An interesting moment at the intersection of digital entertainment, virtual reality, music, and gaming took place recently. It may just be remembered as an iconic achievement in the use of online virtual worlds for a large-scale media event.
On Saturday, Marshmello, a popular DJ, performed a live virtual concert inside the even more popular online video game Fortnite. If you missed it, it’s worth checking out the full 10-minute set (we have it embedded in this article just below).
The influence that gaming has on pop culture right now is astronomical. Having a concert take place within a game environment is in no way a new concept but it seems that Fortnite has finally cracked the experiential formula that players are looking for.
This is thanks in part to the advancement of both modern gaming hardware and software. Online live concerts within games have been a part of the mainstream gaming industry since the early 2000s, yet their biggest downfall up until now has been shonky graphics, and rigid AI. Just take a look at this U2 concert that was held within Second Life back in 2008 (it’s cringeworthy and depressing to say the least).
When comparing U2’s concert to Marshmello’s. It quickly becomes evident that the difference in quality does not fall on the artists (subjectively I’d argue that U2 trumps Marshmello any day of the week in discography alone, *sips tea*), but rather the exponential progression in gaming over a 10 year period has left the quality of these two performances as far a part from each other as possible.
If there were to be any current game on the market that could pull off such an ambitious feat, of course it would have to be Fortnite. One of the most pop culture relevant, boundary-pushing games ever to hit the market (for better or worse).
Epic has turned Fortnite into something more akin to a medium than a game, blocking it out like a television series with multiple seasons, each with its own narrative arc and pay-off. In June 2018, an in-game rocket launch became a mass-attended event, with players cooperating to build enormous towers and platforms to give them the best view of the proceedings.
The Marshmello concert, though, represents a shift in that programming. Promoted in the game via fliers and a set of special challenges—not to mention a performance area that took shape over the course of a week, appearing as though it was being constructed a bit at a time—players began to think of it not just as a mysterious reveal, but as a specific thing. The activity was the draw.
Current estimations claim that approximately 10 million concurrent users attended the show in the game's "Showtime" mode. In other words, this was something much more than a concert. It was a peek, albeit a short one, at what an AR- and VR-suffused future looks like: connected congregations of embodied avatars, in mass-scale events that still manage to feel personal.
According to The Verge, the live concert was held simultaneously in several thousand games, each hosting up to 60 players at a time. Weapons were also disabled during the performance, so nobody had to worry about their experience being cut short via a shotgun to the face.
Marshmello’s concert is a perfect example of next level in-game advertising, this is what Brandification is supposed to look like.
Marshmello’s Fortnite concert has already seen to of had a great affect on his social media and streaming numbers, but that’s all still digital. The more interesting numbers, for some, are how his concert has gone on to affect real-life ticket sales. Ticketing platform Songkick has done us a favour and already crunched the numbers.
According to their own metrics, interest in Marshmello tickets also experienced a sudden and massive increase following the concert.
Marshmello was the most-visited artist on Songkick after the recent Fortnite event. In comparison to his daily search average over the past year, Songkick saw a 3,000% spike on Marshmello’s page on Saturday. On Sunday, Songkick saw “the largest amount of fans looking for Marshmello tickets ever on the platform.”
Songkick wraps it all up by putting it in perspective, “Marshmello has had more fans looking for tickets on Songkick during the past 4 days than he’s had over the past 3 months combined.”
Clearly, Marshmello’s goal of tapping into a new market has worked. And when you think about it, the reasoning is quite simple: if Marshmello can pull off something like that in just a 10-minute concert within a virtual world, imagine what he can do in real life. I think it’s safe to expect Marshmello to hold more all-ages shows moving forward from this experience in relation to Fortnite’s demographics.
What this means for the Future
What makes this particular concert such a big deal is the scale of the event and the mainstream appeal of a popular platform like Fortnite. By almost every conceivable measure, Fortnite is currently the most popular video game in the world and, with the free-to-play game bringing in over $300 million per month, one of the most profitable video games ever.
The biggest issue with this statement being that a Fortnite server limits the number of players in each instantiation of the game’s map to 100 concurrent players. That means that there was likely something closer to 100,000 mirrored versions of Marshmello’s performance taking place within the same time period. Therefore no one attendee was part of a truly larger than life experience with a million other avatars in-toe.
Managing large parties of users and the mass of data that comes with them seems to be the biggest challenge moving forward. The team at High Fidelity seem to be leading the charge on creating larger scale experiences. Last year Philip Rosedale, CEO and founder of High Fidelity, shared that a load test had reached 423 concurrent users and, in a Twitter exchange about the Fortnite concert, noted that “in High Fidelity you can have 500 avatars at one stage together (and more coming soon), compared to 100 for a Fortnite server.”
Excitement over a few hundred people sharing a virtual space may be a far cry from the 10 million people who “shared” the Marshmello show, but this weekend’s concert is certainly a mindblowing development and a “mainstream moment”, demonstrating the future potential for large-scale shared experiences in a virtual world.
With events of this size the potential for both marketing and monetisation is otherworldly. The whole event is sure to have earned Epic a sizeable sum in microtransaction revenue from skins and emotes, and one can only imagine what kind of advertising or other marketing campaigns could one day make use of the technology here. But, right now, the concert feels like a concerted attempt by Epic to truly out-do itself and raise the stakes for what a live, persistent game world can be capable enough with the right creative minds and technical infrastructure put to the task.