Pop star Zara Larsson claims to have made a seven-figure sum by selling merchandise on the Roblox video game platform.
The Swedish star, known for hits like Lush Life and Symphony, offers fans in-game items like hats, backpacks and sunglasses to dress up their avatars.
With prices starting at under £ 1, Larsson says it’s “fucking insane” to have earned more than $ 1 million (£ 740,000) since joining the platform in May.
“My jaw dropped when I found out,” the star told the BBC.
As parents around the world will know, Roblox is not so much a game as it is a gaming universe.
Once logged in, users become blocky online characters and farm their own areas, setting challenges and creating obstacle courses for friends and strangers to complete.
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They pay a virtual currency called Robux to dress up their avatars or decorate the stages, and often use the game as a place to hang out with friends, particularly during the pandemic.
It is not without criticism. There have been concerns about children seeing sexually explicit and violent content within the app, although the company has strict rules against adult material and has recently introduced an age verification system.
The in-game market can also be a source of tension for parents with documented cases of children spending thousands of pounds on game objects.
Larsson first teamed up with Roblox to promote his new album, Poster Girl, when concerts were canceled during the pandemic.
It hosted an in-game virtual “dance party” in May, allowing fans to hang out, watch her perform and take part in an online treasure hunt.
They could also purchase dresses, hairstyles, dance moves, and a customizable Zara Larsson avatar. Prices started at 60 Robux (around £ 0.67) going up to 400 Robux (£ 4.95) for the star’s likeness.
The merchandise was initially an afterthought, the singer says.
“I didn’t think about it much. It wasn’t really the motivation for the concert. I just wanted to connect with the fans.”
Needless to say, she has now converted.
Indeed, Larsson says in-game gigs and virtual merchandising could be a lifeline for musicians at a time when CD sales have crumbled, tours are uncertain, and streaming royalties don’t compensate for artists fairly.
“We all know,” he says. “Streaming services don’t pay more.”
To make a seven-figure sum from YouTube or Spotify “takes a long, long time and hundreds and millions of streams,” he notes.
But the attraction isn’t just financial. Larsson’s Roblox show has attracted more than 1.6 million users, who have made more than four million visits to his Swedish lake house themed pink world.
Many of these are fans who could not go to a concert venue or afford a concert ticket. Some have even heard Larsson’s music for the first time.
“A lot of young people are commenting on my social media, ‘Oh my God, it’s the Roblox girl!'” He laughs.
“It’s amazing. That’s how they found out about me, even though I’ve been doing this for 10 years.”
With the COP26 climate summit taking place this week, it is also aware that virtual shows could greatly reduce its carbon footprint.
“Imagine how many flights it would take to reach four million people? Or how many trucks it would take to take a pink lake house with me everywhere?
“And then having a couple of hundred people on the payroll, who also need shelter, food and a place to sleep.
“Going online saves so much in carbon emissions.”
The music industry predicts that live streams and virtual concert experiences will continue to be an area of growth, even after pandemic-related restrictions allow full-scale tours to resume.
Fortnite and Minecraft have also conducted successful experiments with in-game concerts, with notable artists such as Travis Scott, Ariana Grande, and Charli XCX.
Technology may still be rudimentary – American pop star Ava Max accidentally he took his character to a lava pit and died while running within Roblox last year – but the experience is continually improving, says Roblox global head of music, Jonathan Vlassopulos.
“We have nearly 50 million people on the platform every day – and once the penny goes down the fact that fans are dragging themselves into the metaverse for two or three hours a day, I think we’ll see an explosion of artists joining.” He says.
“We are not limited by gravity and space, so we can build magical worlds and higher fidelity [experiences]”.
But surely an in-game concert will never replicate the gut feeling of playing in front of 500 fans, all crammed into a sweaty club?
“Of course from my point of view, it could be better, and maybe someday we’ll get there,” says Larsson. “But until then it’s a nice way to have an emotional connection.
“After my show, I wandered around the world and people would say to me: ‘Let me take a selfie with you!’
“At first I didn’t understand it, but then they put their avatar very close to mine, they took a screenshot and this is the selfie.
“And yes, it might be hard for my generation to understand, but for people who live their lives online and are social online, it means as much to them as meeting me on the street.
“It really made me think about what the tour might look like in the future.”
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