This past week before Apex Legends stole all its headlines and Twitchviewers, Fortnite was making waves with an in-game Marshmello concertthat may not have been the first virtual show ever, but it was certainly far and away the most viewed with over 10 million concurrent players tuning in not just to watch it, but to actually “attend.”
The Marshmello concert, like a number of other Fortnite events, from the rocket launch to the Cube explosion will be burned in my mind for a long while as something unique to not just gaming, but this game, which keeps pushing the envelope in new and unexpected ways.
It increasingly seems like Fortnite is evolving past a popular battle royale title and into…something else entirely. It’s been reported for a while now that Fortnite essentially acts as a social network for many younger kids who get together not just to shoot stuff, but to essentially hang out. I’ve spoken to many parents who relay that their kid almost can’t not play Fortnite, lest they be left out of the social conversation at school. Not being on Fortnite for many of these kids in 2019 would be like me not being on Facebook heading into college in 2004. If you weren’t there, it was like you didn’t exist.
The Marshmello concert really struck a chord for me in particular though. Years ago, I remember hearing about how VR was going to change the world, and we’d all be living online in virtual spaces virtually hanging out and doing things like…going to virtual concerts.
Obviously we do not live in this ultra-connected VR utopia that was promised, as the tech is still barely getting off the ground, and at a much slower pace than most predicted. And yet that place does exist, and more often than not lately, it’s been Fortnite. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took another full decade to get 10 million people to tune into the same Virtual Reality concert, but Fortnite did it without breaking a sweat a week ago.
So, what happens when Fortnite keeps evolving? I’m not sure, but I feel it happening, and I am incredibly curious as to where all this is going. Epic has taken huge steps in this direction with the addition of Creative Mode, a combat-free experimental portion of the game where players can build their own structures, cities and islands using Epic’s own tools.
It is easy to see how if this concept continues to expand, that we could find Fortnite, at least an aspect of it, grow into something akin to The Sims or Second Life. You can build a Fortnite mansion for you and your friends to hang out at when you’re not playing on the battlefield. You can visit your friends’ houses, virtual storefronts, I mean, who knows, really. The point is that Fortnite feels like it’s building more than just an expanding battle royale game, but an entire, virtual world.
Perhaps this dream doesn’t end up getting realized. Perhaps Fortnite’s star will fade and we’ll just remember those 18 months or whatever that the game was the biggest thing on earth. That’s the logical path most ultra-hit games take, but I can’t shake the feeling that Epic has handled Fortnite’s sprawling success better than almost any other company. In a year they’ve not only kept Fortnite relevant in the gaming community, but they’ve used its success to launch the most significant PC gaming storefront since Steamwith the Epic Games Store. They have billions of dollars at their disposal and they do not strike me like a company that is likely to chuck all that down a drain.
I know we are a year or so into the Fortnite era, but in a lot of ways it feels like we are just starting to see the beginning of something, and what Fortniteand Epic will become seems like it will reshape the industry, more so than we’ve already seen.