The ‘Fortnite effect’: It's not just a video game, players have purchasing power

May 17, 2020 4:35 AM
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The global hit video game Fortnite recently held an online concert featuring rapper Travis Scott, attracting a 12m-strong live audience. To put this into perspective, such viewer numbers are on par with ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”, one of the longest-running, prime time, commercial network programs in the US.

If this isn’t a wakeup call to the compelling power of gaming as a global entertainment medium, I don’t know what is.

For Travis’ in-game Fortnite concert, five events were staged across three days and performed inside the game. Yes, that’s right. You needed to load the game up on your platform of choice, run your character over to an arena location inside the games world, and there you could watch Travis descend from space, to the virtual stage.

As a planet-like object hovered above you, a glowing star crashed to earth, hurtling you and all other players away in an explosion of sound and colour. A 100-storey tall Travis then appeared from the crash site, modelled in an uncanny 3D likeness, his avatar complete with tattoos and signature braided hairstyle.

As he rapped, he flickered in and out of vision, teleporting around the world.

Imagine proposing to take an artist on a five-show tour during the biggest pandemic of our generation? Well the team at Epic Games – the creators of Fornite and one of the world’s most advanced game engines, Unreal Engine – achieved just that.

Deep into the impacts of COVID-19 – at a time when most people can’t leave their house, let alone consider gathering for a concert in the near future – Fortnite succeeded in creating a cultural tour de force. With no technical hiccups, it attracted a combined attendance of 27.7m and sales of thousands, if not millions, of pieces of ‘merchandise’, all without print screening a single tour shirt, or anyone leaving their home.

For the uninitiated, technically speaking, yes, Fortnite is a video game. You start by gliding down into the map to begin a game, often asking your friends the popular catch-cry “Where are we dropping?”.

After this, you proceed to shoot other players in a game of survival to be the last one standing. However, to oversimplify this as just a video game is part of the problem, it’s why this great cultural shift is often misunderstood.

Fortnite isn’t just a game, it’s a massive social network. It has become a destination not just to play but to learn dance moves, to hang out, and even to create airports. Unlike ‘Monday Night Football’ (and almost all TV shows for that matter, with the exception of interactive content on Netflix), gaming gives the viewer agency. You’re a participant. You can jump, run, talk, swim or even just nod your head.

Of course, if you prefer a more passive approach, you can also sit back and watch others take part in the experience. In fact, many gamers streamed Travis’ event, and it’s enjoying view rates on YouTube in the millions.

With 250m actively engaged users, Fortnite represents a gigantic audience – one that is willing to spend real dollars on buying virtual merchandise, to support professional gamers through patrons, and to impact many other affiliated services and products.

For example, this ‘Fortnite effect’ led Travis’ song The Scotts to become Spotify’s biggest streaming debut of 2020. According to the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, the average Australian gamer is now 34-years-old and although that might not be the case for Fortnite’s audience, it further supports the broadening of an audience with real buying power under its belt.

Whilst many now know that the global games market far surpasses both the global box office and music revenues, it is set to grow even further with smartphone penetration and the impending emergence of AR, VR and 5G.

As more brands lean in and start to understand gaming’s captivating power to transcend distance, age, physical attributes and even the laws of physics itself, the sky really is the limit.

If Fortnite can garner 45.8m unique views across three days, imagine what we can do when we integrate gaming platforms into media strategies and power it with creative that thinks natively in this space.

Where are we dropping next?


Kaga Bryan is content director at Publicis Groupe

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