The record-breaking attendance fuels Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney's ambition to grow Fortnite into more than just a game.
This week, Fortnite played host to a concert by rapper Travis Scott, an event that has broken Epic Games’ record for concurrent players in the battle royale powerhouse. More than 12 million people logged in to experience the performance, which featured an elaborately-produced set that lasted around 10 minutes. The concerts are scheduled to continue through Saturday, April 25th.
Scott may boast the highest number of viewers within Fortnite itself, but he’s not the first musical act to host a performance inside the game. That honor belongs to the DJ Marshmello, whose show attracted nearly 11 million Fortnite players last February. Since then, rock band Weezer has also had a crossover event in the game.
Beyond musical artists, Fortnite has hosted a number of pop culture crossovers and marketing events ranging from Avengers and other Marvel properties, to Star Wars, John Wick, Batman, and more. Even non-media products like shoes and fast food have attempted to leverage Fortnite’s massive audience to varying degrees of success.
All told, such crossovers speak to Epic CEO Tim Sweeney’s desire to grow Fortnite into more than a game. He’s made no secret of his plans to turn it into a cultural touchstone, a social platform of sorts where players can gather and interact at their leisure. Considering the far-reaching nature of the game, it’s hard to argue that Epic hasn’t made significant strides in that regard.
But Sweeney’s ambitions don’t necessarily stop there. In fact, he’s on the record as saying that he wants to lead the charge in building the Metaverse, the hypothetical successor to the internet. It’s a sprawling and complex concept, but a very basic definition of the Metaverse is this: a virtual world that’s an approximation of the real one that you can plug into. It’s a synchronous, persistent environment with an economy and cross-world functionality. In fiction, such a concept has been depicted in films like The Matrix and RPGs like Cyberpunk.
Again, this is an incredibly barebones definition of a hard-to-define theoretical notion. For a more in-depth breakdown of the concept of the Metaverse and Sweeney’s ambitions regarding its creation, analyst Matthew Ball has a fascinating essay on his blog.
At SIGGRAPH 2019, Sweeney outlined how the tech world is preparing itself for the advent of the Metaverse, stating that creator-centric games like Minecraft and Roblox illustrate a shift in how we consume media.
“Engaging in community content in these virtual worlds created by other people is the primary experience,” Sweeney said. “We’ve also seen a really interesting interplay between the real world and the virtual world with games like Pokémon Go and location-based entertainment.”
Sweeney also pointed to Fortnite as a potential element of a conceptual Metaverse, noting that, at the time, “more than 250 million people have experienced the game” across seven platforms. Additionally, the audience is very broad and encompasses a higher percentage of demographics that don’t fall within the traditional “hardcore gamer” group.
For now, though, the Metaverse remains conceptual. Here in the real world, Sweeney will have to be content with simply continuing to make waves in the games industry. Epic has taken on a developer-friendly persona over the last year, with the Epic Games Store offering a more favorable revenue split and guaranteed minimum profits. The company also recently launched a new publishing branch that boasts a promised 50/50 profit split with its developers.
Despite Fortnite’s already-substantial reach, Sweeney and Epic still have a massive amount of ambition for the game. Over 12 million concurrent users for a single in-game event may be impressive, but, for Sweeney, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
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