feature; it's a vital conduit for user empowerment and engagement.
Roblox, often associated with its blocky aesthetic and a wide array of user-generated games, has firmly established itself as the number one virtual world in the Metaverse. The platform predominantly caters to children and teenagers, with the majority of its user base falling between the ages of 8 and 13. The chart below shows the age distribution for the Metaverse as at Q4 2023.
Roblox's intuitive game creation tools and a plethora of kid-friendly content make it an ideal virtual playground for the younger generation. Roblox's success with this demographic can be attributed to its emphasis on creativity, social interaction and accessibility.
In stark contrast, Second Life has a user base that skews significantly older. The platform, which has been in existence since the early 2000s, has evolved into a virtual world for adults. The majority of Second Life's users are in their late twenties to fifties, with a substantial portion being over 35.
Second Life's appeal lies in its versatility, offering a wide range of experiences from virtual businesses and social interactions to educational endeavours and creative outlets. The platform attracts users seeking a more mature and immersive digital experience often centred around career or personal interests.
While Roblox and Second Life cater to different age groups, it's essential to note that these demographics are not rigidly exclusive. Users from all age groups can be found in both worlds, but the dominance of one demographic over the other is evident.
Moreover, as the Metaverse attempts to expand, we are witnessing efforts to bridge this demographic divide. For example, Roblox is expanding its offerings to appeal to older audiences, recognising the potential for cross-generational interactions and experiences within its platform. This approach attempts to 'age-up' the user base and then in turn appeal to brands targeting older consumers.
Back in 2006, Second Life had an active user base in the hundreds of thousands and currently hovers around the 1m mark. For a virtual world targeted at grown-ups, this is impressive. But, not as impressive as Roblox.
As at the start of Q4 2023, Roblox had 250m monthly active users. This is the most popular platform in the Metaverse, ahead of both Fortnite and Minecraft and is one of the primary reasons for the current brand rush into the platform. The scale of Roblox's user base not only signifies its success but also its potential as a transformative digital space. It has become a global phenomenon, providing opportunities for creators, brands and users alike to connect, create, and share experiences in an unprecedented manner.
As Roblox continues to grow and innovate, it reaffirms its position as a significant player in the metaverse and the broader digital landscape, promising exciting possibilities for its ever-expanding community of users.
Shown below is the Web2 segment of the Metaverse Universe chart showing both Roblox and Second Life. Here's an article explaining the Universe chart.
Due to its older audience, Second Life was (and still is) suitable to both consumer and B2B brands. A key themes amongst the majority of Second Life campaigns was firstly that they were design-driven, meaning that buildings and locations were a primary feature. They were built, launched and in some cases just left to exist.
The smarter marketers and companies developed user interaction initiatives designed to resonate and encourage Second Life residents to participate. This technique is now being used effectively inside Roblox. Allowing users to actively engage with a brand or marketing campaign is a proven mechanic in Roblox. One of the best ways to do this is by creating limited edition virtual goods. The next section expands on this...
Another key difference between Second Life and Roblox is the role of gaming and gamification. Gaming as a feature is not an integral part of the Second Life experience and was not therefore widely used by companies during the 2006 era brand rush. Instead, campaigns during this period relied more on the provision of virtual goods.
However, gamification plays a pivotal role inside Roblox, contributing to the platform's appeal and the engagement of its vast user base. At its core, Roblox is a gaming platform and gamification is the process of incorporating game elements and mechanics into non-game contexts.
Within Roblox, these gamification elements take the form of challenges, rewards, progression systems and interactive gameplay features. They incentivise users to participate actively, setting goals and achieving them within the virtual world. Whether it's completing quests in an adventure game, earning virtual currency for in-game purchases, or competing in user-generated challenges, gamification enhances user immersion and enjoyment.
It fosters a sense of achievement, social interaction and healthy competition, all of which are integral to the platform's appeal. Moreover, for brands and creators, gamification serves as a powerful tool to capture users' attention, driving engagement and brand interaction. It blurs the lines between entertainment and marketing, offering a dynamic and interactive way to connect with users while enhancing their overall Roblox experience.
Roblox is celebrated for its charmingly simple graphics, colourful by blocky, colourful, and stylised visuals. These aesthetics cater primarily to a younger audience, creating an environment that is both inviting and engaging. The intentionally low-poly design of Roblox avatars and environments allows for seamless gameplay on a wide range of devices, including smartphones and tablets.
While Roblox's graphics may not rival the photorealistic visuals of high-end gaming experiences, its accessibility and optimisation have made it a global sensation. The platform's appeal lies in its emphasis on creativity, user-generated content, and the ability for players to design their virtual worlds with relative ease.
This low-res graphics fidelity is a factor to be considered by brands considering a Roblox strategy, particularly those that are product-focused. Not every detail of a real-world product can be recreated in Roblox so there has to be a trade-off, or, products have to be natively redesigned or re-imagined to sit more comfortably in a low-poly world.
In contrast, Second Life embraces a more sophisticated approach to graphics fidelity. The platform's graphics have evolved over the years, with a focus on creating immersive and realistic environments. Users can design highly detailed avatars and explore intricately crafted landscapes, ranging from bustling urban centres to serene natural settings.
Second Life's dedication to visual realism attracts an older, more mature audience, who appreciate the platform's versatility in facilitating diverse experiences, including art galleries, fashion shows, and business conferences. It's a place where users can express themselves and engage in activities that mirror real-world interactions. Avatar customisation is also a key feature of Second Life, allowing a far higher level of both realism and controllability than Roblox.
Types of Brand Campaigns
2006 saw the emergence of companies taking their brands into the Metaverse with Second Life attracting the majority of activity. Along with our good selves, these campaigns were developed by companies like Rivers Run Red, Millions of Us and the Electric Sheep Company and here are some examples...
IBM, as an early adopter, established "IBM Developer Island," a virtual space dedicated to hosting meetings, events, and discussions centred around software development and innovation. Coca-Cola introduced a virtual vending machine, allowing avatars to purchase virtual Coca-Cola products using Linden Dollars (L$) as part of their real-world marketing campaign.
Reebok joined in by launching a virtual store within Second Life, providing users the opportunity to peruse and acquire virtual Reebok footwear and apparel for their avatars. Starwood Hotels, the parent company of Sheraton and W Hotels, created a virtual hotel where users could explore, attend events and even make real-world hotel reservations.
Reuters established a virtual news bureau, delivering real-time news updates and facilitating discussions on current events. Dell operated a virtual store for users to explore and purchase virtual Dell computers and accessories. Additionally, Toyota promoted its Scion brand by constructing a virtual Scion car showroom, allowing users to test drive virtual Scion vehicles.
As for Roblox, in part two, we'll be explaining the different types of campaign mechanics being used by brands.
If you're thinking about taking your brand into the Metaverse, get in touch. We've been doing this since 2006.