Issue #
Roblox: Building blocks for brands or just pixelated product placement?

A monthly look at the best examples of IP licensing in video games and the latest news on collaborations, brand partnerships and in-game events. 

According to a recent interview in VentureBeat with Hasbro CEO Chris Cocks, Hasbro is on a mission to strategically establish a ‘network of studios and licensing arrangements to turn the company into a AAA video game developer and publisher.’ 

Baldur’s Gate 3, a 2023 role-playing game based on the Dungeons & Dragons IP (which Hasbro owns), is one of the company’s biggest success stories to date, picking up numerous Game of the Year Awards and surpassing 10 million sales

Of course, this is without mentioning the monolithic achievements of its mobile hit, Monopoly GO!, which has grossed more than $2 billion since its release in 2023. So where does Hasbro go from here? Can the company continue to release hit after hit, or are these recent success stories nothing more than a lucky roll of the dice in the company’s 30-year journey – and often a bumpy one – in the world of video games? 

Elsewhere in this month’s issue of Licensing in Games, we explore whether brands are treating Roblox as a gaming or advertising platform and if integrations with mobile games might be more beneficial from a revenue perspective. Speaking of mobile integrations, you can learn how Layer worked with the teams at Netspeak Games and Cloudco Entertainment to bring Care Bears into the cosy simulator Sunshine Days. 

You can find these stories below, along with the latest news on last month's biggest collaborations, IP integrations and brand partnerships. 

Hasbro’s gaming strategy: Baldur’s Gate 3, Monopoly GO! and what’s next

Hasbro is enjoying a lot of success in the video game space as of late, particularly with its 2023 Game of the Year Baldur’s Gate 3 and the chart-topping mobile hit, Monopoly GO! generating more than $2 billion. With an upcoming VR-based D&D game, a sci-fi RPG due to launch in 2025, and ongoing plans for more of its board games to come to digital platforms, Hasbro shows no signs of slowing its pace in the gaming space. 

According to a recent interview in VentureBeat, Hasbro has invested nearly $1 billion into its network of video game partners, which includes studios such as Invoke Studios, Atomic Arcade, Archetype Entertainment, Skeleton Key and Find Your Fun. While this will no doubt be exciting for the many IPs that Hasbro owns, it’s important they don’t fall into the familiar trappings of other licensed games. 

Licensed games have historically struggled when there’s been a lack of care towards the final product. While the IP itself can do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of audience appeal and familiarity, the end result still needs to be a quality player experience. More often than not, licensed games can be rushed out in the hope that the popularity of the IP is more important than the overall quality and thus investment into the game, resulting in a substandard player experience. This leads to poor sales and bad reviews that can sour the taste of the IP itself.  

While the Baldur’s Gate games have always performed well, the Dungeons and Dragons IP has had its fair share of video game adaptations that have been loathed by players and critics alike. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, Daggerdale and Sword Coast Legends are just some of the worst D&D games according to metacritic. Similarly, there are plenty of video game adaptations of other Hasbro IP, such as Transformers: Cybertron Adventures and BeyBlade: Metal Fusion that have missed the mark. 

It might be easy to think that taking video game development in-house could be the answer to avoiding poor licensed games, but it’s rarely the answer. Hasbro Interactive was absorbed by Infogrames in 2001 while Disney shut down Disney Interactive Studios in 2016 to focus on third-party development of its IP. Launching an in-house studio may feel like the more reliable option, but without the expertise and skills required of any studio in today’s market, it risks falling flat. It’s here that established external studios can be the answer. 

Fortunately, Hasbro shows signs it recognizes the value of picking the right studio for the job, with Scopely and Larian being perfect matches for Monopoly GO! and Baldur’s Gate, respectively. Identifying the right partners and trusting them to oversee the development of their IP will be an essential part of Hasbro CEO Chris Cocks’ mission to transform the company into a AAA video game developer and publisher. 

Going beyond the anticipated IPs that Hasbro may license next, there’s also the consideration of how new tech trends will impact the development and success of these titles. In the VentureBeat interview, Chris Cocks highlighted how the company is experimenting with AI on its games, and this could have unknown results on any licensed titles. 

This could prove beneficial to some IP. For example, Trivial Pursuit could harness AI to keep questions fresh and relevant to users. At the same time, the overreliance on AI in a licensed game could reduce its quality and appeal. While things are looking positive for the company, it will be important to approach these partnerships with a keen awareness of its target audience and the goal of the end product.   

Layer Collab Spotlight: Care Bears and Sunshine Days

For gamers of a certain age, especially those who hold a special place in their hearts for cuddly companions, the sight of a brightly colored bear with a belly badge boasting a symbol of love or cheer can evoke a powerful wave of nostalgia. It's worth noting that the Care Bears have experienced a revival in recent years, with collaborations like Shein and Miniso, capturing the attention of a relatively young Instagram audience. 

This resurgence has brought the Care Bears back into the spotlight, making them relevant for a new generation while still holding a special place in the hearts of those who grew up with them.

Recently, they stepped out of Care-a-Lot and into a whole new world: the charming mobile game Sunshine Days. This wasn't just a fleeting marketing ploy; it was a thoughtful collaboration that breathed new life into the Care Bears for a new generation while enriching the Sunshine Days experience for existing players – and one that Layer was delighted to play a part in. 

Sometimes, the best collaborations feel like they were meant to be, and that's definitely the case here. So, how did these cuddly icons with their heartwarming powers spread their sunshine in this delightful simulator? Prepare to be charmed because the answer involves more than just sunshine and rainbows. 

The search for the right partner

The Sunshine Days team wasn't content with just offering another run-of-the-mill season pass. They had a clear vision: to create a truly special experience for their March content, one that would resonate deeply with their player base. They envisioned a collaboration that would tap into childhood nostalgia while injecting fresh, creative gameplay elements into the heartwarming world of Sunshine Valley. 

The key? Finding the perfect partner, a brand that seamlessly integrated with the game's existing spirit and values.

The search itself proved surprisingly smooth. As the team brainstormed potential partners, a name emerged that seemed almost predestined: the Care Bears. 

It wasn't just the iconic characters that caught their eye – it was the timeless themes from the Care Bears' world. The emphasis on friendship, kindness, and self-belief resonated with Netspeak’s target audience and its desire to enhance the positive atmosphere Sunshine Days had already cultivated.

Having found the perfect harmony with the Care Bears, the Sunshine Days team wasn't done yet. The real magic would lie in translating that shared spirit into actual gameplay. But how did this dream team collaboration translate into fun for players? 

Integrating Care-a-Lot into Sunshine Valley

Well, the magic truly began with crafting a meaningful integration. Forget a shallow add-on – Sunshine Days weaved Care Bears lore and characters directly into Sunshine Valley's fabric. The result? A unique month-long season brimming with thematic gameplay, collaborative events, and customization options for players of all stripes (Care Bear pun intended!).

Throughout March, players joined paws with iconic Care Bears like Tenderheart, Cheer, and even Grumpy (who surprisingly warmed up to the mission!). Together, they embarked on a heartwarming quest to restore the Care-o-Meter and return Care-a-Lot to its rightful place.

Players participated in delightful Potion Brewing mini-games, reminiscent of the game's "Potion Brewing" hike, where they combined ingredients to create magical rainbow fountains, a perfect nod to the Care Bears' world. 

The Sunshine Days and Care Bears collaboration extended beyond individual quests. The developers implemented a series of collaborative events directly inspired by the iconic "Lemon Mountain" challenge from Care Bears. These events encouraged players to work together, utilizing strategically placed trampolines and levers to propel themselves and each other towards platforms overflowing with Rainbow and Cloud Tokens.

The collaboration also offered a diverse selection of Care Bear-themed customization options. Players could unlock furniture sets that transformed their Sunshine Valley abodes into miniature Care-a-Lots, complete with cloud couches, rainbow-striped rugs, and decorative Care Bear figurines. Additionally, players could personalize their avatars with Care Bear-inspired accessories like fuzzy ear headbands, cheerful Care Bear symbol t-shirts, and even shimmering Care Bear wings.

So, how did this sunshine-filled team-up fare with the players themselves? Let's dig into it. 

Did the Care Bears manage to spread sunshine and smiles? 

Forget fleeting rainbows and the occasional fuzzy hug – the Care Bears' arrival in Sunshine Valley brought a wave of sunshine that went far beyond aesthetics. Data and social media activity paint a picture of a collaboration that truly resonated with players.

Over one million Cloud Coins were collected during the Care Bears season, indicating that players actively participated in collaborative events inspired by Care Bear lore. This suggests that the thematic gameplay elements resonated with the player base.

The collaboration also translated to financial gains. Third-party analyst Sensor Tower reported a significant 135% increase in revenue for Sunshine Days during the collaboration, which likely stemmed from player investment in limited-edition Care Bear items, showcasing the overall appeal of the partnership.
It also went beyond the likes and wasn't just about in-game activity. As a result, over 300 mentions flooded the Sunshine Days Discord server, highlighting the positive reception from players. This organic social media activity suggests the partnership successfully tapped into players' nostalgia for the Care Bears while offering fresh content, sparking genuine conversation and excitement.

While financial gains and player engagement clearly depict success, the collaboration's potential impact on the in-game community is more nuanced. The Care Bears' core values of friendship and teamwork were woven into the collaborative events.

By prioritizing a thematic fit, meaningful additions, and a focus on player enjoyment, Netspeak achieved a win-win scenario, and it was great for us to connect the two to increase engagement and revenue while also generating positive social media buzz and potentially fostering a more connected in-game community.

Measuring the value of branded Roblox activations against gaming integrations

If you’re up to date with the hottest brands in the world of sports, fashion, entertainment and music, you can probably find a branded experience for them in Roblox. Build a plastic paradise in Barbie’s Dreamhouse Tycoon, drop into a virtual skatepark in Vansworld or wander the aisles in Walmart Land. You can even find experiences for Clarks Shoes, H&M, Crocs, and Pizza Hut (a mostly complete list of branded activations is here). 

While a game in and of itself, Roblox almost exists as its own separate platform, with even its own games having coverage like a standalone release. So it’s easy to imagine licensors wondering whether they should pursue a partnership with Roblox or look at alternative games for IP integrations. 

Knowing the audience

Roblox may have a lot of successful IP integrations, but these are often related to the platform's main demographic. With 67% of Roblox users being under 16, it’s not surprising that the most successful collaborations have been relevant IPs and of interest to its audiences - with Sonic, Barbie, Ben 10, Hello Kitty and Ladybug & Cat Noir all featuring in the top 10 most popular branded activations. 

A partnership is a no-brainer for licensors whose IP is aligned with the Roblox player base. But, if you’re looking to target a broader demographic or one that is above 16, then other games may be a better option. Games like Call of Duty or Battlefield skew more toward older male players, and their IP collaborations reflect this, with skins of Snoop Dogg, Nikki Minaj and Lara Croft all reflecting the players. 

Age is not the only factor; interest and association are a huge part of things. Games like Nier: Reincarnation had popular collaborations with other Japanese IPs, such as the Persona Franchise and Final Fantasy. Similarly, the most popular Roblox IP integrations have always spoken to the interests of its players. 

There’s no doubt that Roblox has done incredibly well when it comes to collaborations and IP integrations, but not everything has been a huge success. Integrations like Sonic and Barbie have succeeded based on their understanding of the original IP and dedication to depicting a fully realised integration. But even if Roblox is engaging with young teens, these players aren’t blind. Integrations that are just thinly veiled advertisements for the IP itself will struggle and limit opportunities for players to engage meaningfully. 

Whatever the format, a genuine understanding of the IP has to be at the heart of the collaboration. Playing into the expectations and standards of the communities that engage with the product can build positive sentiment for the IP. 

While brand recognition and positive feedback are important, these collaborations need to deliver on the investment. For Roblox, it’s easy to see the hype and attention that successful integrations have, but what’s harder to identify is whether these activations are worth the upfront spend. 

Roblox’s popularity can make it an appealing platform for IP integration, but when monetization is a priority, it may not deliver. In comparison, mobile game collaborations can be more effective in generating revenue and delivering an ROI, especially if they engage with the right audiences and handle the IP with care. 

With Roblox, it’s clear who the main player base is and their interests. But for many licensors, these will not be who they want to target. Roblox’s popularity and hype are unquestionable, but if it doesn’t align with the goals of your IP integration, then alternative channels, such as mobile, may deliver more. 

In brief 

Here are some of our other favorite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the last month.

And in other news…