Fortnite has been consistently successful at keeping its name in the news. This appeals to brands, as you’d expect, and we’ve seen some marketing in the form of in-game clip reveals for things like Star Wars. While it’s cool to gather players together at a virtual drive-in theater for some exciting announcements, it still feels like marketing. A recent event, called the “Astronomical experience,” could certainly be called marketing insofar as it achieves the basic goals of marketing but it was also a wholly valuable experience in its own right that was, honestly, not unlike the thrill of live music. It also demonstrates the value of limited time events in video games.
I wasn’t particularly familiar with rapper, Travis Scott, before the event so I did some brushing up. He is definitely an ambitious and talented artist, and I have nothing but respect for that. Early language around the event was also piquing my image but I am stubborn and held onto my deeply engrained cynicism. But there was no denying that the event page’s use of terms like “tour dates,” and “show times,” were helping create this sense of authenticity. Oh, and the notice that doors would open 30 minutes before the event? My inbox is full of digital ticket receipts with similar wording, except those are for real life shows.
Players received swag for their attendance. “Merch,” basically. And the event, attended by nearly 28 million people, was stunning. It began at a stage, surrounded by fellow players spamming dance emotes. The production value picked up and it began to feel like a digital depiction of a glitzy show. There was a real feeling of presence, too. Real people were controlling characters and sharing this experience. It was grounding and simple at first but then everything explodes into pure surrealism. A giant avatar of the rapper parades through the landscape, dancing and singing. Things morph and change. Players get teleported about encouraging active participation and not idle viewership. There’s a real dream logic in place, too. The full event uses the engaging qualities of games and stitches them to the thrill of a live music event. People were both players and concertgoers simultaneously, and it’s hard to say what term would be more apt. But they all left with a shared experience.
Having “been there” when something major happened is a powerful thing to share with someone. And something embracing the ephemeral, as this event did, taps into something deep and psychological. This event is special and draws attention to the value of the moment. It is partially defined by the context of its time. It can’t be replicated without being diminished so, really, it can’t be replicated.
These sorts of events take a lot of work and rarely ascend to this level of exclusivity. Lots of games have seasonal events, though. They are only accessible during a period of time, often have a community focus, and can promote festivity. They’re something to look forward to. And once they’re over, they’re gone. That’s exciting.
I suppose none of this is wholly surprising, though. People generally like having things to look forward to. They like having plans, marking things down on their calendar. And they like being a part of something special. I hope that this Fortnite event makes this clear to developers and we see more things like this in the future. For now, though, we should just take time to cherish the fleeting, individual moments, big and small, that gaming events already provide before they disappear into the ether.