Who wants to farm potatoes in the metaverse? Exploring Roblox’s corporate hell-worlds

Gone are the days where a billboard at the side of the road and an expensive TV advert during the X Factor were enough to get your product noticed. Now you’ve got to advertise in online video games, such as Roblox. If you haven’t heard of Roblox, it’s basically a more rubbish version of Minecraft. Instead of creating worlds, people – mostly children – create complete games. Then, they can upload and potentially monetise them.

Roblox now houses more than 50m games that can be played on your phone, computer or games console, and 19% of all children in the UK are said to play it. It has had its success stories, turning the occasional teenager into a millionaire from their bedroom, but it also has a dark side, with children running up bills in the thousands buying pixelated meta-tat and, worse, receiving allegations of games being used for grooming. But none of that has stopped corporations getting involved with their own branded Roblox worlds. Who wouldn’t want to virtually recreate the thrills and spills of checking in to a budget airline flight, or learn how frozen chips are made? We trawled our way through the worst Roblox corporate tie-ins and an unofficial Ryanair world, so you don’t have to.

As interesting as a boiled potato … McCain Farms of the Future.
As interesting as a boiled potato … McCain Farms of the Future. Photograph: Roblox

If you’ve ever wondered how chips are made (spoiler: grow some potatoes, cut them into chips, bam), then Farms of the Future is for you. I learned, begrudgingly, about the future of the potato, which alas is not a super-engineered sentient being like Super Potato in Peppa Pig, but instead … regeneratively farmed potatoes. Even more disappointingly, the farms of the future don’t feature flying tractors or cows standing on their hind legs wearing cardigans. Instead you’ll be learning all about soil health, biodiversity and on-farm resilience to climate change as you chip your own ’tatoes, serve them from a van, then build your own farm to grow even more regenerative spuds. All of this is about as interesting as a boiled potato.

It grows on you … L’Oréal Paris Hair Colour.
It grows on you … L’Oréal Paris Hair Colour. Photograph: Roblox

Apparently, by accepting the L’Oréal Paris Hair Colour Challenge, I can win some hair. It’s been a long time since I’ve had hair, so I’m certainly – desperately – up for the challenge. Like McCain Farms of the Future, L’Oréal Paris Hair Colour is part of Livetopia – a giant, ever evolving Roblox metaverse, rather than a standalone game. It plays more like a branded interlude, a quick five minute job while you’re wandering around looking for something less boring to do instead.

All I have to do is choose the right hair colour for my three customers – Alix, Eve and Sam. Alix, Eve and Sam are particularly fussy about their barnets, so it’s a case of trial and error. But I soon have them smiling (at least, I would, if they had faces) and the hair prize is mine. I feel like that bit in the Simpsons when Homer discovers Dimoxinil and runs through the streets to celebrate.

Repetitive work … Samsung Space Tycoon.
Repetitive work … Samsung Space Tycoon. Photograph: Roblox

Disappointingly, downloading Samsung Space Tycoon on an iPhone doesn’t cause it to instantly explode – a trick surely missed here by one of Apple’s main competitors. Space Tycoon certainly seems more interesting than a visit to the Apple Store. You run around a space station, mining the raw materials such as copper and cobalt to turn into Samsung products like Galaxy Watches and Z Flip phones. You then sell these to make funds available to hire an alien workforce to assemble future Samsung products such as hoverboards, pogo sticks, and Z Flip backpacks. There are plenty of little sub games to relieve you of the slightly repetitive gameplay of: mine this, make that, sell this, make that. There’s no arguing the whole thing is Samsunged to the max, but it’s easily the best of the lot so far. So have an extra Samsung-branded star for that.

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Closed shop … Victoria’s Secret Happy Nation.
Closed shop … Victoria’s Secret Happy Nation. Photograph: Roblox

Before you call the police or lose it on Mumsnet, there is a valid reason that Victoria’s Secret – you know, the frilly underwear people – have entered a metaverse aimed at kids. They’ve now launched their own range of “size-inclusive and gender-free products” such as sweats, swimwear, bras, undies and body care, aimed at tweens, all under the Happy Nation brand. This is to, and I quote: “Help foster a judgment-free community that is supportive and accepting of tweens during some of the most transformative years of their lives.” All we got in my day was a hand-me-down Gillette razor and a box of Oxy pads.

I read that the Happy Nation Roblox game has you running around a happy shopping centre, going down slides, customising shirts, and playing “obby” (obstacle) games to win virtual money to spend. It’s part of the BayView metaverse – again, a giant Roblox mall that constantly evolves. I go in search of it, but after an hour of fruitless running about, turns out that Happy Nation has now left the BayView metaverse, so neither you, nor I, can actually play it any more. Oh well.

Unofficial Ryanair.
‘I told the check-in desk I had a bomb in my suitcase’ … Unofficial Ryanair. Photograph: Roblox

Hats off to 19-year-old Aberdeen computer science student Sebastian Codling, who coded the unofficial Ryanair Roblox world when he was just 11. Since 2015, Codling has helped simulate more than a million Ryainair flights with all the thrills, spills, frustration and wanting to jump out of the airplane window of the real thing. Speaking to the Times this October, Codling explained how he now employs full-time staff to cope with the demand from more than 80,000 members.

Unlike the majority of Roblox games, you can’t just download and play. Instead, you have to book an “actual” ticket. There are more flights in the evenings, after school. I’m booked in on the 19:45 from Kraków. Value tickets are free, Flexi Plus cost 620 Robux or £5.50 in real money. (Roblox takes a cut of all its game creators’ profits, which explains why the company has just been valued at £19bn.)

Once you’ve checked in to the (virtual) airport at a real time, the experience couldn’t be closer to the real thing. It’s got overpriced food, overcrowded check-in lanes and charges for any luggage that weighs more than a slice of cucumber. The amazing thing is that all the people you see and engage with are also real people playing on Roblox, from the other passengers to the staff to the pilot. You can even apply to work at Roblox Ryanair. There are 83 people on my flight, but I’m chucked off because I wanted to see what would happen if I told the person at the check-in desk that I had a bomb in my suitcase, and I was taken away to be officially bollocked by security. At least, here in cyberspace, you can’t be charged to go to the toilet.


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