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“Astronomical” and The Implication it Holds For The Future of Concerts

Fortnite, in collaboration with rapper Travis $cott, has made headlines again with “Astronomical”, an in-game event that provided players with a live concert.


A screenshot taken during 'Astronomical", the second in-game live concert held by Fortnite. Over 12 million players were logged on for the event.

The event, which occurred at 7 pm on April 23, lasted for approximately 10 minutes and shattered records with over 12.3 million players online at once. For context, the last in-game concert featuring producer and DJ Marshmello was only able to peak at a little over 10 million simultaneous players. Many questions have been raised following this that revolve around the future of concerts.


As many are well aware, the nation-wide quarantine due to COVID19 has left many people unable to leave their homes resulting in the cancellations of many events; specifically, concerts. This has led to many rappers and artists missing out on potentially millions of dollars and leaves many fans anxiously waiting for the day concerts return.


According to an article from Genius, that day may not come until early 2021.


This is mostly due to state shutdowns, foreign travel bans and the prohibiting of large gatherings and major events. Many other large industries like sports and cinema have been dramatically impacted by these events.


At any other point in time, this would be devastating news. But the current year is 2020 and technology brings with it many different possibilities and options. Companies like Skype and Zoom, two of the dominating online chat room sites, provide platforms that connect people across the globe. Fortnite provides a “virtual sandbox” allowing players to run around and move freely around a virtual world similarly to real life. Streaming services like YouTube, Twitch and Instagram Live also provide live streaming. These are only some of the options available for people to access; and the best part about them? They’re free.


Live concerts may not return until 2021. Artists need to explore more options as COVID limits future social gatherings.

The difficulty revolving around these free platforms is how artists can make money from them. In 2017 alone, the concert industry was estimated to have made over $8 billion but this is mostly due to physical ticket sales as well as merchandise; both of which would be challenging to implement in an online space.


So, what are the options?


In the case of Travis $cott, his collaboration brought with it several in-game cosmetics in the form of skins that players could purchase. Other companies such as Twitch have features like subscriptions and donations that directly support the creator and/or streamer. Instagram is mostly known for its influencers who work with companies or brands to provide sponsored content and ads to their followers.


However, the main question is if concerts should make the move to incorporate digital events in the future. After all, the main appeal of concerts is the gathering of fans to experience a live performance in-person. While it may come down to a matter of opinion, there are pros and cons to both approaches.


For example, looking at Travis $cott and Marshmello. Their events weren’t exactly “live”. Their vocals and in-game character models were prepared ahead of time, either creating them in conjunction with Fortnite or taking the vocals directly from their tracks. Due to the event being prepared early, Fortnite was able to provide a very unique experience of visuals and player movement as players were tossed and teleported strategically around the map with each song. While being at the mercy of the developers, players were still able to float and look around freely which allowed players to either get up-close to the action or stay back for a better view. As each song or set piece changed, players would be teleported closer to the visuals again so that they wouldn’t wander off too far. An approach like this is great for fans since live, ticketed events usually allow people to stay in a general area with little to no flexibility on their view.


Marshmello and Fortnite collaboration concert.

Virtual concerts also have the potential to reach across the globe, giving access to the event that some people may otherwise be unable to access. This in-turn allows for a much larger turnout. Woodstock, the largest live concert ever held, was estimated to have approximately 400,000 people in attendance, which is only a small fraction of the numbers that Marshmello and $cott were able to bring.


One obvious con of hosting a virtual event is the lack of interactivity. Witnessing a concert live and in-person is an experience that cannot be replicated easily. Many unique interactions and friendships can come from attending a live event. Artists interact with individual fans, ranging from simple high-fives to pulling someone on stage to help perform a song. Needless to say, something like this would be hard to replicate through a monitor. Lastly, vendors and merchandise would take a hit as these business models thrive due to their connection with the venue. Depending on the medium, merchandise could still be a possibility using tools like Amazon or other online retailers.

One modern feat of technology that could help bring the idea of virtual concerts could be virtual reality; better known as VR. VR has been around technically since 1995 with the introduction of the Virtual Boy from Nintendo. However, the Virtual Boy was seen as a failure and production was discontinued later on that same year.


VR can become a useful tool for virtual concerts as technology continues to improve.

Now, companies like PlayStation and Oculus have devised relatively more applicable VR headsets that can display decent quality images while also preserving the user’s immersion. While not perfected, modern VR headsets would pair well with virtual concerts due to their visual feedback and fairly simple controls. The only factor that keeps most people away from VR is the entry cost, as it tends to lean more on the expensive side. Oculus and PlayStation both charge upwards of $300-$400 for their headsets with a fairly lackluster lineup of games to go along with them. As a consumer, you’d really just be paying for the VR experience more than the actual fun of it. The point, however, is that in just a few short years we could see major improvement in this technology and as it becomes more affordable, it can become more of a viable option.

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