Unless you’ve managed to get out to a small bar and watched someone play an acoustic guitar while singing recently, we imagine it’s a long time since you last saw a concert. It’s been a long time for everybody. 2020 hasn’t exactly been a vintage year for music, and that isn’t the fault of anybody in the music industry. From canceled performances and festivals to delayed albums and singles, much of what’s happened to music this year has been outside of anyone’s control. That doesn’t change the fact that people still want to see and hear music, though, and that’s made internet-based concerts a much more appealing prospect than then used to be. Now, the world’s most popular video game is ready to take that idea to the next level.
No matter how old you are or when you last played a video game, you’ll have heard of ‘Fortnite.’ It’s taken the world by storm and addicted millions of teenagers and young adults to their video game consoles, PCs, or smartphones. The game has developed into a worldwide community of more than two hundred million players – and that’s a huge audience for any recording artist or band to tap into. A little over eighteen months ago, DJ Marshmello became the first person to see whether that audience was receptive to music when he performed on a virtual stage inside the game. The gig was a huge hit. Millions of gamers laid down their virtual weapons for a few minutes and danced together, and a new format had been established.
We should probably be a little cautious about using the phrase ‘new format’ when we’re talking about this meshing between music and video games. While ‘Fortnite’ might have been the first high-profile game to host a concert, anyone who’s visited an online slots website within the past two decades knows that the idea isn’t new. Slots rely on music to set the tone for the players who spin their reels, and over time that idea has evolved to the point where many world-famous performers have their own personalized features. You’ll find performers as diverse and varied as Dolly Parton and Guns n’ Roses have their own games at online slots websites, and their existence pre-dates that 2019 Marshmello concert by more than a decade. It might be a new idea within ‘orthodox’ video gaming, but not in the broader world of gaming.
No matter where the idea truly started, it’s about to get a whole lot bigger. The success of the Marshmello event gave Epic Games the encouragement they needed to host more concerts inside the game, with rapper Travis Scott making a particularly high-profile appearance in April 2020 and attracting a record-setting simultaneous audience of twelve million people. It now seems that Epic has been working on the concept ever since then because this week, they had a very exciting announcement to make. Concerts within the ‘Fortnite’ world are no longer going to be occasional events. Instead, they’re going to be a regular series, and it all starts this weekend with Dominic Fike.
The hosting of concerts and other non-violent events has always been the purpose of ‘Party Royale’ island since it appeared in May 2020. The in-game location is advertised as a place where players can come to meet and socialize rather than attempting to shoot each other into oblivion, and it will also be where three weeks of concerts will begin with Fike’s appearance this coming Saturday, September 12th. So long as everything goes to plan, it will be the best-looking ‘Fornite’ concert yet, streamed from a studio in Los Angeles that’s been modified and adapted for the express purpose of beaming footage and sound into the game. Epic Games want to turn ‘Fortnite’ into a regular concert stop for musicians who are on tour, and if this three-week pilot is successful, there’s no reason why that couldn’t be the case.
To Nate Nanzer, who heads up the global partnerships division of ‘Fortnite,’ the new Los Angeles stage is a permanent addition to the game’s range of attractions. He envisions a future where all of the world’s major recording artists include a stop in LA on their tours and welcomes the chance to play in front of audiences – especially young audiences – who may not previously have engaged with their music in any other way. Every performer who’s so far performed on a ‘Fortnite’ stage has seen a spike in streams and sales in the weeks that have followed, so there’s an obvious incentive for music stars to take the offer seriously. Just as a musician will clamor for a spot on a prominent Saturday night talk show to promote their new album or single, they might, in future, push hard for the chance to demo their new material inside the game.
The only drawback to this idea is that it relies on ‘Fortnite’ remaining popular for many years to come. There’s no sign of the game slowing down in terms of popularity of player numbers yet, but video games don’t last forever. ‘Fortnite’ was dismissed as a fad by some industry insiders when it first caught the world’s eye, and so in that respect, it’s already outperformed the expectations of many, but it’s about to face new challenges. As of November this year, the next generation of video game consoles will appear on the market, bringing next-gen graphics with them. Strong visuals have never been at the heart of the appeal of ‘Fortnite,’ but its graphics will begin to look especially dated when next-gen becomes the norm. Epic will update it and reskin it, of course, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be successful in their endeavors. It’s just as likely that ‘Fortnite’ will be dead in two years as it’s likely that it will continue to be played and loved by tens of millions.
While the long-term viability of ‘Fortnite’ as a concert attraction is unclear, it’s bound to be popular in the short term. Unfortunately, we’re unable to bring you the name of the next performer after Dominic Fike at the moment. We know there will be performances on September 19th and September 26th, but we don’t know who the performers will be. All we can say is “watch this space!”