By this point, we’re all very used to Fortnite showcasing musical acts. Millions of players have swamped the servers to witness Ariana Grande or Travis Scott bridge the gap between concert and videogame. These events err on the side of metaverse for many, causing some to ask, is this the future of metaverse entertainment? For me, at least for now, I hope so.
Fortnite has been a trendsetter for some time now. It feels like barely any time passes between musical acts gracing the creative side of the battle royale. The latest musician to appear in the space is Tones and I, an Australian singer-songwriter who, until yesterday I had no idea existed. So I stepped into the concert portal not knowing what to expect.
It turns out that I actually knew a couple of her songs, but in the faceless era of music streaming, I had no idea who was behind the tracks. Upon spawning in the first area – a rather haunted-looking house – the first track belted out and I was joined by other players. This being a videogame, the areas are lightly gamified with golden musical notes to collect which reward a little XP, which gave me something extra to do between ludicrous dance emotes.
My initial thoughts of ‘oh, this is interesting’ suddenly ramped up when my avatar, plus the others being controlled by random strangers, took flight through various scenes; one was a dark room full of staircases and keyholes which would give Escher pause for concern; another was a desert full of tornados; at one point we were dragged through upside-down spooky forests. All the while Tones and I was singing away.
In a few of the areas we were given an egg launcher (an item from last Easter) which shot eggs out in an arc. As the eggs landed and burst in a splatter of paint, the liquid became a screen showing the live performance. Watching everyone splat the environment felt a little bit more collaborative.
By the end, I’d collected a good handful of XP, traversed many fantastical lands and partied with Spider-Man and Mystique, from the X-Men, and I wasn’t covered in other people’s sweat. I even heard a song to which I knew the chorus. In an odd way, I kind of preferred this small musical journey more than when Ariana Grande grew so large she could step on people. Sure, it’s not as elaborate, but it was equally enjoyable. Plus, I already knew who Ariana is, and while I’m not planning on buying an album by Tones and I, it proves that Fortnite can be a tool of discovery.
It’s all subjective
After the mini-concert ended I watched as everyone blinked into the aether of the internet and I returned to the lobby, eager for more discovery. There were two things on my Fortnite schedule, neither of them was getting owned by megachads or sweatlords as they built around me in a battle royale. The second thing to do was visit an art gallery.
Despite the garish externals of the Fortnite art gallery being draped in portals to other creative worlds, the experience was a little revolutionary. This was my first trip to an art exhibition in Fortnite. I’ve visited other exhibitions in Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, but the art on display there were NFTs either fuelled by memes or debase humour. This was as close as I could get to art without attending in person.
The artist here is Brian Donnelly, otherwise known as Kaws. Kaws’ style is abstract pop art, which switches between the traditional commercialism of pop art and the almost surreal and lavish design from abstract traditions. His art bursts with colour, full of personality and familiarity. Many will recognise his work from various pop culture outlets.
Walking the halls alone, or with a few friends, is a nice distraction from the chaos of the core gameplay of Fortnite. The stark white walls are interrupted by large paintings or towering sculptures. There is a distinct lack of information, sadly; there are no name cards to infer dates of creation or even the title of the works. While the actual exhibition left a little to be desired, it’s an important step for the videogame platform.
Can this be the Metaverse, Please?
This is what I personally want from any possible metaverse at the moment – a place where we can discover new music or watch a trailer for a film, or absorb the cultural impact of art, while still having some interaction with the other users in the experience, particularly friends and family. Because sometimes those users elevate the moment and because sometimes communal discovery feels a little more exciting, like attending a gig in the real world and falling in love with an unknown opening act.
Fortnite, much like Roblox, is in a favourable position in how it welcomes people into a metaverse-style experience; in fact, for many, this will be their first taste of something akin to a metaverse. While many consumers aren’t quite ready to go full bore with a VR headset, it must be remembered, neither are content creators nor large platform holders.
What we see in Ready Player One and Snow Crash – large gatherings of people all dressed differently, or even of different species, conversing and sharing, just isn’t physically (read digitally) possible. Though some may argue that Fortnite is our current equivalent to Oasis from Ready Player One; a pop culture mash-up where Disney, Marvel and DC Comics all rub shoulders with Star Wars, Rick and Morty and Jinx from League of Legends.
To craft a fully-fledged metaverse would take hundreds of thousands of people spending billions. Fortnite just about handles fifty to a hundred users travelling through a pre-recorded and pre-programmed event. To do something like this in real-time would require millions of dollars in investment for servers and bandwidth. And this is before considering the graphical performance of the animated style compared to something more realistic, which would strain servers even further.
The Future is…
Changeable. For now, at least. Your metaverse experience is only as good as the platform you choose, and currently, videogame based platforms are going to thrive, Fortnite in particular. While Roblox can boast concerts and games, too, the visual aesthetic can be off-putting to many and a lot of the games are repetitive. Fortnite, using the power of its creator Epic Games, can leverage a unique position to create these little pockets of metaverse content.
As time marches on, the creators within the community are building more unique ways to play and interact with each other. In fact, for so many of the largest trends in Fortnite, the ideas have often spawned from community creations, and not just from their own game. Prop Hunt first appeared in Garry’s Mod and the fashion shows that once took over Twitch streams evolved from players showing off their skins and accessories to each other.
When you combine this with the cultural and entertainment events which Epic arranges, a metaverse can slowly bloom in line with the audience. Dipping in for the odd concert brings the community together, events like the Kaws exhibit or the MLK ‘March Through Time’ experience can take players outside of pop culture allowing them to learn.
If this is the first step towards a cross-platform metaverse, then this step is a safe one. Even users who aren’t as interested in the core gameplay of Fortnite can jump in and experience what the platform has to offer. Importantly, Epic isn’t asking much of the consumer; the game is free to play, there’s no need for a VR headset or the early expense of buying land and there’s no restriction in who you can play with. Where will Epic go next? Is this their long-term metaverse plan?