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How Twenty One Pilots’ Roblox Concert Is Changing the Virtual Gig Game

The concert marks the latest output from Warner Music Group’s (WMG) January investment in Roblox, as Twenty One Pilots is signed to WMG record company Elektra Music Group under the Fueled By Ramen label. So far, WMG has signed up acts like Why Don’t We, Ava Max and Royal Blood for Roblox “launch party” performances, where the artist beams in on a video screen. But the Twenty One Pilots concert marks only the second time Roblox has turned an act into an avatar, following Sony Music signee Lil Nas X’s concert last November, which drew 33 million total views.

“You’ve seen us do a number of things in Roblox over the last year and that’s because it’s not just about one-offs,” WMG chief digital officer & executive vp, business development Oana Ruxandra tells Billboard. “Fans are looking for an integration into artists’ lives in a way that’s really social, interactive, consistent and authentic.”

This time around, the show will play even deeper into two of Roblox’s biggest strengths: The fact that users can create their own games, contributing to more than 20 million on the platform; and the platform’s reputation as a social space where a community of 42 million daily active users hang out as avatars. Roblox partnered with the developers behind three of the biggest games on the platform — Ultimate Driving: Westover Islands, Creatures of Sonaria and World // Zero, which collectively have over 400 million visits — to create quests which unlock merchandise as well as portals leading their players into the Twenty One Pilots world, promoting deeper engagement and extending the concert’s lifespan.

“The first era was when these concerts were a spectacle,” Roblox global head of music Jon Vlassopulos tells Billboard. “The second one is all about interactivity and participation, and pulling in all of these other worlds across the platform.”

Twenty One Pilots’ long history of creating lore to engage its fanbase — such as the fictional city of Dema, which serves as the setting for 2018 concept album Trench — made them the perfect fit for Roblox’s next era. “They’ve been looking for a canvas to bring Dema and all these things they talk about to life in a more cohesive way, and they know that Roblox can deliver that for them,” Vlassopulos says.

Roblox and WMG worked in partnership with the band’s longtime creative director, Mark Eshleman, and Symbol Zero, a development studio focused on gaming and virtual experiences which also developed Lil Nas X’s Roblox show.

“Twenty One Pilots is a band that has spent their entire career figuring out how to reach the most people possible,” Eshleman said in a statement. “The Roblox team has made an effort every step of the way to honor the band’s fans, its lore and history to make sure this experience aligns with what people can expect from a show.”

The team scanned Joseph and Dun with hundreds of cameras to generate their avatars, then used motion-capture suits to track their movements as they performed live. That pre-taped performance was then placed in the virtual environment.

“You need artists that have the vision and are willing to put in a lot of work,” Ruxandra says. “Tyler and Josh and Marc spent an enormous amount of time ensuring that they were captured in a way that enabled Roblox to create an experience that felt real and authentic.”

Adds Elektra Music Group co-president Mike Easterlin in a statement: “Tyler and Josh are two of the most unapologetically bold, forward-thinking artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Their commitment to connecting with their fans in new and creative ways is unparalleled, and I’m always amazed at how Mark continually finds ways to execute their imaginative vision.”

The team also produced 30 exclusive virtual merchandise items, like a branded flag, bandana, ski mask and beanie. Players exchange real money to purchase virtual merchandise with “Robux,” Roblox’s virtual currency, representing a lucrative revenue stream for artists: Lil Nas X’s merchandise line is on track to generate eight figures by the end of the year, Vlassopulos recently told Billboard.

Finally, the timing of the show to kick off Twenty One Pilots’ physical tour, which begins Sept. 21 in Denver, Colo., is a deliberate strategy to link the band’s virtual and physical presences into one cohesive narrative while giving fans who are unable to attend the physical tour another way to participate.

“It’s absolutely intentional, to ensure this feels relevant and right for the band’s story and narrative as a whole,” Ruxandra says. “It’s not this standalone experience. It is integrated with all of the other things the artist is looking to build with their fans.”

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