Image Credit: Alex Haney

Warner Music Group have made an eight-figure investment in the popular gaming platform Roblox.

Roblox, the platform for millions of games built by a huge community of young players and professional developers, has announced surprise funding of $520m from investors. The backing was led by Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group. It also included the Investment Group of Santa Barbara and, most interestingly, Warner Music Group.

The gaming platform is played by over half of US kids under 16. Reacting to the new funding, David Baszucki, CEO and co-founder of Roblox said: ‘We look forward to working with all of our new investors as we continue our mission to build a human co-experience platform that enables shared experience, from play to work, and learning among billions of users.’

Baszucki and Erik Cassel founded Roblox in 2004, encouraging everyone to make Lego-like characters and build simple games. Now Roblox has over seven billion users who play millions of user-created games for free, and make new games using the online tools provided. Last year the company announced it was delaying its stock market launch until 2021 so as not to ‘leave money on the table’.

So why has a massive music label invested in the games platform? Warner Music Group clearly thinks companies like Roblox hold promise for the music industry in the near future. It was one of the first labels to work with the gaming platform back in September 2020, when Roblox hosted an album launch party for singer Ava Max in its virtual realm. The event attracted 1.2 million users and saw Max performing in front of a dance floor and chatting about her album.

For artists, virtual concerts are a quickly organised alternative to real-life concerts, with none of the organisational logistics of performing in a stadium. Roblox is aiming for a complete immersive experience of virtual stage, virtual artist and virtual audience, unlike watching a stream. For concerts, that includes virtual merchandise sales from bands. By September 2020, 960,000 players had earned Robux, Roblox’s virtual cash – with 1,050 of those players earning more than $10,0000. Robux can be spent on extras for the game like clothes and pets for their avatars – and, potentially, virtual band merch.

Roblox has ambitious plans to change the way we play, work, learn and hang out together. Inspired by the worldbuilding of science fiction novels like Ready Player One, the platform’s ultimate aim is to launch its own version of the Metaverse, a universe of connected virtual worlds. And part of that plan includes a music strategy, led by its global head of music Jon Vlassopulos. Roblox aims to create Metaverse stars who will launch their careers in a similar way to breakout social-media influencers.

There were several interesting developments on the music front within the platform in 2020. May saw music startup Popgun add music-making app Splash to the platform, where players can customise a virtual stage and become a virtual DJ, which has now been used by 21 million people. As well as the Ava Max launch, in November Roblox virtually hosted Lil Nas X over two days and four shows, attracting 33 million views. In April, Roblox’s in-world livestream of the One World: Together at Home Covid-19 charity concert included a virtual concert venue where players could gather pre-show, watch the stream and a replay of it the next day, with free branded ‘Global Citizen’ items for avatars.

Roblox has also looked into licensing deals with record labels so players can add music to the games they create. Vlassopulos told Music Ally:

For things like virtual worlds, if an artist is going to come to the platform, they would bring the rights and everything associated with it… The smart labels and artists are going ‘this is a platform we should be on and embracing: if our music can be on the top game on Roblox and have 15 million people playing it, that’s got to be an opportunity worth looking at.’

Jon Vlassopulos, Roblox Global Head of Music

Roblox is not the only gaming platform looking to virtual concerts and fan interactions, with Fortnite’s Travis Scott ‘Astronomical’ event drawing 45.8 million viewers across five shows in April 2020. Gaming platforms are increasingly filling the current live music void. They clearly have confidence that their plans for the future have world-changing potential.