It is constantly repeated at this point that COVID-19 has affected every industry. The music industry relies on and thrives off human interaction, which means the industry has had a particularly devastating blow to its artists, producers and companies. The inability to conduct live performances proves costly to the $50 billion global music industry which is losing over 50% of its profits. These hurdles will not end when lockdown eases, either. Social distancing measures will likely have to remain in place, which means venues and clubs will be required to change how they operate. The road ahead is fraught with challenges, as live performances will mean limited capacities and reduced audience numbers. COVID-19 is bringing talent onto the virtual stage of video games again. Although it’s been done before, the pandemic has only accelerated the trend and has made it a mainstream possibility.
The Road Leading to Travis Scott
There is an increasing number of artists who utilise social media platforms and streaming platforms to reach their audiences and fans. Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitch provide easy access for musicians to achieve this goal. Live performances are now being transformed into virtual worlds that performers can share with other users on video game platforms. Travis Scott has been the most recent example. As we entered lockdown, Scott performed on Fortnite, which amassed an audience in the range of millions. Astronomical was a “musical journey” hosted by Fortnite and performed by Travis Scott. It featured various virtual tour dates on the app so everyone had the opportunity to experience it and you could also collect gear prior to the show. It had everything a concert needs.
The success of Astronomical by Travis Scott and Fortnite has been the largest collaboration to date between the music and the gaming industry. It seems a new precedent has been set for virtual concerts. No longer are artists just performing on a virtual stage, but they’re attempting to create a virtual world that acts as an extension of musicians and their audiences. The event garnered over 12 million viewers for a ten-minute concert – enough to fill any stadium a hundred times over. Scott performed songs spanning his discography and debuted his new track, ‘The Scotts‘ featuring Kid Cudi, which rocketed its way to the top of the Billboard charts soon after. It was a ‘cultural reset’, in the sense that the performance was filled with attention to detail, and it showed how interactive live entertainment could be in the virtual realm.
As mentioned, this is not the first instance in which an artist has performed in a video game. In 2003, after the release of Second Life, the virtual reality game invited musicians, promoters and companies to perform concerts among virtual crowds. There are other games that followed that precedent: The Sims, Minecraft, World of Tanks, Adventure Quest 3D and Fortnite, to name a few. The games have been known to host concerts, even music festivals, in their respective digital spaces. The music industry has embraced the visual possibilities of the gaming industry, whilst the gaming industry has embraced the theatricality and performative nature of music.
Pulling Virtual Concerts Together
You may think that performing a setlist shorter than 10 minutes is no great feat. If you spoke to video game developers they would tell you otherwise. These events are not easy to create, they are actually quite hard to produce. There are many components that go into live music and the same can be said for virtual music. Both processes require programmers, designers, artists, sound designers, programmers and effects specialists. They are the people who build these virtual spaces, test them, fix them and ensure that virtual concerts can go off without a hitch. There is the additional work of animating the artists themselves, which often requires motion capture. I think these performances will become more mainstream, but will not progress into a regular occurrence yet. Any developer can have a great turnaround rate when it comes to updating virtual spaces but to ensure it is achieved ethically with proper working hours, you should expect to have longer waiting times.
The amount of work involved in stringing these virtual events together has not put off other creators, though. There are other virtual platforms still involved in providing virtual concerts, for example, Korn appearing for a performance in Adventure Quest 3D. The Offspring, alternatively, featured in World of Tanks. Fortnite is one of the largest gaming platforms in the world and can afford these virtual concerts, have the resources to execute them. Although can they continue to achieve the same level of success that they did with Travis Scott? The performances were visual masterpieces and ensured that they stood out from other virtual acts. There is now a pressure to achieve the same quality and success for each performance, for both the artists and the developers, as a flop or a success can change how virtual performances are perceived.
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World of Tanks has just added an Offspring tank inside their game! For a limited time only, you can get a custom Offspring tank, so you can ride around with Dexter and Noodles and listen to “The Kids Aren’t Alright” while you play. If you’re not a member yet, join the game now with a special starter pack. (link in story) #wot #worldoftanks #OffspringxWoT
Nonetheless, technology is constantly maturing, so we should expect to see more artists in virtual concerts exercising more creativity. These performances are an extension of who the artist is and what their music is about, much like a live performance. In the virtual world, anything goes.
Interactivity, Functionality and Player Agency
Following the ‘Astronomical’ Concert, Fortnite has been streaming Party Royale, whereby players can come and watch their favourite DJs perform their hit tracks. The acts include Diplo, Steve Aoki and Dillon Francis among many others. These ventures into virtual performances are not unprecedented but this current level of interactivity within them is. Of course, music has been fundamental in creating soundtracks for video games and has been essential in how interactive a game is. An initial attempt at interactivity and player agency for music was the dance mat. This moved onto titles like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Just Dance. These video games brought in more interactivity between players and artists, yet they were in the form of challenges, and still separated these virtual experiences from reality.
‘Interactivity’ and ‘Immersion’ are fundamental concepts in understanding and analysing video games. The extent of the functionality can influence how interactive and immersive virtual musical experiences are. For instance, Grand Theft Auto V, it enabled access to famous DJs when players entered nightclubs through online gameplay. A user could listen to music, with no strings attached, and you can enjoy it without obstacles much like in real life.
Replacing Live Concerts?
The popularity of virtual concerts is undeniable. Because they are accessible to many audiences, so the artists can reach numbers in the range of millions. Although the demand for physical concerts can never be replaced, it is a unique experience in its own right. These virtual worlds are limitless, interactivity is not and it becomes limited in these spaces, which creates the need and market for live performances to continue.
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For anyone that’s been to a concert, it is hard to replicate or recreate the feelings that come with it – from being with others who have come together to share the experience of a performance. Sure, it is easy to predict that virtual concerts and performances will become more mainstream, but that’s because gaming spaces are so prevalent right now.
The Future of Live Music
My initial prediction is that virtual music performances will become more mainstream. These concerts and performances will be harder to configure as each performance tries to better the previous one, but they will occur nonetheless, and draw in audiences. My next prediction is that they will not be able to fully replace live performance. Both, virtual performances and live performances, present opportunities to raise revenue through merchandise and unlockable features.
Given that, functionality is being increased, because the gaming industry is always attempting to heighten interactivity and immersion from players. It seems live music through video games will have more personal choices. This could result from changes over tracklists to joining artists on stage and becoming part of the performances themselves. The artists, promoters and labels are getting excellent PR out of these events. The games and developers are getting people to log-in, interact and immerse themselves in the virtual world. It is a lucrative deal for both industries and COVID-19 has only sped up these trends and processes. There is more to come as live music will be collaborating with video games more frequently.