Here’s what 2 hours as a Roblox avatar in Walmart Land really feels like
It feels like every business is getting into the metaverse—loosely defined as a series of virtual platforms where people can work, play, or shop—with much of corporate America fully embracing its favorite new buzzword.
Results have been mixed, but that didn’t stop Walmart from joining the club by launching two metaverse experiences, Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play, in the open-world game Roblox on Monday. They feature some of the store’s product lines, including store brand Great Value, cruelty-free makeup brand Lottie London, and even Rob’s Backstage Popcorn, the brand co-founded by the Jonas Brothers.
To get a better sense of how this all worked, I spent two hours in Walmart Land. There were about 500 people playing when I logged on, and the environment felt overwhelmingly corporate. Immediately, I found my avatar standing in the world’s “central hub,” basically a shopping center where users could buy “verch,” or virtual merchandise, like pants, shirts, and accessories for their avatars. Most were Walmart themed.
A Walmart spokesperson told me that the verch has no monetary value, but users could buy it with coins earned from playing games or found while exploring the world. After running around and picking up tokens scattered across the map, I was finally able to shop.
I bought a pullover from Hawkins High School, as seen in Stranger Things, some white sweatpants from Walmart-owned clothing company Bonobos, and a pair of black Skullcandy headphones. I was tempted to buy the Walmart-branded bucket hat, but sadly hadn’t scavenged enough tokens. When I left the game briefly, I was disappointed to find I couldn’t take the clothes with me, but when I came back they reappeared on my avatar.
Besides the central hub, the map has two other islands, Electric Island and House of Style, with three more slots each sporting a “coming soon” sign. On Electric Island I mixed some beats in the world’s virtual DJ booth and participated in a dance competition, while in the House of Style I took a selfie of my avatar in the virtual selfie room and played a Lottie London-themed game where I had to quickly replicate the nail colors on one hand to the other.
Apart from some issues with lag and not being able to access the blimp circling above, the world was entertaining and had plenty of experiences. Still, it’s hard to escape how corporate it felt.
In the comments, several said the experience was weird at best, although they were all excited about the free verch items Walmart was giving out, including a special Walmart Land letterman jacket that somehow eluded me.
Still, one user Quazario22, who declined to give their name for privacy reasons, called Walmart’s Roblox experience “soulless,” and said that although it looked aesthetically similar to other Roblox worlds the experience was lacking.
“The game doesn’t seem to have a point, and seems to be a bunch of ideas thrown at a wall,” they told me.
I understood better after exploring more. For example, when I clicked on a taco truck in Electric Island all that popped up was a short recipe for a taco quesadilla (with a spelling error) that incorporated Great Value ingredients.
In a four-story structure that also housed a trivia game for Netflix shows was a pointless room filled with giant pieces of popcorn dedicated to Rob’s Backstage Popcorn. As far as I could tell, the only thing to do in the room was watch a video of Kevin Jonas from the Jonas Brothers hyping the brand.
But not everyone was discontent. Another anonymous user, MintCookiezzzz, told me that they enjoyed the game, especially the free items and the ferris wheel that gives users an aerial view of the world.
Love it or hate it, Walmart is doubling down on its metaverse plan for potential game players, according to William White, the company’s chief U.S. marketing officer.
“We’re focusing on creating new and innovative experiences that excite them, something we’re already doing in the communities where they live, and now, the virtual worlds where they play,” White said in a statement.
Walmart’s not alone. Companies from the likes of Nike, Samsung, and JPMorgan have created their own business-themed metaverse experiences on Roblox or other platforms. While Samsung and JPMorgan opted for crypto-enabled metaverse platform Decentraland, Nike was one of the first big companies to adopt Roblox for its virtual Nikeland, which debuted last year. Modeled after the company’s real Beaverton, Ore., headquarters, Nikeland lets users try on sneakers and accessories, and play games like two-on-two basketball.
The question of whether creating a metaverse world will become standard fare for big brands, and whether the worlds will be monetized or dedicated purely to marketing, is far from settled. But Christina Wootton, vice president of global partnerships at Roblox, is optimistic.
“We expect virtual spaces and platforms like Roblox to become a crucial channel for brands—alongside traditional and social media, as well as activations in the physical world,” Wootton said in a statement. “Just like 15 years ago when brands were building teams to advertise or create channels on early social media platforms, every brand will need a metaverse strategy.”
For now, I’ll keep looking for that elusive Walmart letterman jacket.
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