What are we going to do with video games? And Fortnite? This period of confinement, which has shut down almost half of the world’s population, has created a spark in the gaming world. I would not lie to you if I said that I am not a “Gamer”. A player yes, from time to time, but not a “Gamer”, to the point of being able to hold a discussion on the latest game releases at Epic Games, or give my opinion on the last Xbox conference that revealed the new games on its console “ next gen ».
Yet, forever, the virtual universe of video games seemed to me to attract our social life so much. Epic Games, which meant nothing to me, has turned into a digital giant, ready to welcome more than 12 million spectators in a concert seen from a TV, computer, smartphone or tablet. Epic Games, the name that also rhymed with Travis Scott, one of the most popular rappers in 2020, and that turns the heads of millions of fans who would spend fortunes to go see it.
On April 25, Travis Scott’s concert on Fortnite was free. After several months of preparation to generate the virtual animations, the rapper from Houston, Texas, appeared on the screen as an avatar. Accessible for free on all devices, the Fortnite game discarded the activity of “Gamers”, to welcome a much wider audience with open arms and far from having the idea of going to Fortnite during the confinement. Like me. And like you maybe.
“What are we going to do with Fortnite?” “. My question only follows from another, which appeared on Twitter on December 26, 2019. “Do you see Fortnite as a game, or as a platform? “ asked a social media user on the bluebird, speaking to Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Epic Games. Do I have the right to wonder, I who know nothing about it, if the sudden appearance of Fortnite in my interests is not a sign?
The answer has been no secret since December. Within minutes of his tweet, the player was able to receive a response from the Epic Games boss in person. “Fortnite is a game. But please ask this question again in 12 months” said Tim Sweeney, paving the way for a vast intrigue.
Fortnite is a game. But please ask that question again in 12 months.
– Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) December 26, 2019
350 million players, and after?
Tim Sweeney was telling the truth. Five months after its tweet, Fortnite is still a video game. But since containment has helped accelerate our digital tools, the video game industry has benefited, with Fortnite in the lead. On Thursday, May 7, Epic Games said that the number of players in its flagship game had just reached 350 million users. Last year they were 100 million less, and much of that growth has come in recent weeks. Fortnite had 3.2 billion game hours in April.
Like video conferencing tools, video on demand platforms and online commerce, the video game industry is benefiting from the current health crisis. On the other hand, the growth of its revenues hides more delicate news concerning the release of new hardware, like the next PS5 and Xbox Series X. As I write these lines, the organizing committee of Paris Games Week has just announced the cancellation of the 2020 edition of its event. As in other sectors like cinema, the coronavirus epidemic may make its passage felt in the future.
But Fortnite, is a three year old game and its indicators are still in the green. To say, since its release on July 21, 2017, its popularity curve has not gone down. The 100 million new players are “Gamers”, but not all of them are. They are very certainly like you and me, to attend the concert of Travis Scott, free of charge, with the feeling of being among the public, live, to enjoy a virtual event which offered an experience close to what we are looking for in the real world.
Fantasy and dystopia
In parallel to the Travis Scott concert, Fortnite players will have noticed that a new island is now available, where the weapons of the “battle royale” have given way to a quieter atmosphere. The new mode is called “Party Royale”, and immerses our avatar in a new setting where it is possible to chat with others. A strange cinema screen is also available, reinforcing our assumptions. Tomorrow, Saturday May 9, 2020, Fortnite will leave for a new event as a thank you for the 100 million new players who joined the adventure. Three DJs will be invited to this new island for a concert: Dillon Francis, deadmau5 or Steve Aoki.
Do you really have to wait twelve months before knowing what will become of Fortnite? Maybe not. “It’s definitely a social platform” said Tom Edwards, director of innovation at Epsilon, a data marketing agency. The track is the right one, and a study published in June 2019 seems even clearer to me: “Unlike other platforms and services, Fortnite uniquely combines the benefits of games, social media and streaming platforms, providing consumers with a unique experience Said a report by NRG, a brand consulting firm specializing in the intersection of entertainment and technology.
Of course, I should talk about Animal Crossing, and its latest installment “New Horizon”, released on March 20, is more like a living space where users can socialize and model their daily activities in a virtual setting. But Fortnite now has 350 million subscribers. More than Twitter. That is to say. If I will wait a few more months to question Epic Games again regarding the continuation of its adventure with Fortnite, it seems that the post-confinement will mark an observation: the evolution of habits has accelerated. Fortnite has strengthened its intention, that the game leaves more room for the platform.
The period is exciting. But inevitably, for video game enthusiasts, the idea that a program becomes more of an open world where we are free to reproduce real-life activities and behaviors is not new. Facebook imagines it with “Horizon”, presented last year, which seems to me the most striking project of the examples. Thanks to its subsidiary Oculus, which markets virtual reality headsets, players will be able to enter a virtual world incorporating some of the characteristics of the current social network. A virtual, parallel, feared or fantasized world for years.
The notion of “Metaverse”
Fortnite is just one example. The hypothesis of the evolution of video games towards a platform can be generalized to the entire industry. In Neal Stephenson’s novel, Snow Crash (1992), the term “metaverse” (for “meta” and “universe”) was used by several media in these times of confinement. Matthew Ball, a former executive at Amazon, said in an article in the Washington Post than “Fortnite, as a social network and cultural phenomenon that cannot be ignored, provides Epic Games with a key advantage in leading the race for Metaverse”. To do this, big technological barriers will have to be crossed. But slowly, with the arrival of VR, cloud gaming, and the emergence of relational applications, the first stones of a revolution are beginning to be laid.
The technologies are not ready, but neither are we. “Do we want to exist in reality, or do we want to exist in a universe of escape? “questioned director Steven Spielberg at a press conference in Los Angeles following the release of his film Ready Player One, in 2018. OASIS, as defined in the feature film, is a virtual universe where humans take refuge while the world is on the brink of chaos. A film that posed the foundations of the questions that will soon arise in video games.
Last February, during the DICE summit which brought together the main game leaders to discuss the future of the industry, several debates raised the question of metaverse. Gene Park, journalist at Washington Post, reported on the discussions in an article, stating that “the current debate on open or closed platforms was about the choice between more creativity or more control” by the developers.
Jason Rubin, vice president of special games initiatives for Facebook, acknowledged that the industry is looking into the matter: “There is going to be a Metaverse, and it is not clear whether it will be an open platform, or even a platform”, he wondered, before adding that “The arguments we should have are: should we be more open than we are now, or should we be more closed than we are now?” This would lead to a more rational discussion. “
The question still varies between fantasy and dystopia. But as with the lenses of our glasses that allow us to see more clearly, this revolution is bringing cinema, music, video games and social networks to converge in a single universe. In an ideal functioning, this platform will recall the values at the origin of the mainstream Internet: an international, free, accessible network, with culture and openness to others. Next December 26, a year after the symbolic tweet from the CEO of Epic Games, I will be longing to ask the question again: what are we going to do with Fortnite? Curiously, in a period of confinement, we found solutions for our freedom. Because the first freedom is within us, and we are often the first prison.