Was Marshmello’s Fortnite Concert Really History Making? Yes and No.

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 “history making“, with estimates of a total audience of over 10 million people watching. And no doubt, for the many (mostly younger) people for whom this was their first virtual concert experience, it may have seemed ground-breaking.

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!

The SingularityHub website reported:

Depending how 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.

WIRED, which called the concert “the future of the metaverse”, said:

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 Altspace has 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.

And the BBC weighed in with an instructive history lesson:

Plenty applauded what they called the “first-ever live performance in a video game”, but this claim has since been disproved on social media.

Minecraft hosted Coalchella festival 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.

U2 gave a live performance in 2008, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was broadcast live in 2007, and BBC Radio 1 simulcast its One Big Weekend event on a virtual stage in 2006.

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.

Image taken from the BBC article about the concert
Advertisements
Liked it? Then please consider supporting Ryan Schultz on Patreon! Even as little as US$1 a month unlocks exclusive patron benefits. Thank you!

2 thoughts on “Was Marshmello’s Fortnite Concert Really History Making? Yes and No.”

  1. Second Life is a world on a game engine too, albeit a custom engine without modern features like sharding (the tech Fortnite uses to break large audiences into multiple manageable server insances). Ys, SL did it first, but it was terrible and still has not found a way to scale to large simultaneous audiences… so to that end they missed the boat on the bigger picture. SineSpace creators Sine Wave Entertainment also did it many years ago with live music events that had thousands of simultaneous users and making use of sharding. Regardless of who did what first, or better, this feels like a milestone. It’s a huge turnout, a lot of people who showed up and connected with each other in some way. Game worlds need more of this.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.