Fortnite's Massive Virtual Concert is a Potent Glimpse of VR's Future

Epic Games’ Fortnite is steadily moving from ‘just’ a massively popular battle royale game to a cultural touchstone for hundreds of millions of players. On Saturday, February 2nd, the title was host to an in-game performance by world-class EDM DJ Marshmello; attended by some 10 million concurrent users, the virtual concert offers a potent glimpse of what virtual events and virtual reality will mean for the future.

Lasting for just over 10 minutes, the concert simultaneously attracted over 10 million concurrent players worldwide (across simultaneous instanced performances of less than 100 players each) For comparison, Guinness World Records holds that the largest ever concert was attended by 4.2 million people. The event also boosted Marshmello & Bastille’s collaboration track, “Happier”, from #8 to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

The production was quite a spectacle, boasting a virtual lighting system that could rival the complexity of top EDM stages from real events such as Insomniac Events’ Electric Daisy Carnival. And it was all surprisingly lifelike for something rendered in the Unreal Engine, led by a motion captured performance of Marshmello behind the turntable. You can watch it below.

While Fortnite players happily shot off their favorite emotes and dance moves from behind ‘flat’ gaming devices (like PC and Xbox), it’s transparent that similar virtual events could be deeply enhanced with the addition of VR.

Imagine feeling the electricity of Marshmello’s live performance flowing through your veins as you dance and fly around Pleasant Park. But instead of sitting behind a screen while holding a controller, you’re moving and shaking your entire body with friends from around the world. And when you look around, you’re treated with a rich visual landscape that fills your entire field of view. You aren’t looking through a window: you’re there. Such an experience is already possible with today’s VR technology.

Players in VR apps like VRChat are already hooking up body tracking accessories to bring their real-life dancing into VR in real-time.

VR events have not taken off in any meaningful way yet, but the potential for their popularity in the future is as ripe as the circumstance that allowed Epic Games to hold a concert in Fortnite in the first place: the gaming industry now fosters a massive audience of young people who are regular inhabitants of social virtual worlds. Epic Games has both proved and improved that notion through its consistently smart integration of pop culture trends, for which the company has now confirmed over 200 million Fortnite players (as of November 2018).

And as the VR headset adoption rate grows in the coming decade, notable developers will likely follow suit and provide experiences of high production value to players who don headsets and take the next step up in immersion when visiting their virtual world of choice.

Social VR platform AltspaceVR is already providing a clear example of what live celebrity events could look and feel like when experienced from a VR headset. Last month, on January 18th, Reggie Watts returned to perform live in AltspaceVR for his latest stand-up comedy show on the platform. In the past, he’s also performed alongside Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, including performances with his own sort of live music:

Though it doesn’t come anywhere remotely close to matching Fortnite’s sheer player count, AltspaceVR successfully offers a sense of immersion that allows users to feel physical nearness with other avatars in a 3D environment—something that games played from 2D, including Fortnite, simply cannot accomplish.

But at what point will such live events proliferate across the broader VR platform?

Things are still extremely early for live virtual events in general. Even considering Fortnite’s popularity, the Marshmello concert was the first of its kind, and Epic Games currently hasn’t stated whether or not it’s planning another.

That said, it’s currently impossible to know what the landscape of virtual events will look like as it begins to take shape. Apart from hardware and imagination limits, digital creators are unrestricted by the mundane; thus, this space is rife with a wealth of unexplored possibilities. And if these preliminary events are any indicator, we’re in for a future that will allow us to connect with other humans in ways (and at scales) that our predecessors could have never imagined.

In the future, people of all ages could be one click away from any variety of live shows in existence, all from the comfort and safety of their own homes. The most isolated members of society will finally have an opportunity to build and maintain social bonds as if they were physically near to others, sharing the same skies and riding the same wavelengths with thousands of others in real-time.

Fortnite is a beloved title that has pushed its way into the hands of (notably younger) players at an unprecedented rate. Similarly beloved in the EDM universe, Marshmello is the perfect complement. No matter how long it takes for live virtual events and virtual reality to marinate, one thing is for sure: as long as popular brands and creators continue to promote the cultural icons of gaming and VR, players will demand more live experiences with which to share them.

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