“Yo, let me out of here, man, I need to pee so bad,” said Dominic Fike between songs at the virtual concert he gave Saturday.
Fike was presumably free to leave the Los Angeles-based studio where he was filming his set for the first of a new three-show series Fortnite was hosting in its player royale mode. He had been bantering all afternoon with Orchid, a floating orb projected on the center-stage screen that introduced itself to the crowd as “software designed to make sure your performance goes as smooth as possible.”
The moment was pure Fortnite: a melding of video and graphics that was visually dazzling but whimsical. Of course there wasn’t any “2001”-style human-vs.-computer tension at the event, but Orchid was a subtle reminder that the platform’s maker, Epic Games, was putting on a cutting-edge concert.
But here’s the thing, Orchid. Now is the time for you to really step up your game if Epic is going to capitalize on the huge opportunity Fortnite has to dominate the virtual-concert business.
It’s not that this first edition of Fortnite’s Spotlight series wasn’t well executed. But coming off performances at a much bigger scale from Travis Scott in April and Marshmello in February 2019, Spotlight felt like a rather muted follow-up to these culture-shaking extravaganzas.
Fike is an up-and-coming artist but not someone on the A-list like Scott or Marshmello. Who will follow him in the coming weeks in player royale has not been announced yet.
Epic wasn’t intending Spotlight to be at the scale of those previous shows. As Nate Nanzer, Fortnite’s head of global partnerships, was quoted by The Verge explaining the launch of the new series, “We want this to be a regular heartbeat of awesome live music events, between those bigger moments in time.”
But the question is, why in September 2020 is Fortnite just at the “heartbeat” phase of what should be much further along in Epic’s quest to broaden the appeal of Fortnite beyond battle-royale gaming to other less violent activities. CEO Tim Sweeney has made clear that this is his intention.
Just imagine what he could have done at a time when he’s locked in a stalemate with Apple that is keeping Fortnite out of the App Store if a truly major artist was booked for a concert in the app. It would be akin to the way companies like CBS and Fox have used NFL rights over the years to get leverage in their own fights with pay-TV companies during blackout battles. When you have must-see content, it has a way of bringing obstinate distribution giants back to the negotiation table.
But the reason Epic should really be moving faster into this space is that as the pandemic keeps the live-entertainment business at a standstill, virtual concerts are becoming an increasingly popular alternative. These aren’t just a temporary Band-Aid until the globe is virus-free enough to stage performances IRL again. There’s a great opportunity to build out what could be a permanent adjunct to the traditional concert business for those who can’t be there in person.
That’s why you’re seeing players such as Amazon make moves to tie its own music platform to its Twitch livestream business. Fortnite may lack a music-streaming component, but more frequent and powerful demonstrations of its virtual-concert platform could go a long way toward establishing the app as a go-to destination for an audience even broader than its 350 million global base.
Orchid should settle for nothing less.