Fortnite is slowly becoming an events business

On Saturday, “Fortnite” debuts a three-week-long concert series called Spotlight. The company built a “state-of-the-art studio space in Los Angeles” in which entertainers can perform for an in-game audience. The first artist, Dominic Fike, performs Saturday on center stage inside the Party Royale mode.

“It’s really an evolution of that and wanting to take the production quality and all the things we can do in music to do the next level, and have a regular heartbeat of live music events within ‘Fortnite,’” said Nate Nanzer, “Fortnite” head of global partnerships. “It’s this very lean-forward, engaged social experience. It’s not like watching a stream at home or on another platform.”

The Los Angeles studio in which Pike and others will perform — which will follow pandemic-related health precautions — is an “XR,” or “extended reality,” set, which can create real-time graphics for a virtual environment cast on LED screens. So instead of the Zoom-from-home quality DJ sets that Party Royale hosted in the past, the Spotlight-produced events can feel more like a live production, using video assets from a concert tour or music video.

The production team in Los Angeles consists of experienced event coordinators who helped put together the annual Fortnite World Cup, held at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York and watched by millions online.

“We have our video production and our creative services, our marketing team,” Nanzer said. “We have multiple teams that all come together to make these events happen. We’re working very collaboratively with the record labels and artists to help promote these events.”

Nanzer said Epic hopes to leverage Unreal Engine to layer in other special effects. Outside of “Fortnite,” creating the Unreal Engine is Epic Games’s other big business, powering the development of many games today, along with film and TV productions.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who’s followed Epic Games. Its CEO Tim Sweeney has been very public about his intention to turn “Fortnite” into a virtual living space. Sweeney has said he hopes to get “Fortnite” to a place where artists don’t need to work with Epic at all to perform at a space.

“We’re not there yet, but that’s definitely the vision,” Nanzer said. “If you look at what Creative Mode is today, where you have millions of viewers engaging with content made by people outside Epic Games. You can see that evolving over time to new things like music. We’re in active conversations every day in the music industry.”

“Fortnite” has also been the epicenter of tech controversy. Currently it’s embroiled in a high-profile legal battle against Apple and Google over their app store policies. Its community is also wondering about the game’s identity. For example, the latest season is completely taken over by Marvel superheroes.

But when it comes to live music and events, this isn’t a direct monetization strategy for Epic, Nanzer said.

“We’re not selling tickets, we’re not selling sponsorships,” Nanzer said. “We’re not doing this because we think it’s a new monetization vector. We’re doing this because we want to continue to evolve ‘Fortnite’ into really being a platform where there’s all sorts of experiences I can come to enjoy with my friends.”

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