In early August 2021, a playlist was added to Fortnite among the usual solo, duo, trio and squad options. ‘The Rift Tour’ would be an “interactive musical journey” featuring pop princess Ariana Grande. Before the concert, players could shop the online store and buy a skin of Ariana, which would transform their avatar into the singer. There were also accessories and emotes – animated movements – to support the concert. A popular emote made the player avatar wave a cell phone flashlight in the air.
The concert was a huge success and saw millions of players flood the servers to take part. The performance – all pre-recorded – featured a giant Ariana, endless Escher staircases, users bouncing on pink, fluffy trees and riding inflatable Llamacorns through the sky.
As we near the all-encompassing ‘metaverse’, music acts embracing technology and connecting with their fans through these events will be a surefire play to get users into web 3.0. By expanding beyond the confines of a contained show and utilising available technology, fans can get closer than ever to their idols.
Preceding the Ariana concert, Fortnite had already teamed with Travis Scott and plenty of DJs who took to the virtual stage. It’s clear that Epic Games are determined to continue in this vein given their purchase of Harmonix, a company known for creating music based videogames such as Fuser and Rock Band. Virtual concerts are clearly successful because consumers are given a new way to interact with their favourite music acts. It’s worth keeping in mind that many players may attend these gigs even if they aren’t a fan of the musical star, purely for the spectacle.
This is an easily monetised side hustle. Selling skins, items and accessories in the lead up to a concert or experience not only benefits the developers and publishers of the game but the artist too. Given the changes in the world since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, virtual attendance is appealing, more so when you consider the interactivity virtual concerts offer compared to their ‘real world’ counterparts. Artists can sell tickets and merchandise recouping revenue lost during the pandemic.
Over on the Roblox platform, acts such as Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots have hosted concert experiences. Users can convert their cash into Robux and buy T-shirts and hats, showing them off within games.
More recently, Wave put on a virtual concert for Justin Bieber and the strategic shooter game Scavengers hosted K-Pop idol AleXa. It’s these latter examples that point to a possible future within the metaverse as they experiment with crowd participation and real-time performances, they also differentiate themselves from Fortnite and Roblox, by creating more fan participation.
While it looked like Justin Bieber had been fully prerecorded, AleXa interacted with the crowd in real-time, much as they would at a traditional concert. Each of these concerts asked the attendees to mash buttons to hype up the artists or throw up glow sticks to create that gig atmosphere.
With improvements in VR and AR, it makes sense that the next step in entertainment will embrace these technologies. In fact, VR is already a usable tool for concertgoers, albeit with some restrictions. MelodyVR – soon to be rebranded as Napster – an app for Oculus devices, allows viewers to purchase tickets to a show and watch it using the VR headset. MelodyVR feels a bit like those early DVD extras, which allowed you to watch a scene from different angles. Once the concert is loaded, you can choose from many positions to watch from, including mosh pits and the wings of the stage. Some angles truly make the user a part of the show by positioning them on the stage, with the performer moving around them.
Horizon Venues is another portal for entertainment, both live and prerecorded, except here your avatar is relegated to a seating area while the performance takes place on a screen. This emulates a cinema, rather than an arena, but the visual fidelity is much better. Using this tool to sit with a friend and watch the latest Marvel film or stand-up comedian would be one step closer to the metaverse often depicted.
Attempting to stand out within the metaverse, is Sensorium Galaxy. Sensorium empowers the concertgoer with a digital avatar who can be fully customised, before attending the gig. Sensorium has already announced a bucketload of virtual concerts with some of the biggest DJs in the world – Carl Cox, David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Charlotte de Witte and many more. These powerhouses in dance music are scanned and captured in motion capture creating a “photo-realistic’ avatar to perform and interact with fans. Sensorium can be used via VR for a “fully immersive experience” which will be unlike anything found in existing experience platforms.
As time passes, video quality will get better, the sound will improve and the metaverse will envelop these experiences, pulling them into the decentralised network. Going to a gig will come in two forms – visiting the arena and using your smartphone to access AR features, or watching from home via VR. It makes a great deal of sense from the artists perspective, especially given the cut to revenue during the pandemic.
We’re still quite a way from Ready Player One, but if Roblox is anything to go by, younger audiences are already preparing themselves for the metaverse revolution. With a concert on the Roblox platform, players can gather together, chat and dance, sometimes interacting with the artist via prompts. What removes this from a true metaverse experience is the lack of seamless movement. You don’t start at your house, on your own land and walk to the venue. You don’t look into the distance and see the rest of the city sprawling before you, ripe for exploration. This will be a future step.
The metaverse needs to bring all of this together, grouping the disparate ventures and creating an experience that benefits the user both digitally and physically. If you were to walk from your house to the arena, meet friends along the way and use VOIP chat to converse, that’s one step. If, when you arrive, you can buy an NFT poster for your digital bedroom, plus a T-shirt for your avatar – all from a digital avatar vendor – it would help if the physical versions of these were then dispatched to your home.
Combining current and emerging technology will bring a rounded experience to everything from games to concerts; work meetings to dating. However, a few things need to change first – VR headsets must become more affordable, or be pushed via government programs. Seamless experiences will only develop if corporations begin working together to decentralise the digital space. Early adoption must try to offer metaverse existence through AR or VR as the cherry on the cake, where our current lives are the cake beneath. The first rung on the ladder is getting everyone together in sections of the metaverse, using the technology available to us. The next step will be folding them all together.