Image: Gucci

A bee-embroidered Gucci Dionysus bag is making headlines after it recently commanded a resale price of 350,000 Robux – or roughly $4,115, which is more than the $3,400 retail value assigned to the bag by the Kering-owned fashion brand. The real takeaway is not the rising price tag, alone, though; it is the fact that the marked-up handbag does not come in physical form. Instead, it is a digital-only asset (and not an NFT) that exists exclusively in the universe of online video game platform Roblox. Despite having “no value, use [or] transferability outside of the Roblox world,” as internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian put it, someone still shelled out upwards of $4,000 for the opportunity to own the entirely-virtual bag. 

The eye-watering price of the digital-only Gucci bag – paired with the fact that the virtual version actually sold for more than the physical one – has garnered headlines over the past several days, and in the process, it has raised questions about whether this was a fluke or an example of what is to come. And still yet, questions remain about how exactly the ever-growing number of brands that are looking to gaming will not only try to tap into this market to connect with young consumers, but how they will monetize it. There is a chance that the $4,000-plus sale of the Gucci Dionysus is a bit of a one-off, at least as of now. The sale of the expensive digital bag – the Roblox value of which has since dropped to less than $800 – had some distinguishing features. Most notably, the bag was introduced in an exclusive capacity, as part of the virtual two-week event called “Gucci Garden Experience,” which the Italian fashion brand rolled out in collaboration with the 17-year-old gaming platform earlier this month. 

As part of the online art installation, Vogue Business revealed that the Gucci Garden “offers multiple themed rooms that pay homage to Gucci campaigns,” enabling Roblox users to explore the various rooms, including “a virtual lobby in which their avatars can view, try on and purchase digital Gucci items.” Among those items? The Queen Bee Dionysus bag, of course, which initially cost plays 475 Robux – or the equivalent of $5.50. (There were also GG Marmont, GucciGhost, and Horsebit 1955 bags, an array of eyewear offerings, Gucci Bloom perfume bottles, and branded headbands and hats available for players to purchase and adorn their characters with, and almost all of those things came with price tags of less than $5.)

So, how did the Gucci bag garner a value of upwards of $4,000? A number of Roblox users reconcile the price-surge with the fact that the bag was released on a limited run basis, meaning that it was available for just a short period of time: for one hour on May 17 and one hour on May 18. This is relatively rare for items on Roblox.

A day later, and with that limited availability in mind, “the purses immediately became a hot commodity,” according to gaming site Polygon. This prompted “Roblox scalpers [to] start selling the purse for ridiculous amounts of money, with some people listing the purse for 1 million Robux [or roughly $10,000], seemingly knowing full well that nobody would buy it at that price point.” And yet, “Some people did end up paying hundreds of thousands of Robux for Gucci items.” Interestingly, and likely prompted by the fact that the eventual price of the Dionysus bag fell pretty significantly, the price-surging pattern did not repeat itself two days later when the Gucci Blooms Print Dionysis, another limited item, went up for sale. 

“People flocked to buy” the floral version, per Polygon. “However, unlike with the Queen Bee bag, many more Roblox players bought it on its release,” as opposed to in a resale capacity. “So, it did not see the same spike in price when the official sale ended.” It seems that “fashionable Roblox players (and speculators) had learned their lesson.” 

As for the impetus behind such resale moves by Roblox players who had these limited-edition bags to sell, it is not quite as straightforward as the well-established practice of flipping hard-to-get sneakers or the latest Supreme wares and pocketing a sizable profit as a result. As one Twitter user noted in connection with the Gucci Dionysus surge, Roblox users cannot actually “cash out Robux earned from trading items,” making buy-and-resell endeavors “more of a hobby side venture in the community.” While there is currently “no monetary incentive to participate in trading,” he says that this could change, of course. Unsurprisingly, “There are projects that are working towards bridging that gap,” according to digital fashion design lab DIGITALAX. 

Also in the works, more tie-ups between brands like Gucci and platforms, such as Roblox, which boasted a daily active user base of 42.1 million and 199 million monthly active users as of the first quarter of 2021, per Statistica, with some 67 percent of those users under the age of 16, and only 14 percent of them over the age of 25. In this swiftly growing metaverse, brands have an opportunity to generate revenue (assuming that they can enter into monetized deals with the platform), as Roblox players bought (and presumably then spent) a whopping $1.24 billion worth of Robux on in-game purchases in the first 9 months of 2020. That is up from the total of $694.26 million worth of Robux that was purchased in 2019 and $499 million in 2018.

As for what is driving the rise in Robux spending on things like digital-only Gucci bags, that comes as players exhibit a growing desire to customize their avatars to reflect their own tastes – and to stand out from others – in a world where they spend large chunks of time, According to Roblox, its daily active users spend an average of 156 minutes (or 2.6 hours) per day on the platform. With this in mind, trend forecaster WGSN states that “there is a huge opportunity for brands to reach players looking to express their personality through their virtual avatars,” particularly as players consistently seek “more ways to create a distinct and individual personal brand through their avatars.” As such, “Virtual access to the brands they love in real life will be key to helping them achieve this.”

Beyond immediate cash, though, brands are also playing something of a long game in an attempt to capture the attention of – and connect with – these younger people, the very ones who will serve as a critical consumer base in the not-too-distant future. And brands absolutely want in. As Tami Bhaumik, Roblok’s Vice President of Marketing and Digital Civility, told Harvard Business Review in March, Roblox has “turned more brands away than you can imagine.”