Last weekend, rapper Travis Scott gave a live performance in the Fortnite universe for millions of viewers. The in-game event was starkly different to the concert by DJ Marshmello last year. The latter gave a virtual concert in the Fortnite universe that was remarkably like a concert in the physical world. By contrast, Travis Scott and Fortnite provided an in-game experience utilizing the possibilities of a game environment as medium. Instead of virtual festival grounds, with the conventional stage, a DJ set and partying avatars, this time, Travis Scott took viewers along in an immersive experience. The “mini-concert” was a surreal journey that transformed the entire Fortnite game into an interactive stage, fully attuned to the rapper’s performance.
What does this mean?
When a new medium is developed, it often initially mirrors its predecessors, a dynamic called the horseless carriage syndrome. This may stem from ignorance, but it can also be done on purpose, to allow people to gradually get used to the new medium (e.g. skeuomorphism) and then continue its development. Concerning the respective performances of Marshmello and Travis Scott, there is something to be said for both. Perhaps Epic simply didn’t know what an in-game concert would look like and didn’t want to take too many risks regarding production costs. Another possible explanation would be that it was more of a purposeful strategy. The tradition of in-game events, often with animations like those in the Travis Scott performance, has been around for much longer. These events were usually related to the game itself and, unlike shows by artists, were not standalone. Making the Marshmello concert as much like a physical concert as possible was probably a way to generate the most attention among generic media and the wider public, who would be better able to place it this way. This course of action enhances the possibility to introduce the Fortnite world to as many people as possible, people who may not have much of an interest in gaming.
Fortnite is currently actively experimenting with in-game live events that have nothing to do with the game itself. Taking the long view, Epic has the ideal of a metaverse, an immersive world that, besides containing gaming elements, fulfills all kinds of social functions, such as work, going to clubs and learning. But the route to the metaverse is not yet clear. This experimental development of virtual worlds is accelerating because of the corona virus and the necessary (temporary) shift to the virtual realm that it entails. Certain new digital practices will merely prove temporary hypes, while others will become engrained in our daily lives or undergo further development. For example, use of the Houseparty app, also by Epic, already seems to have decreased. But some of its design principles and elements appear to be taken up elsewhere, such as in the coming “Party Royale” mode of Fortnite, which in turn could become the virtual stage where music events are hosted.