08 May Dr. Jonathan Cartu Reports – Video Games Are Changing Live Music in the Midst of…
Concerts and festivals may never be the same
With the advent of COVID-19, many events are being canceled as people are encouraged to stay inside. This of course is bad news to everyone, but to music festival and concert goers it’s even worse. Many big events such as Coachella, SXSW, and Live Nation have been delayed or canceled. Worse yet, small local venues are all closed. But some events have decided to make the switch to the virtual environment.
As well, live streaming services and social media have become more and more useful for artists and fans enduring the quarantine. Plenty of artists and DJs have already taken to their platform of choice, whether that be Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or Twitch to perform probably their first ever virtual concert. This has led many artists to consider not only virtual concerts but also virtual and augmented reality fuelled venues.
Companies like WaveVR and NextVR have already built solutions for virtual concerts and entertainment, but they haven’t seen widespread adoption (much like VR itself, which is still something of a niche platform).
There music industry has, of course, had a history of live events going back decades. These came in the form of live broadcasts; there have been plenty of these (both on TV and online), but they always lacked the engagement element. The energy and experience of being part of the crowd that love music — and are all listening to it together, in person — arguably contributes to what makes music festivals and concerts so powerful.
Just last month I discovered the true potential of virtual music festivals and concerts thanks to hit titles Minecraft and Fortnite.
Minecraft concerts are, perhaps surprisingly, nothing new. But under COVID-19 the appeal has become more widespread. I don’t usually do this, but I did attend the Minecraft concert Square Garden just to see what my friends were hyped about. And the experience was kinda what I expected. It wasn’t some crazy virtual distance rave; but with a serious gameplay overhaul it could have been.
Minecraft servers aren’t exactly the best servers though. And the current iteration of Minecraft concerts require a lot of behind-the-scenes Minecraft modding to accommodate thousands of attendees.
When the server went live — along with the Twitch stream that supplied the music — pretty much everyone had the experience of spamming the ‘join server’ button, getting timed out, possibly connecting for a second, then getting kicked, and retrying. The Minecraft netcode that went into it was actually pretty interesting, as there were tons of rooms with a capacity of 100 each that you could switch to. At first 30 of these rooms came online but as the server capacity filled up the server would continue to upgrade it’s capacity until they actually reached capacity and had to close the server to new connections.
I joined and eagerly walked my avatar down the path to see what awaited me in this virtual concert setting. I had fitted my avatar with an astronaut costume that I downloaded 10 years ago so I was rolling in style. I began looking around for interaction opportunities. The main interaction was mostly the chat — not unlike the Twitch chat that the music came from — except unfiltered. There were some specially-coded interactions which would let me buy the merchandise for the concert, donate, and probably the only real ‘gamey’ interaction was the inclusion of a free drink. When consuming the drink your screen became wiggly for a few seconds. But besides this you couldn’t build or destroy anything, you couldn’t hurt anyone. You were just a Minecraft player on a prebuilt server with others.
Somehow though, this didn’t take away from the similar feeling of attending a concert. When the headlining artists or a favorite song came on, and you’re there in the virtual pit, with the DJ on stage, and a bunch of Minecraft avatars are jumping around, you can’t help but want to join in moshing and holding down the spacebar.
This obviously wasn’t the perfect virtual festival experience, but it did give me an idea of what the future of virtual music concerts could and probably will be. With an actual networking solution that is definitely not built on modern Minecraft servers, and an in-game voice chat plus an audio speaker system with proper mixing, virtual concerts can actually contend with the experience of real life concerts. Even the unpredictable nature of the mob and crazy events could be substituted virtually, by changing the rules and environment of the game/concert space.
“My friends and I joked that this would be the greatest rave ever if they allowed Minecraft players to damage each other and destroy and build on the server.”
Though Minecraft concerts are possibly the more authentic group concert experience, the Fortnite virtual concert that premiered last month was truly groundbreaking. For a live service event the Fortnite Travis Scott concert was absolutely mind blowing. It was an even that made the most compelling case for virtual concerts so far, with millions of players logging on to view the five events titled Astronomical.
The amount of control that the developers have over the game experience along with the audio visual synesthesia is possibly one of the best interactive music videos the world has ever seen. The video does a better job at explaining why.
From the giant dancing avatar, to the changes in interactive gameplay, ranging from fast, bouncy, underwater, in the sky, and in space, virtual music environments will keep on getting better and more engaging. Experiences that take inspiration from Minecraft and Fortnite concerts will no doubt catapult the world of virtual music and entertainment to the next level (both in terms of immersion and adoption).
COVID-19 presents many challenges, but it has also provided a space for innovation and experimentation — the collaboration between video game creators, artists, musicians, and other entertainers is already showing signs of pushing digital entertainment forward in numerous exciting ways.