Epic Games buys Guitar Hero creator to work on Fortnite
Epic Games has acquired Rock Band and Guitar Hero creator Harmonix “to create musical journeys and gameplay for Fortnite”.
The acquisition, details of which were not disclosed, was announced yesterday (24 November) in a blog post on the Harmonix website, which read:
“Over the last 26 years, we have pushed ourselves to redefine how people experience and interact with music. From the earliest days of The Axe to Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Central, our VR titles, Fuser, and everything in between, we have aspired to redefine what a music game can be.
“Now, we’ll be working with Epic to once again challenge expectations as we bring our unique brand of musical gaming experiences to the Metaverse, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Epic – which is backed by Sony Corp and carries a US$28 billion+ valuation – says that, as it works “to build the metaverse”, the Harmonix team’s “expertise is needed to reimagine how music is experienced, created and distributed”.
“Together we will transform how players experience music, going from passive listeners to active participants”
Music has become an increasing focus for Epic, following the success of virtual concerts inside of Fortnite from the likes of Travis Scott, Ariana Grande, Marshmello, Travis Scott, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Easy Life and J. Balvin. According to the company, acquiring Harmonix fits into that musical focus.
“Music is already bringing millions of people together in Fortnite, from our emotes to global concerts and events,” Alain Tascan, Epic’s VP of game development, said in a statement. “Together with the Harmonix team, we will transform how players experience music, going from passive listeners to active participants.”
Boston-based Harmonix was founded in 1995 by Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy and was bought by Viacom/MTV in 2006 for US$175 million.
Four years later, Viacom sold Harmonix to Harmonix-SBE Holdings LLC, an affiliate of Columbus Nova, LLC.
In 2007, Harmonix launched the Rockband franchise which exceeded a billion dollars in revenues by 2009 and secured a major coup with the development and release of The Beatles: Rock Band game, described by The New York Times at the time as “the most important video game yet made”.
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Facebook surges ahead in race to create metaverse
Facebook plans to hire 10,000 people to accelerate its development of a so-called metaverse – a virtual world in which people can work, game, play and even watch concerts.
The word ‘metaverse’ – made up of the prefix ‘meta’ (meaning beyond) and the stem ‘verse’ (a back-formation from “universe”) – is typically used to describe the future iteration of the internet, made up of permanent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.
Using technologies like virtual and augmented reality, Facebook says it hopes to create a greater sense of “virtual presence” in the metaverse that will “mimic the experience of interacting in person”.
Facebook has made building the metaverse one of its priorities, investing in virtual reality through its Oculus headsets and building VR apps for social hangouts and for the workplace.
In 2018, the tech giant expanded into VR live events, including concerts, with the launch of its social events app Oculus Venues.
Facebook invested $50 million in funding non-profit groups to help “build the metaverse responsibly”
The app enabled users of its Oculus Go and Gear VR headsets to watch live music and sports alongside other virtual-reality avatars.
In 2020, Occulus partnered with artist-owned streaming platform Tidal to bring a series of exclusive and intimate live performances that can be streamed in virtual reality to fans’ homes.
More recently it invested $50 million in funding non-profit groups to help “build the metaverse responsibly”.
However, Facebook claims the metaverse “won’t be built overnight by a single company” and has promised to collaborate.
A number of massive tech-centric companies that have vested interests in music, such as Tencent and Alibaba, are also investigating how to build a metaverse.
Roblox’s global head of music told IQ in January that he thinks the metaverse will be bigger than the internet and mobile
Over the course of several years, Epic Games has been expanding its hugely popular online multiplayer game Fortnite to host virtual concerts and brand events within its own virtual world.
Other games are getting closer to a metaverse idea, too. Roblox, for example, is an online community where people come together to play, create and explore millions of 3D virtual worlds together with their friends.
Roblox’s global head of music, Jon Vlassopulos, told IQ in January that he thinks the metaverse will be bigger than the internet and mobile.
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Fortnite plans virtual concerts for new Soundwave Series
Epic Games has announced the next set of immersive virtual performances coming to Fortnite, under the banner ‘Soundwave Series’.
The series will kick off on 1 October with Egyptian musician Mohamed Hamaki, who has previously been featured on Fortnite Radio.
Hamaki’s show will repeat non-stop for 48 hours so that so it can be accessed at any time over the period. The experience will feature the first performance of his new song ‘Leilt Elomr‘ (‘the night of the order’) and a special emote created just for the first show of the Soundwave Series.
Other acts slated to perform during the Soundwave Series include Australian singer-songwriter Tones And I, Brazilian rapper Emicida, Japanese pop artist and music producer Gen Hoshino, and French-Malian singer Aya Nakamura.
“The Soundwave Series will introduce incredible crossover artists from around the world to millions of new fans”
“Music transcends any language, and has been a beloved part of Fortnite’s journey since our first in-game concert in 2019,” says Nate Nanzer, VP of global partnerships at Epic Games.
“The Soundwave Series continues that legacy and will introduce incredible crossover artists from around the world to millions of new fans inside Fortnite Creative, where there are virtually no limits on what can be designed by our community.”
The Soundwave Series builds on the success of Fortnite‘s recent Rift Tour with Ariana Grande, as well as Travis Scott’s record-breaking Astronomical concerts.
Ariana Grande to headline Fortnite’s Rift Tour
Ariana Grande will be the next artist to perform an in-game concert for the hugely popular multiplayer video game, Fortnite.
The Grammy award-winning artist is set to headline the forthcoming Rift Tour, a virtual ‘musical experience’ that will take place within the online game.
The Rift Tour comprises five shows in early August: Friday 6 August at 18:00 ET, Saturday 7 August at 14:00 ET and Sunday 6 August at 00:00 ET, 10:00 ET and 18:00 ET.
“Working with Epic and the Fortnite team to bring my music to life inside the game has been so fun and such an honour,” says Grande. “I can’t wait to join my fans and see all of your reactions to such an unforgettable, magical journey to new realities.”
“Fortnite is a place for the imagination and the impossible”
“Fortnite is a place for the imagination and the impossible. With the Rift Tour, we’re bringing a musical journey to life that players can experience, feel, and join alongside their friends,” says Phil Rampulla, head of brand for Fortnite developer Epic Games.
“We’re so grateful to have an iconic superstar like Ariana Grande and her team join us for a musical experience at metaverse scale, and for players and fans alike to experience the Rift Tour!”
The singer’s performance follows a virtual show at the in-game O2 in June, which was performed by the UK act Easy Life.
The iconic London venue became the first real-world arena to get its own venue in Fortnite.
Watch a teaser for Ariana Grande’s appearance on the Rift Tour below.
The O2 London recreated in Fortnite
The O2 is set to become the first real-world arena to get its own venue in Fortnite, with players now able to explore the iconic London venue ahead of an in-game performance by UK act Easy Life this Thursday.
Created in Fortnite Creative, the Minecraft-like sandbox game within Fortnite proper, the virtual O2 is a faithful recreation from the outside, while inside players can discover “exciting gameplay additions” including hidden rooms, backstage areas and a new take on the O2’s bar, the O2 Blueroom.
Island Records-signed Easy Life’s in-game performance will available to watch from this Thursday (24 June) at 20.30 BST until 23.59 BST on Sunday 27 June. The show will then be posted to Easy Life’s YouTube channel from Monday 28 June.
Described as an “interactive music experience” rather than a virtual concert, the show promises an ever-changing virtual world influenced by Easy Life’s music and lyrics. During the event, Fortnite players will be transported to six unique areas, each inspired by a different track from Life’s a Beach, the band’s debut album.
The Leicester five-piece are the first British band to play a show in Fortnite, the hugely popular multiplayer video game, following the likes of Marshmello, Travis Scott, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5 and J. Balvin.
Simon Valcarcel, head of brand and consumer marketing communications for O2, the O2’s naming sponsor, says: “We couldn’t be prouder to work alongside both Island Records and Epic Games to bring such an incredible experience to O2 customers and music fans all over the world via Fortnite Creative.
“We were thrilled when we were approached with the idea to bring the O2 to Fortnite”
“O2 has a rich heritage in music and we’re committed to providing music fans with unique experiences so it’s only fitting that we’re bringing the world’s most popular entertainment venue into the world’s biggest game. We know how much everyone – us included – has missed going to gigs so we’re excited to bring the UK’s hottest up-and-coming band to music fans globally through Fortnite Creative.”
Nate Nanzer, head of global partnerships for Fortnite developer Epic Games, adds: “We were thrilled when we were approached with the idea to bring the O2, one of the most iconic entertainment venues on the planet, to Fortnite Creative. We’re always looking for exciting and authentic experiences to bring to our players, and we can’t wait for them to get hands-on with this interactive musical journey.
“We’re excited to have the UK’s break-out band, Easy Life, perform in the game and we think our players are really going to love exploring all that the O2 has to offer in Fortnite Creative over the next week.”
Tash Sultana promotes new album with Fortnite map
Australian singer-songwriter Tash Sultana is promoting their newly released album ‘Terra Firma’ with a new Fortnite map based on its cover art, designed by renowned Melbourne-based artist Pat Fox.
The custom map, designed and built by Lootmate, allows Fortnite players the opportunity to explore the album’s ‘visual world’, discover easter eggs, and win the in-game currency V-Bucks by sharing themselves inside the map.
A livestreamed map launch took place earlier today on Twitch, hosted by Australian gamer and internet personality Loserfruit, which marked the first time an Australian artist has had a custom map inside the game.
As part of the album promotion, Sultana also performed some tracks from the album during week two of the Fortnite Championship Series OCE, presented by The Australian Open.
Sultana is the latest in a long line of artists to appear in the Epic Games-developed Fortnite, which is the most successful free-to-play video game of all time.
Fortnite hosted its first-ever in-game concert with RCA-signed DJ Marshmello in February 2020 – a ten-minute show which attracted more than ten million people.
Travis Scott trumped that in April 2020 with the premiere of Astronomical, which drew more than 12 million players and, across five shows and two encores, is believed to have attracted around 45.8 million viewers.
Tasha Sultana is the first Australian artist to make custom map inside Fortnite
While Reggaeton superstar J Balvin delivered a special performance as part of Fortnite’s Halloween-themed event, Fortnitemares 2020: Midas’ Revenge.
Roblox is also an increasingly popular destination for artists to promote their music and has hosted highly successful events with double Grammy award-winning rapper Lil Nas X and global pop star Ava Max.
Last September, Max promoted her album ‘Heaven & Hell’ with a virtual launch party in Roblox, in a space dubbed the ‘Sky-High Dance Floor’.
During the launch, Max answered questions from participants before performing some of the songs from the album. The event also featured a merch store and in-game quests. The highest concurrent player peak reached 166,620 people.
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J Balvin to headline Fortnite’s in-game Halloween event
Reggaeton superstar J Balvin is set to deliver a special performance as part of Fortnite’s Halloween-themed event, Fortnitemares 2020: Midas’ Revenge.
The online video game, developed by Epic Games, hosts Fortnitemares every spooky season in the free-to-play Battle Royale mode in which weapons are disabled.
Each year, players have the chance to complete Fortnitemares challenges which provide players with season XP and different cosmetics including sprays and loading screens.
This year’s Fortnitemares will take place between 21 October and 3 November and will feature a performance from J Balvin on Battle Royale’s main stage on Halloween.
The Afterlife Party will take place on 31 October at 9 pm ET, with rebroadcasts available to watch the next day on main stage or with friends on Houseparty, the group video app.
Since launching last year, Fortnite Battle Royale has become the most successful free-to-play video game of all time
Users who attend any of the Afterlife Party showings in a Party Trooper outfit, available to buy in the item shop, will unlock an exclusive J Balvin style.
Fans can also drop into Fornite Creative from 25 October to 31 October to visit La Familia, an island made by community members Iscariote and Davidpkami where you can play minigames based on songs from J Balvin’s latest album.
Fortnite hosted its first-ever in-game concert with RCA-signed DJ Marshmello in February – a ten-minute show which reportedly became the most-attended ‘concert’ in history to date, with more than ten million people tuning in.
Since launching last year, Fortnite Battle Royale has become the most successful free-to-play video game of all time, pushing developer Epic Games’ valuation to nearly US$15bn as the number of Fortnite players – most of whom pay real money (or ask their parents) to buy in-game skins and other cosmetic items – soars over 200 million.
In May 2020, Epic announced that Fortnite had 350 million registered accounts with players spending 3.3 billion hours in-game during the month of April 2020.
Over 1m fans pay to attend virtual Tomorrowland
More than one million paying customers attended Tomorrowland Around the World this weekend, over two-and-a-half times more fans than the in-person Belgian dance festival typically draws.
Viewers from the world over attended the pay-per-view virtual festival, which saw over 60 acts, including Katy Perry, Amelie Lens, David Guetta, Martin Garrix and Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, perform across eight custom-designed stages on the island of Pāpiliōnem.
Weekend tickets for the event cost €20, with day tickets priced at €12.50.
Those who bought a weekend ticket can also revisit the island and rewatch all performances until Wednesday 29 July.
For those that missed out on the festival, separate €12.50 tickets are available to buy on the Tomorrowland website to gain access to the Relive platform, allowing fans to watch all the recorded sets until Wednesday 12 August, 5 p.m. CET.
A collaboration between the Tomorrowland team, creative agency Dogstudio, gaming giant Epic Games, augmented and virtual reality specialist stYpe and visualisation platform Depence, Tomorrowland Around the World – a project that would typically be two years in the making – was pulled together in just three months.
“For now, we leave this beautiful place we call Papilionem and treasure what we have experienced together”
Artists were filmed performing live in four specially designed studios in Belgium, Los Angeles, Sao Paolo and Sydney using 4K high-definition cameras. According to the Tomorrowland team, 300 terabytes – a measure of computer storage capacity equating to over 1,000 gigabytes, or a trillion bytes – of raw footage was recorded, which took multiple render engines around four weeks to process.
The virtual environment that was ultimately created for Tomorrowland Around the World was rendered at an ultra high quality, with ten times more polygons (the building blocks of 3D graphics) than the average video game.
“Our message has been sent into the furthest corners of the world,” reads a post from the Tomorrowland team. “It will travel around the globe until the time comes when we can unite once again.
“For now, we leave this beautiful place we call Pāpiliōnem and treasure what we have experienced together.”
The physical edition of Tomorrowland 2020 was called off in April, when the Belgian government joined others in Europe in extending its band on large-scale events throughout summer.
The event, which welcomes around 400,000 festivalgoers across two weekends to its site in Boom, Belgium, each year, was set to feature performances from Eric Prydz, David Guetta, Marshmello, Amelie Lens, Afrojack, Helena Hauff and Maceo Plex, among others.
Tomorrowland unveils digital universe for 2020 event
The organisers of Belgian mega festival Tomorrowland have revealed the 3D, virtual world that will welcome fans from 25 to 26 July for a star-studded online edition.
Tomorrowland Around the World will feature more than 60 artists including Katy Perry, Amelie Lens, David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Armin van Buuren and Charlotte de Witte performing across eight, custom-designed stages in the the virtual festival site, dubbed Pāpiliōnem.
The site, which takes the form of a butterfly-shaped island, has been created by Tomorrowland’s in-house creative team and 3D artists, in collaboration with exterior Dogstudio, a creative studio with offices in Belgium, Chicago and Mexico City.
The world has ten times more polygons compared to a modern computer game and each stage has a 16 square-kilometre surface, with 32,000 trees and plants and over 280,000 virtual people who each have their own individual attributes.
“Our biggest challenge – besides being an obvious enormous technical challenge – is making sure festival visitors will be able to feel they are being part of something larger than their computer and their internet connection,” comments Henry Daubrez, CEO and creative director of Dogstudio.
“People won’t only be immersed in Tomorrowland’s new universe, but they will also be able to communicate with other festival visitors.
“I can proudly say that we are setting new standards for web-based online music experiences, pushing the boundaries of the latest technology that is available, but on the other hand making sure that the platform is even working on a device that is a couple of years old.”
“Combining the live action performances of the artists into gorgeous, high-resolution virtual worlds has been a logistical and technological feat”
The Tomorrowland team filmed the performances that appear as part of the festival at the festival site in Boom, Belgium, with green-screen studios also set up by the Tomorrowland team in Los Angeles, USA; Sao Paolo, Brazil; and Sydney, Australia to film artists based in different world regions.
A full-sized DJ booth was built in the studios and all locations were made to have the exact same set-up, with cycloramas, or infinity walls, measuring 6 metre tall and 8 metres wide.
The performances were filmed on six 4K ultra HD cameras in collaboration with stYpe, which provides camera tracking technology to achieve real-time augmented reality and virtual studio effects in live broadcast.
The final elements of the shows will be assembled by Depence, a platform that visualise elements such as lighting, lasers and other effects, and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, which allows for photorealistic landscaping and scripting of certain elements.
“How do we bring new experiences from great artists to remote audiences? This is the pressing question that’s being posed, and one that’s now being answered by real-time technology,” says
“What the team at Tomorrowland has been able to do in a very short period of time is seriously impressive,” adds Ben Lumsden, business development manager at Epic Games – Unreal Engine. “Combining the live action performances of the artists into gorgeous, high-resolution virtual worlds has been a logistical and technological feat.”
Fans will navigate through Pāpiliōnem with a PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet. Day tickets for the event cost €12.50, with weekend tickets – including a week of video-on-demand content to relive the experience – priced at €20. Tickets are available to buy here.
The Tomorrowland stages can be viewd on the festival’s Instagram page.
Gamers: 750m new live music fans?
Live music professionals who fail to capitalise on the lockdown-era boom in videogaming will miss out on a confirmed audience of more than three quarters of a billion potential fans, new analysis of player numbers for some of the biggest online games reveals.
A total of 758.5 million people – more than live in Europe, and some 2.5 times the population of the US – regularly play one or more of the 20 most popular online multiplayer video games for which there is recent, reliable data on active users, according to IQ analysis.
Gaming is thriving during the Covid-19 crisis, with firms such as Epic Games, the company behind the Fortnite phenomenon, and Tencent, the Chinese publisher of hit multiplayer titles League of Legends and Honor of Kings, seeing sales soaring while consumers worldwide remain stuck at home.
Especially interesting for the concert industry is how successfully the virtual worlds of Fortnite, Minecraft and other online games lend themselves to live performance, as well as the apparent receptiveness of those games’ existing audiences to live music content. For comparison, One World: Together at Home – aka the star-studded, Taylor Swift-headlined virtual Live Aid – was watched by 20.7m people in the US; the figure for Travis Scott’s 20-minute ‘Astronomical’ event in Fortnite Battle Royale (albeit globally) was 27.7m.
Estimates of the number of videogamers worldwide range from 877m to 2.7bn
Before we continue, a note on IQ’s numbers: the 758.5m figure includes only active users. so while EA’s Apex Legends, for example, has been played by at least 70m people on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the only available data on monthly active users (MAU) shows just shy of 7m playing regularly on console, which is the figure IQ has used. Similarly, Epic Games does not share data on active Fortnite users, so IQ has used the 27.7m who turned out for Travis Scott, even though the real number is far higher.
This, combined with the choice to limit the research to 20 games, means the aforementioned three quarters of a billion is a conservative estimate – with the actual total likely far higher. (Estimates of the number of videogamers worldwide range from around 877m for online gamers only to 2.7bn in total, including those who play single-player titles, casual mobile games and others).
Videogame concerts, it should be noted, are nothing new: Second Life, the forerunner of event-focused video game-cum-virtual hangout Sansar, hosted what was billed as the world’s first virtual gig in 2007, with Duran Duran, Suzanne Vega and, most famously, U2, also performing as virtual avatars during the game’s late-2000s heyday.
However, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the push towards digital forms of ‘live’ entertainment, with Travis Scott’s spectacular (albeit prerecorded) show in Fortnite in April and upcoming Diplo-headlined festival Electric Blockaloo in Minecraft among recent high-profile virtual events capitalising on the influx of new gamers.
A number of other multiplayer titles are nipping at Minecraft’s heels
Mojang Studios’ Minecraft, which launched in 2011, is both the best-selling video game of all time, with 200m copies shipped, and the most popular online game, with 126m monthly active users as of 18 May. It hosted its first music festival in 2016, and has held several more in the years since, including Fire Festival in January 2019 and the recent Block by Blockwest, with Pussy Riot, Idles and Sports Team.
However, Minecraft’s status as top dog of the notoriously fickle online gaming world is by no means secure, with a number of other multiplayer titles – such as tween-friendly create-your-own-game platform Roblox (115m MAU), esports favourite League of Legends (100m MAU) and two Chinese games, Fortnite-style mobile battle royale Free Fire (80m daily users) and blatant Minecraft knock-off Mini World: Block Art (80m MAU) – already nipping at its heels.
To date, none of those games have hosted a large-scale, artist-backed live music experience akin to Travis Scott or Marshmello in Fortnite – and the same is true of Fortnite’s battle-royale arch-rival, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), which has 55m active daily users excluding China according to developer PUBG Corporation.
Other as-yet untapped videogame phenomena include another free-to-play battle royale, Call of Duty: Warzone, which has been played by 60m people since its launch in March; mobile strategy game Teamfight Tactics, spun off from League of Legends by developer Riot Games, which had 33m active users as of September; and first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, another game played as a competitive esport, which recorded over 26m players in April.
“Going forward, there will be more partnerships with the wider entertainment industry”
Given Fortnite’s success, it seems likely the next major in-game musical performance will be in a similar battle royale-type title; DJ Deadmau5, who recently performed in Fortnite’s new combat-free Party Royale mode, is known to be a PUBG player, while Taylor Kurosaki of developer Infinity Ward has suggested live events could be held in Call of Duty: Warzone in future.
What the future has in store for digital live performance – whether consumers will ever flock en masse to concerts in video games or virtual-reality worlds, or if ‘simple’ livestreamed video will suffice – only time will tell. What is certain, however, is that music and other traditional entertainment businesses, keen to claim their slice of the US$160bn global videogame market, will seek increasingly to partner with gaming companies in the years ahead, according to Stefan Hall of the World Economic Forum.
“Going forward, there will be more partnerships with the wider entertainment industry, as media companies seek to take advantage of the momentum gaming has produced,” says Hall, who also highlights recent reports linking Japanese tech giant Sony with efforts to improve the VR content, including concerts, available for its upcoming PlayStation 5 console as proof of the growing power of virtual experiences.
The latest IQ Focus session, The Innovators, will discuss the growth of videogaming, virtual worlds, 3D venues, livestreaming and more. Featuring Sheri Bryant, president of Sansar, alongside other technological innovators, the panel takes place tomorrow (27 May) at 4pm UK time on Facebook and YouTube: