Level 68: The Fortnite Concert Series

Digital Events, Xbox Leaks, and a Zine about Death in Games

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📜 This Week’s Notable News

Next Stop: Fortnite

Earlier this week, Epic Games unveiled what we’ve dubbed The Fortnite Concert Series, a string of small scale concert events set to take place inside the game. Starting with a live performance by Dominic Fike on the 12th, the series will have multiple performances in-game throughout September. The game’s global head of partnerships has compared the series to another stop on a musical tour, noting that playing a show in Fortnite is no different than performing on Fallon or Saturday Night Live. However, unlike the declining world of late-night cable television, the idea of digitizing concerts has the chance to completely innovate how performers bring their content to market. To illustrate this point, let’s break down an average concert into three key components: the viewer experience, the performer/audience interaction, and the performer monetization opportunities. 

Viewer Experience

As a fan, how many times have you had to crowd into a small space only to barely hear the show you paid to see? With a platform like Fortnite, concerts are no longer limited to a specific venue size or setlist. It's reasonable to assume that a successful digital concert could take place without the artist even being live, similar to this spring's Fortnite x Travis Scott experience (which Scott himself had prerecorded and then watched live alongside millions of fans). 

Imagine your favorite artist is dropping an album exclusively on Fortnite. By hopping into the release party you could listen to each track alongside the artist themself, or listen to each song in whatever order you’d like. Take it a step further, each track could come packaged with a custom level or game to explore, adding a whole new level of depth for viewers. 

The Performer/Audience Interaction

With the exception of a select few, most concert-goers forgo the opportunity to get close to our favorite performers and instead opt for a more comfortable (and cheaper) seat. Digitally, fans no longer need to be those aggressive people pushing to the front of the crowd or wait long hours in line to get the “real fan experience”. With an in-game performance, every player has the opportunity to be the person right next to the stage. Fans could even use something like Twitch chat or in-game emotes to show performers how they like songs or suggest what should be played next.

The crazy thing is that this idea is bi-directional: whereas performers used to only see the first few rows of fans, a digital medium allows them to interact with every single person in a more scalable and authentic way.

Performer Monetization Opportunities 

Modern-day events are primarily monetized in two ways: ticket sales and merchandise. But with a digital-first platform, creators can offer viewers deeper and more robust interactions and payoffs for their money. Look at platforms like Twitch, where fans can have their names plastered all over the screen just for subscribing or donating to their favorite creators. Imagine taking it a step further and allowing fans to donate funds to pick the next song at a concert, or decide how long the show should go on.

Even the more traditional idea of a one-time entry fee can now suddenly be bundled with time-bound products like in-game cosmetics. If even 50% of the proceeds from an in-game exclusive skin goes to the creator, the margins are still much higher than your traditional merch.

💡 Industry Content

Xbox’s Leaky Faucet: Earlier this week, news leaked around the new digital-first next gen console Xbox Series S, along with some related pricing information. The next Xbox will launch on November 10th, with the Series S at $300 and Series X at $500. Particular kudos to Xbox + MSFT for how it handled its social media approach after the leaks occurred. Link

Ninja’s Return: In what may be the least surprising news of the year, popular streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins announced his return to streaming exclusively on Twitch earlier this week. Gone was the fanfare and dramatic skit that came with Ninja’s move to Mixer, instead replaced by a simple 15-second announcement video. In the wake of 2019’s “Streaming Wars” it’s becoming more and more clear that the impact of exclusive contracts really only impacted the Top 1% of content creators, most of whom rode the wave to big bucks. Don’t expect to see the same sport-esque dash for talent again in the near future. Link

The Rise of Game’s Journalism: Over the course of the last sixteen months, major publications including Wired, The Washington Post, Vice and Bloomberg have seriously started to invest in games as a content focus. The industry is growing, and is filled with a diverse audience who are some of the most zealous fans in the world. Take a look at this piece from CNN which explores why companies are investing in games journalism and why you should continue to expect to see more written content about games. Link

EA + Xbox Game Pass: In yet another step toward subscription supremacy, Xbox announced this week that EA’s games subscription service EA Play — that includes access to titles like Sims, Mass Effect, and Battlefield — will be bundled with Xbox Game Pass free of charge. As industry analyst Matthew Ball pointed out, this means that for $25/Month you now get Xbox Live + Xbox Game Pass (100+ Games) + Xbox Cloud Streaming + EA’s game subscription...that’s a lot of gaming. Link

🎮 Fun & Games

The Ruler of Civilization: Many gaming fans often point to Sid Meier’s Civilization series as the game that sparked their interest in history. Since releasing the first game in the series back in 1991, there have been 66 versions of the game purchased by nearly 33M people. In this interview with Bloomberg, Sid previews his memoir which covers everything from the infamous Gandhi + Nukes meme to how it feels to build one of gaming’s most famous titles. Link

The Improbable Rise of Among Us: Given its recent popularity, you might be surprised to hear that Mafia-style indie hit Among Us was actually released back in 2018. These days Among Us regularly logs 300K+ concurrent viewers on Twitch and has more than 50x its sales in the past month — a stark example that hard work, iteration, and feedback can lead to a hit game, even two years after release. Link 

Brick By Brick: In the early 2000s, the company behind Lego was on the brink of collapse, with the brand having almost completely tapped out on creative innovation for its young child demographic. Enter Bionicle, an edgy reimagining of Lego characters that single-handedly saved the company. Now, nearly 20 years later, one fan is building their own Bionicle game; after nearly six years of development, the first look is out. Given gaming’s tumultuous past with fan-made content (with major developers handing out cease and desists like candy on Halloween) we’re excited to see a legitimate fan-made game. Link

😎 Other Cool Reads

Death, Dying, and Grief in Video Games: Death is an ever-present part of gaming. From a simple roadblock to a key narrative driver, dying in games has integrated itself as one of the medium's fundamental mechanics. This awesome looking Kickstarter zine, launched by game designer, writer, and editor Elizabeth Ballou, explores the role that death holds in gaming culture. You can support independent thoughtful games journalism, and read about topics like death-positivity and exposure therapy all at once! Link

“She’s Got Game”: This article features women in Saudi Arabia pioneering gaming inclusion for other women in the Middle East and beyond. Saudi is a country fraught with religious exceptions to inclusion, so with loosening restrictions, what will inclusivity look like? Is there still value in creating exclusively female spaces for gaming? What should inclusion look like in gaming? Link

Designing Game Design: Game design is deceptively technical. Something as seemingly simple as the sound of a character’s footsteps can actually require tens of hours of work. Why is it then, that the barrier to filming someone doing the same activity is so much lower? In yet another wonderfully complex video essay, YouTuber Games & Culture breaks down why game design and game making tools are still so reliant on text-based code and other technical approaches. Link

📊 By The Numbers

1,500: The number of coffee shops that Canadian brand Tim Horton’s plans to add in China this upcoming year. The brand recently partnered with Tencent (seriously) to launch a string of esports focused cafes. Link

30 Minutes: The length of this video highlighting rain in 30 different games. It’s surprisingly relaxing. Link

😍 Our Current Favorites 

Fawzi (@fawzitani)

I’m in NYC for the week and spent some time visiting a variety of retro video game shops. I feel like it’s getting rarer to see these types of brick and mortar gems outside of Tokyo or NYC. VideoGames NYC | Retro Kingdom | 8 Bit & Up

Max (@MaxLowenthal)

Fawzi and I have been spending a lot of time looking into fast-growing gaming companies recently. You may have noticed in the last few weeks that we’ve used this space to highlight some of the most intriguing ones, including Ateyo, PiePacker, Guilded, and G-Loot. If you’re a Pause Button reader and are building anything having to do with games, consider this an open invitation to reach out. Every new company we explore helps provide context for this publication, and it’s always fun to talk to passionate people building cool stuff.

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