What are they, and are they the future of shows?
This past weekend saw the latest installment of an apparent new trend -- virtual concerts hosted in-game in popular video games. Fortnight, the ultra-trendy first-person-shooter game (which amassed over 350 million users worldwide at the height of the pandemic) hosted a concert Saturday with the Grammy-nominated electronic music producer and DJ Kaskade. These in-game concerts have become more common recently, especially as in-person gatherings remain suspended due to COVID-19. In theory, virtual shows allow artists to connect with fans across the world for a more affordable ticket price and sans the logistical nightmare of touring. But could virtual concerts really be the future of live music?
These concerts have seen growing success, accelerated in the last year. Travis Scott made headlines in April 2020 when he played a Fortnite concert after his in-person shows for the spring were canceled. At the time, many called the event ridiculous and a waste of resources. But 27.7 million unique players took part in the event, the most Fortnite (and, certainly, Travis Scott) had ever seen at a single event. The concert launched Travis Scott’s subsequent single to #1 on the Hot 100, he gained 1.4 million Instagram followers in the following week, and nearly 9,000 media outlets picked up the story. The concert was an undeniably massive success for Travis Scott, Fortnite, and Epic Games. Other games and artists have also seen huge success with this format: Minecraft has hosted virtual concerts and festivals (like the creatively named Block by Blockwest), Marshmelo took to the Fortnite stage in 2019 and amassed over 10 million viewers, and so on.
Of course, not everyone is on board with the new virtual format. Many have claimed that virtual shows are simply not the same -- the magic of concerts doesn’t translate to the virtual space. Further, many bands have said that a significant portion of their revenue comes from being on the road. Pop-punk band Neck Deep stated that 80% of their revenue comes from touring; in order for bands like that to comfortably transfer into the virtual space, or at least make incorporating some virtual shows worth their while, there would need to be significant monetization of the event, including ads and digital merch sales.
Everyone’s itching for live music to return, and live concerts may be on the horizon in the US. But virtual concerts won’t go down in history as a relic of the pandemic -- it seems they’re here to stay, and will change the way events in the music industry work.