You probably heard about DJ Marshmello‘s ten-minute concert held in the massively popular game Fortnite on Feb. 2nd. (I’ve never heard of Marshmello before this, but then again, he’s probably never heard of me either, so we’re even.)
The official YouTube video of the concert has racked up almost 20 million views as of this evening:
Here’s another YouTube video posted by a Fortnite user, which gives a somewhat different view of the proceedings, and which is probably a lot closer to what Fortnite players actually experienced in-game:
Now, there are a lot of media outlets calling this “
But as you can see from the videos I posted above, that audience of 10 million people was split up into innumerable separate instances across which the concert was broadcast simultaneously. This is hardly ground-breaking technology, and it can be said that doing this in a game world (which is heavily constrained in many ways compared to a true, open-ended virtual world like Second Life) is not really that innovative. Although I’m pretty certain that the staff maintaining the Fortnite servers was kept pretty busy!
Dependinghow you define it, one might argue this concert claimed a spot in the top 20 largest human gatherings ever. I wouldn’t go that far yet. But it does hint at how immersive digital gatherings might rival and surpass in-person gatherings in the future. Such digital events might regularly reach into the millions and still provide that special, real-world sense of “I was there.”
To be clear, Fortnite isn’t technically an online virtual world in the same vein as something like Second Life or High Fidelity. Fortnite is still, on the surface, a game. But several people have pointed out that it’s starting to serve the same kind of social purpose that hangout spaces like friends’ basements, skateparks, and arcades once provided teens and young adults.
People have gathered in virtual worlds for decades. People have attended virtual concerts for years. Yet the Fortnite event represented something different by many orders of magnitude. By one (unsubstantiated) estimate, 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.
Social VR application
Altspacehas been holding live events in virtual reality since 2015; by now, the Microsoft-owned platform regularly hosts improv shows, podcast tapings, dance parties, and performances from the likes of Reggie Watts. But when its employees heard about the Fortnite concert, they saw it as a mass-scale validation. “I said, ‘This is it,'” says Katie Kelly, program owner at AltspaceVR. “It”s the biggest version of what we’ve been trying to do—in this game, with millions of people. “
Plenty applauded what they called the “first-ever live performance in a video game”, but this claim has since been disproved on social media.
Coalchellafestival in 2018 – a pun on real-life festival Coachella – though this came five years after EDM label Monstercat hosted a live charity festival in the block-building game.
Meanwhile, virtual gigs became almost synonymous with simulation game Second Life in the 00s.
And that’s not even mentioning the mash-up with Duran Duran, which saw the new wave act perform live gigs in the in-game Duran Duran Universe.
So, in sheer scale, yes, the Marshmello concert was epic (pun intended; Epic Games is the maker of Fortnite). And it points the way for similar massively-attended events in future (I’m quite sure some concert promoters are already having discussions with game developers).
But it’s not something new. As the BBC points out, virtual worlds such as Second Life have been home to live performances for well over a decade now. And High Fidelity has been regularly setting records for how many avatars it can pack into a single domain, which is actually much more technically impressive than splitting up a larger crowd into multiple instances. While at BINGO EXTREMO this evening, I noticed how I really felt as if I were part of a large crowd, with over 150 avatars gathered around the stage.
So we do need to keep all this in perspective. Impressive? Yes. History making? No.