I log into Roblox, and after clicking into the details of a game on the storefront, the first thing I see is a banner ad across the top of the page. It reads, “Do you like burgers? Yes! No.”
Oddly straightforward! I pause and take a moment to think, Wait, do I? What is this even advertising?
The meme-like ads on the children’s gaming platform Roblox don’t look like ads anywhere else. They’re crude, and many look like they were whipped up in the ’90s version of Microsoft Paint. They regularly employ clicky misinformation tactics, and lead young people to think that they could get a chance to play with an internet celebrity like Charli D’amelio.
These peculiarities show up consistently in the marketplace in Roblox because, many of the ads that run alongside games were made by the same young people and kids that make and play games on it. Even the biggest games on the platform, like Adopt Me!, are made by developers who got their start by playing Roblox games. Roblox Corporation reported more than half of kids under the age of 16 in the United States will play Roblox this year. As a result, making games and skins on Roblox can be incredibly lucrative — and learning to advertise to its players is part of the game development process.
Anyone can run an ad on Roblox’s storefront and advertising on the platform is messy (and hilarious). Users spend in-game currency, Robux, to bid against each other. Say there are two users: A and B. User A bids 100 Robux for an ad and User B bids 300 Robux for one. In this case, User B’s ad will appear three times as many times as user B’s.
It’s easy to buy Robux online (400 Robux for $4.99) or get a physical gift card. Now imagine thousands of young people using their birthday money to bid against each other in order to put up ads in real time. The result is an internet cesspool of jokes and a handful of serious ads from developers.
I decided to round some of the best ones up.
Graphic: Ana Diaz/Polygon
These ads attempt to draw the attention of young people, so many choose to advertise using memes. This ad combines a two memes — the nut button meme and the daily struggle meme — to advertise a Roblox group where players get together to do military role play. Can you parse that all from the advertisement? No, but that doesn’t matter. What matters are those clicks.
One of the most popular formats falsely advertises the opportunity to play Roblox games with TikTok celebrities like Addison Rae or the aforementioned Charli D’amelio. The best celebrity cameo came along with this ad — pictured at the top of the article — that photoshops textures that look like they’re from Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road alongside images of Elon Musk’s face to get kids to play a game called Speed Run 4.
Many use popular franchise characters that developers do not own to lure clicks. And while it’s fun to see Goku randomly appear in a Roblox ad, what I love is the fumbled execution when using these characters. Oftentimes people will use pixelated photos or cheap fan art of the character from DeviantArt. I can’t quite tell for sure, but the concept behind this one seems to be Goku calling you over and over.
Another pictured in the graphic above combines stills and fan art from four different anime and manga into one jumbled image.
Image: Roblox/Cats OnScreen
Others are painfully straightforward. This one just says in comic sans, “play this awesome game ik ur bored” or this other one that says, “buy these sunglasses theyre so cute they fit on every face.”
Graphic: Ana Diaz/Polygon
However, my absolute favorites are the ones whose meaning has escaped the rest of the world. Like, “why flat?” and “medium obby play now.” While it was likely made by a kid, it looks like the maker reached into my dreams and pulled out a primordial form of my thoughts before turning them into an ad.
Part of what’s driven these ridiculous designs is that they work. Mockeri a Roblox developer who made Style Wars!, told Polygon that they first tried making ads that looked cute. However, after getting some feedback, Mockeri decided to use a format familiar to anyone who has shopped online. The ads advertised a special code that, if used within the game, could unlock special bonuses. The idea is that viewers might be more enticed to try something out if they believe they’re getting a freebie at the same time.
Roblox feels like this parallel games industry where the people who work within it have evolved their own best practices and norms. In some cases, this leads to a unique culture. However, the advertisers have naturally progressed toward a similar clickbait ad format as mainstream games with their Roblox ads. Mobile games use misleading ads all the time. It’s the same exact ploy, just a different audience.
And now, the folks who figure out how to play this system have the eyes of one of the largest audiences in gaming.
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