Last Thursday, April 23rd, I had an epiphany while watching Travis Scott’s “Astronomical” in the video game world Fortnite. In this event is the future of entertainment. Inside a video game. But it’s not a game, or a movie, or a music video. It’s a new experience. The first Travis Scott show was attended by over 12 million unique users (as avatars) from around the world. 27.7 million unique players in-game attended live 45.8 million times.
Epic Games was founded in 1991 by Mark Rein and Tim Sweeney. The company licenses its Unreal Engine game development platform and continues to make its own games, including mega-hit Fortnite, which has generated more than $4 Billion in sales. Tencent, China’s largest video game publisher, invested $330 million to acquire a 40 percent stake in Epic Games in 2012. In October 2018, Epic raised an additional $1.25 billion from seven VCs, including Kleiner Perkins, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. It’s reported they are now looking for additional financing at a 16 billion dollar valuation. CEO Tim Sweeney says Fortnite is “evolving beyond being a game.”
“Astronomical” played with scale which created a larger than life experience with a giant globe and a humongous Travis Scott avatar. The immersive nature of the environments, weightlessness, and swimming underwater, provided agency in the virtual space. The audience was brought into the unreal world imagined by the artist’s music, like an MTV music video, and you just go with it. We may well look back on this as a watershed event.
The event created inside of Fortnite is native for its key interactive platforms: consoles, PCs, and smartphones. You click. You go. You know where you are, and what you are able to do there. Even in the limited confines of an old fashioned hallway shooter, you are part of the show. The director of these kinds of new entertainment generated by a game engine is more of a world designer and event designer than storyteller. Everyone has their own story.
Marshmello, an American EDM (Electronic Dance Music) DJ headlined a February 2019 concert in Fortnite which attracted 10.7 million concurrent avatars. It took place on a traditional stage that felt more immersive than the old-fashion analog rock show, which involved hundreds of dollars and parking. The Marshmello show featured gigantic background dancers, strobe light effects, flying avatars, all synchronized like a firework show.
I asked screenwriter and producer Bruce Feirstein if he thought this kind of massive multiplayer experience might replace live concerts in the next few years. “After the pandemic is over, money is going to be tight and until there’s a vaccine people are going to stay away from crowds. It’s going to be a long time before anyone starts paying $250 for tickets to Taylor Swift at Staples again. I can easily make the jump here about how you could pull this off in a AR/VR setting, and not just satisfy your fans, but make a fortune.”
Fortnite has been the venue of many other brand marketing events such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker teaser trailer party, in which players could fight with a lightsaber — every Star Wars fans dream. In addition, it also hosted an Avengers event in which players could play as Thanos or use Avenger’s weapons. The immersion makes you the star of the movie. You control the entertainment. The device to do it? It’s in front of you. It’s everywhere when you know about it. And now you do.