Since its initial release in 2017, it has been hard to get away from Epic Games’ runaway success, Fortnite. The online game became a cultural phenomenon, with over 125 million players less than a year after its release and profits running into the billions. Celebrities like Drake and Travis Scott jumped on board, eager to associate themselves with the game first as fans. Then as players by participating in streamer Ninja’s Fortnite Battle Royale stream on Twitch, which broke the platform’s previous viewer records and lead to Epic Games organizing its own pro-am match-up for the mode at E3 2018.
In a few short years, Fortnite became so much more than just a free-to-play game; it became one of the most significant and persistent media events in the last century. Its millions of players are participating in a shared experience as they play through Fortnite‘s various seasonal storylines and events. Although many online games in the past have followed a similar model, nothing has bled into popular culture in the same way, and Epic Games is only hoping to build on this with the creation of its own “metaverse.” With its recent acquisition of indie developer Harmonix, it opens up some interesting avenues for how this can be achieved.
The metaverse is a slightly nebulous term referring to a virtual space that is collectively experienced by those participating in it. Think Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, where humans would simultaneously exist in the physical world, but through the help of AR they can also exist in a shared digital realm. This may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but developers already have eyes on creating some form of this in the near future. While Epic Games’ plans for its own “metaverse” may not be quite as extensive as Cline’s depiction, its acquisition of Rock Band developer Harmonix shows that it’s definitely looking towards expansion and innovation.
Players can already see versions of these early metaverse experiences springing up, some in the form of in-game economies, where players are creating things digitally and selling, bartering, or trading them virtually with real physical currencies or items. With companies like Facebook acquiring Oculus in a bid to work towards the combination of the virtual and the real, it is no longer a matter of “if,” but of “when” in terms of realizing some form of a metaverse. Epic Games is determined to get ahead of the crowd and bring its version of a metaverse to players, with plans to utilize its already massive reach to bring people together into a virtual world.
How Harmonix Can Help
In November of this year, Epic Games announced that it had acquired Harmonix — creator of the Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Dance Central franchises. In its statement, Epic Games said that the “Harmonix team will collaborate closely with Epic to develop musical journeys and gameplay for Fortnite,” in a move that will no doubt interest fans of music and games alike with its potential implications.
Just what exactly this collaboration means for players is yet to be determined. However, with Harmonix Co-Founder and Chairmain Alex Rigopulos promising that it will “push the creative boundaries of what’s possible and invent new ways for our players to make, perform, and share music,” the possibilities really do seem endless.
Fortnite already has an extensive relationship with music, as it pioneered popular ways to bring artists to the in-game world with interactive concerts, like Ariane Grande‘s Rift Tour or Travis Scott’s Astronomical. In addition to infusing the music and artists into the world of the game, Fortnite creates a truly immersive experience that would never be possible in the real world. With Harmonix coming onboard, it could mean that players have the chance to create these kinds of experiential moments for themselves, as Epic implements its version of a metaverse where gamers can come together to witness the wholly unique and collaborative possibilities of the medium.
Fortnite is free-to-play on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
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Jessica Barnes (27 Articles Published)