Jelena Stosic
What is an event, anyway?
digital, games, social, insight
8 mins
The highest attended concert in history - what do you think it could be? I will tell you in just a second, but go ahead, have a think; it’s an interesting thought-starter anyway. It’s almost as much about the venue as it is about the artist, simply because of space. You can fit more people on a beach than you can fit in a room, and - this is where it gets interesting - you can put more people in front of a computer, phone or console than you can in any physical space.

According to Epic Games, Marshmello’s Fortnite concert saw 10.7 million people in attendance within the game alone. If you factor in those who watched it live-streamed on Twitch and other platforms, the number will definitely be much higher, plus the official recap of the event has 39 million views on YouTube. If we discount any viewership on streaming platforms or on YouTube, we still have over 10 million people who watched it “live” within the game, the way it was intended to be seen. And that is significantly more than the other biggest concerts in the world, namely Rod Stewart at Copacabana (3.5 million), or Jean-Michel Jarre at Moscow State University (3.5 million as well).

Now, you’re probably thinking - but that’s different! Those kids in Fortnite didn’t really feel the music, the sweat of the people around them, others’ elbows pushing past them or hitting them mid-dance, or any of the other, more beautiful or grim elements of a real concert. And that’s all true. But I’m here to argue that they felt something, and that we need to understand it, rather than call it a non-concert or non-event. Because this was a huge event for them.

A few things excite and fascinate me about this - and here they are.

This IS a real event to kids

Events involve a shared sense of excitement, of anticipation, of living in that moment. We have heard of children pestering their parents to make sure they would be home for the event, and of children who spent an hour talking about it afterwards, much more engaged than they would normally be, discussing in great detail what had happened. To them, this was every bit an event as a real concert or a museum visit would be (and for a lot of them, more exciting than the latter). They danced together, they listened, and they chatted.

Shared global events aren’t news; audiences all over the world tune into the Olympics Opening Ceremonies or into big football games. However, the added interaction that gaming brings is fantastic.

The possibilities to amplify and tailor the experience are vast.

What I found the most amazing about this event, is that they did things that can’t happen offline. Rather than try and “copy” what’s good about a real-life concert, the creators played to their strengths and did crazy things that could not be done in reality. At one point during the event, the floor where the audience ‘stood’ was turned into a giant trampoline, allowing the players to bounce as they danced. At another point, Marshmello told the fans he wanted them to fly, and just like that every player was launched into the air. This was every bit the digital experience, making use of what is best about the platform in question.

I was also impressed by a couple of other, more ‘hygiene factor’ things, such as the fact that all weapons were removed from the game for the duration of the concert and everyone was made invincible: this ensured a more peaceful, music-centered experience. In-game features like challenges and collectibles were used to promote it. Marshmello put the event on his tour schedule - the “real” one. All in all, the event was fully optimised for the digital experience that it was, but was treated with the seriousness that is afforded to real life events, if not more.

Second life?

Arguably, Fortnite is teaching a new generation that the game itself is merely a platform for shared experiences. Yes, it is a game, and a great one at that, but it is also a place where you can socialise, listen to music, and even participate in a shared “economy”.

Some believe Fortnite to be a really important step towards taking us to Metaverse. Now, bear with me, I’ll explain: a Metaverse is a collective shared space, like a video game or a set of virtual reality realms, that would allow humans to exist within. It is more than just a massive multi-player space, as the idea is that it requires a real in-world economy to exist; players should be able to earn a living through doing digital jobs. In its fullest form, the Metaverse experience would involve most, if not all, virtual and AR worlds, and would serve as an equivalent reality where all “physical” humans would simultaneously co-exist. The term was originally coined in 1992, and it’s appeared in various forms of media - most recently in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of “Ready Player One”. Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, certainly seems to be interested in the concept: in 2017, he argued that the technology is “as little as three years away”, and stated that virtual worlds have just as much potential to drive careers as does real life, since he believes that work boils down to people creating a good or service that is valuable to another, something which is possible within the digital realm.

So, we have a CEO who is interested in the idea, a “population” of over 250 million registered players, and a very flexible environment which includes Fortnite and Epic’s other environments/works.

Something that may make this more feasible for Fortnite / Epic Games, is the flexibility that we’ve seen in Fortnite. Fortnite has shown an excellent ability to ‘transform’ into many games, whilst remaining one game: players have been able to race go-karts and carry out vehicle-based assault, engage in airborne dogfights, use balloons and gliders to float across the map, and more. Fortnite merges a number of genres whilst also being a sandbox, ultimately delivering a game that may be able to reinvent itself over time, depending on how well Epic Games can keep reinventing. There will always be new games and formats but will Fortnite be able to host multiple ones within their world, eliminating the reason to purchase other, different games?

Furthermore, Epic Games own a game engine - Unreal - which, whilst not being the #1 mainstream game development engine, is being used by many and can help further expand the eco-system.

Fortnite is a platform. A gaming platform that is showing its ability to deliver against multiple types of experiences, including concerts. It is not the first game to start resembling a Metaverse (both World of Warcraft and Minecraft do), but it is the first to do so at this scale, and to be powered by a game engine as versatile as Unreal. There are good, bad, mysterious and crazy things about all this, but I wanted to highlight what I found interesting, and to open the floor to questions. I’m not arguing that video-game (Metaverse, if you like) concerts will be the default, and only, way we engage, but I am arguing that this is an important way to consume content, and even to socialise. Younger generations may well grow to see digital events as, well, real events. If that’s where they are, perhaps we need to pay a lot of attention - and be over there as well.

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