Walmart has launched a pair of “immersive experiences” in online gaming platform Roblox. The retailer is presenting the launch as an ambitious move into the metaverse, but the “experiences” — two online worlds dubbed Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play — are really just ways to advertise toys to children. Roblox may seem trivial, but it has more than 50 million daily active users, two-thirds of which are under the age of 16. That means it’s probably Walmart experimenting with virtual worlds to try and hook this market.
Walmart Land and Universe of Play are virtual lobbies. Inside are a variety of minigames and experiences, including a Ferris wheel, “interactive piano walkway,” and DJ booth, most of which serve to funnel players towards certain brands. So, for example, a virtual dressing room lets you spend coins collected in Walmart Land to deck out your avatar with Skullcandy headphones or a Fitbit fitness tracker. In Universe of Play you can race Razor scooters round a track or hang out with PAW Patrol characters. It’s all incredibly basic in terms of graphics and gameplay mechanics, but that’s par for the course for Roblox.
We’ve been here before of course, as with most “metaverse” hype. When virtual world Second Life was in its heyday, all sorts of companies launched experiences and shops inside the game, from Dell to Disney, to MTV and Mazda. Advertising budgets have to be spent somewhere, and the “metaverse” rebrand presumably gives a shallow futurist sheen to what is now a decades-old marketing strategy (Second Life launched back in 2003).
Is it worth Walmart’s time? At this point, who knows. Checking the statistics for Walmart Land’s achievements, it seems that a decent amount of users have at least logged in, with 200,000 “Welcome to Walmart Land” badges awarded for entering the game for the first time. But other achievements, like getting a free “loot box” from a circling blimp, have only been won by a few thousand players. And when The Verge logged in to the game this morning, we were one of only a handful of avatars enjoying the rather depressing sights and sounds of Walmart Land.
Meanwhile, Walmart’s chief marketing officer, William White, has been talking up the virtual worlds in interviews as a way to connect with Gen Z. “How are we driving relevance in cultural conversation? How are we developing community and engagement? How are we moving the needle from a brand favorability [standpoint] with younger audiences?” White told CNBC. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”