The most interesting thing I saw SuperBowl weekend had nothing to do with football. It was something I saw while my son was playing Fortnite with two of his friends. Saturday afternoon the game hosted a live, in-game virtual concert by famous DJ Marshmello. According to at least one report, there were over 10 million players in the game at the time. That does not include the millions more who were watching online.
The Marshmello concert was the coolest thing I have seen in a video game by far. My son and his friends were absolutely geeking out as their characters used ‘emotes’ that were earned or purchased in the game, to dance along to the music. They were each sitting in their own homes, on their own devices, and yet were able to experience this live event together. While this is not the first ever virtual concert or live in-game event in a video game, it has definitely taken the concept to the next level.
What is Fortnite?
For those of you who don’t know, Fortnite is a battle-royale style shooter game. It started in 2017 and has grown to a freakish level of over 200 million users. For context, Netflix has 148 million subscribers. It is the most popular video game in history and it isn’t close.
The popularity of the game comes from a combination of easy game play and the ability to play together with people across many different game consoles. My son plays on my MacBook, while his friends play on X-box or Nintendo Switch. It is a shooter game but it doesn’t have blood and you don’t “kill” opponents, they get “eliminated” and sent back to the lobby. It has enough cartoony humor, and fun dance moves (according to my wife), to make it palatable for most parents.
What made the virtual concert on Saturday afternoon so fascinating for me, was that this was the first time I really understood what some other commentators have already been saying. Fortnite is not just a game that kids play – it’s a place they go to hang out.
This article from Quartz compares the game to a skate park. Kids get home from school, log-on and hang out with their friends in a virtual world. The actual game aspect serves as the backdrop.
And, if Fortnite is a skatepark, then the gamer known as Ninja is their Tony Hawk. Professional gamers making money on platforms like Twitch (owned by Amazon) and YouTube (owned by Google) has been a growing trend for years now, but Ninja (primarily playing Fortnite) has taken it to another level. If you haven’t heard of the gamer with brightly colored hair, you can read about him here.
Oh yeah, he also made a cameo appearance in the SuperBowl NFL greats commercial. Here is one of the teasers…
So happy to share with you guys one of the many amazing things we’v e been working on and why I’ve been traveling so much. Catch me in the #NFL100 #SBLIII
commercial right before halftime. pic.twitter.com/FEAQSdsYMP
— Ninja (@Ninja) January 31, 2019
So why do I care? Pokémon Go experienced a ton of growth and was supposed to have ushered in some new age of ‘augmented reality’ (AR) gaming. I don’t see anyone playing that anymore. What makes this different than any other passing fad?
Fortnite is not a unique concept, but rather it’s an evolution of many emerging trends. The “Free-to-play” model with in-game purchases, the battle-royale style of game play have all been done in the past and will continue to get done. Games are now utilizing the same playbook that social networks did a decade ago – grow the user base as fast as possible and then monetize it. It’s all about engagement.
Just like Apple did not invent the smart phone, it just made one that capitalized on growing trends and became more popular than the others. Whether it was Apple, Nokia, or Blackberry that won the contest, it was clear that smart phones were the wave of the future.
Virtual hang-outs and live video game events are today’s future. Whether it’s Fortnite or the brand new Apex Legends (which hashit 25 million players in its first week), or even some platform which allows players and their avatars to travel between multiple games, that’s not the point. The potential has been seen, and money and attention will continue to flow into this space.
Gaming and esports are big business and only getting bigger. Gamers streaming their matches on sites like Twitch are attracting huge audiences. For instance, Ninja streamed a Fortnite match playing with Drake, Travis Scott, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, andattracted over 600,000 concurrent viewers. The video has been seen millions of times since. Gaming has its own tribes, its own superstars, its own elder statesmen, and now it’s even getting its own college teams.
Advertisers are taking serious notice.
Sponsorship deals, esport tournaments, and ad-pop ups on popular streams are all normal right now, but what happens when Pepsi starts sponsoring the next in-game concert, or Apple pays to have virtual posters of Beats headphones put up in the Retail Row section of the Fortnite Map? Will kids be able to buy ‘skins’ of their favorite movie characters for the next big blockbuster. Disney already agreed to let Fortnite use Thanos from their Marvel Universe as a special character in the game for a short time (Disney is a minority investor in Epic Games). The possibilities around this are endless.
Even Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, recognized that the competition for attention is heating up and videogames are gaining ground. In his 2018 letter to shareholdershe wrote, “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO”. That should tell you enough.
Gaming is evolving from something kids (and adults… I’ve gotten sucked into playing Fortnite) do, to a place they hang out. That dynamic has changed the business aspect of the industry. Events like the Marshmello concert are only going to become more impressive and more mainstream. The future is “live experiences” and these video games are figuring out how to make them on a scale that has never been seen before.
Will Fortnite become like the Oasis from Ready Player One? It’s already getting there. Whatever the case, this trend is something you should be paying attention to. We aren’t far off from political candidates getting campaign followers by streaming Fortnite battles on Twitch. It’s a brave new world.
Fortnite has shown us what the future looks like. It’s time we start paying attention.
Until Next Time….
“For a bunch of hairless apes, we’ve actually managed to invent some pretty incredible things.” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player One