Tencent makes moves to build metaverse
Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings is reportedly planning to acquire gaming smartphone manufacturer Black Shark in a move that could help the company build its own metaverse.
If the acquisition goes ahead, Black Shark will shift its business focus from gaming mobile phones to virtual reality hardware, according to a report from news outlet 36kr.
Black Shark, which has a presence in China, Europe and south Asia, is currently majority-owned by technology giant Xiaomi.
As noted by Bloomberg in November, making a play for the metaverse is a logical step for Tencent.
The company already owns a stake in video game company Epic Games – the maker of Fortnite which has hosted virtual concerts from the likes of Travis Scott, Ariana Grande, Marshmello, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Easy Life and J. Balvin.
Tencent Holdings invested $330 million in Epic Games in 2012 (around five years before Fortnite was released) in return for a 40% stake.
“We felt that we have a lot of tech and capability building blocks that will allow us to approach the Metaverse opportunities”
The company also entered into a strategic partnership with Roblox, in May 2019, in which Tencent holds a 49% stake. Last year, Tencent filed for two Metaverse-related trademarks.
Tencent president Martin Lau spoke about the company’s positioning to build a metaverse during the company’s Q3 earnings call in November: “In terms of our capabilities and our positioning, we felt we actually have a lot of the technology and know-how building blocks for us to explore and develop for the Metaverse opportunity”.
He continued: “For example, we have a lot of gaming experiences. We also have very strong social networking experience. In addition to that, in terms of technology building blocks, we have engine capability, we have AI capability, we have the capability to build large server architecture that can serve a huge number of concurrent users.”
Tencent has stiff competition from other tech giants in a race to build the metaverse – namely from Meta (formerly known as Facebook).
The company announced plans in October 2021 to hire 10,000 people to accelerate its development of a metaverse but it has promised to collaborate, adding, “it won’t be built overnight by a single company”.
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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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Roblox plans London-themed launch party for KSI
Roblox, the family-friendly social videogaming platform, has announced a virtual album launch party for YouTube star and professional boxer, KSI.
Organised in partnership with BMG, Proper Loud, and MBA Live, the launch party will see KSI perform songs from his chart-topping debut album ‘All Over The Place’ under a virtual London Eye on a boxing ring themed dance floor.
Roblox users will be able to jump into cars and race each other through the streets of London before the performance and afterwards, they’ll be able to hang out and live chat with KSI during a VIP rooftop after-party. Exclusive virtual merchandise will be available to fans during the experience.
KSI’s first performance starts on Friday 13 August at 16:00 PDT with encore performances hourly over the weekend.
The VIP after-party experience for fans, including an exclusive virtual Q&A, will take place on Saturday 14 August on the Roblox platform.
“We are delighted to be hosting the chart-topping and multi-talented KSI’s first launch party on Roblox in partnership with BMG,” said Jon Vlassopulos, vice president and global head of music for Roblox.
“Roblox provided the perfect platform to immerse fans in the world of KSI, bringing to life his persona with an avatar”
“I can’t wait to race around London and join the exclusive VIP after-party that will connect KSI with fans from all corners of the globe, this is a great example of how Roblox launch parties bring together millions of fans in personal, engaging, interactive, and immersive ways.”
Christopher Ludwig, BMG VP global digital partnerships and strategy, added: “At BMG, our approach is to look at things from the artist’s perspective. For KSI, this means being at the cutting edge of technology and remaining authentic and raw to reach his global, digital-native audience where they are.
“Roblox provided the perfect platform to immerse fans in the world of KSI, bringing to life his persona with a photo-realistic avatar and building a space to spotlight his talent and passions. We’re delighted to kick off our partnership with Roblox through this first activation and bring global fans into the KSI experience.”
President of Proper Loud and manager of KSI, Mams Taylor, says: “We are thrilled to be teaming up with Roblox. It’s a great creative opportunity for team KSI and Roblox to do something unique and crossover both audiences, showcasing KSI’s music and Roblox’s awesome and fun platform.”
Roblox’s vice president and global head of music previously told IQ that he plans to grow Roblox’s music offering significantly “so music becomes an organic part of the users’ daily experience”. Read the full interview here.
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Geoff Sawyer to facilitate games/music collabs at UTA
UTA has appointed Geoff Sawyer as an agent in the video games division to foster collaborations between the agency’s music clients and the gaming industry.
He joins UTA from Red Bull where he was director of global music services and oversaw the team responsible for music solutions for the entire company.
Prior to that, Sawyer was director of licensing and creative partnerships at Beyond Marketing Group, where he negotiated and managed brand partnerships between Toyota and artists such as Slayer, Steve Aoki and Joey Bada$$.
With his new position, Sawyer will be based in LA and will report to UTA partner and head of video games, Ophir Lupu.
“The line separating gaming and the entertainment industry is disappearing completely”
“Geoff has an unparalleled reputation for facilitating successful connections between recording artists, brands and media networks,” says Lupu.
“As gaming continues to cement itself as a critical component of pop culture, we believe that the number of meaningful collaborations for musicians will continue to increase and Geoff’s expertise will be invaluable in finding these new opportunities for our clients. We are thrilled to welcome him to UTA.”
Sawyer says: “The line separating gaming and the entertainment industry is disappearing completely. And the symbiotic relationship between games and music stands to deepen greatly as technology advances and audiences converge. I am elated to join the legendary team at UTA and to serve our incredible music clients with opportunities previously unconceived.”
Within the music-gaming sphere, UTA has helped negotiate Marshmello’s performance in Fortnite; Dominic Fike’s appearance in the first edition of Fortnite‘s ‘Spotlight’ Party Royale in-game concert series and Post Malone’s headline slot for Pokémon’s 25th anniversary virtual concert celebration.
Lil Nas X delivers one of the most viewed in-game concerts
Lil Nas X has garnered over 35 million visits for his in-game performance in Roblox, marking a hugely successful debut concert for the online gaming platform.
The double Grammy award-winning rapper behind worldwide smash ‘Old Town Road’ delivered a free-to-access concert experience which was aired three times across the weekend (14 and 15 November).
The in-game performance featured a set of stages inspired by Lil Nas X’s songs and videos – created using the latest shadowing, lighting and physically based rendering (PBR) facial recognition technologies available on the Roblox platform – and was preceded by a Q&A with fans.
The show, which took place in partnership with Nas’s label, Columbia Records, rivalled Travis Scott’s record-breaking in-game concert in Fortnite in April.
The in-game performance featured a set of stages inspired by Lil Nas X’s songs and videos and was preceded by a Q&A
According to developer Epic Games, the premiere of Astronomical drew more than 12 million players and across five shows and two encores – four more showings than Nas’s Roblox concert – is believed to have attracted around 45.8 million viewers.
Scott’s record-breaking feat trumped Marshmello’s 2019 Fortnite concert which saw 10 million players tune in to watch the electronic music star’s in-game performance. Both Fortnite concerts were free to access.
Other notable videogame shows this year include J Balvin in Fortnite, Gorillaz and Beck in Animal Crossing and several festivals in Minecraft, while 2019 saw Korn play AdventureQuest and the Offspring World of Tanks, among others.
While Nas’s concert was Roblox’s first, the platform’s existing moves in the music space include a partnership with dance music label Monstercat and a recent album release party for singer Ava Max which was attended by 1.2m players.
Roblox is a collection of more than 50 million user-created video games (sometimes compared to YouTube, but for games rather than videos). The platform’s popularity has exploded this year, particularly among children, and now boasts more than 150m monthly users.
Gaming platform Roblox steps up interest in music
Game creation platform Roblox has announced a partnership with Marshmello label Monstercat and appointed a global head of music, as the company makes moves in the music space.
In April, Roblox, a tween-friendly virtual gaming/social media platform, became the latest gaming platform to create a virtual concert venue, hosting an in-game live stream of the Lady Gaga-curated benefit concert One World: Together at Home.
Roblox users could complete quests based on the concert and wear free virtual merchandise, such as a caps, headphones and rucksacks, to show support for the event.
The virtual concert was part of Roblox’s growing interaction with the music business, as Jon Vlassopulos, a former director of business development at BMG and founder of Tinder-style swiping music discovery app Fab.fm, heads up music strategy at the company.
The partnership gives Roblox developers access to a new library of music content to use when making games for the platform
Roblox has also recently joined social virtual-reality platform Sansar and video game developer Psyonix in partnering with Canadian indie label Monstercat, which also has its own licensing subscription service to allow game streamers to use its music on YouTube and Twitch.
The partnership gives Roblox developers access to a new library of music content to use when making games for the platform, which is comprised of millions of games built by professional developers and the Roblox user community.
“Proudly announcing our new partnership with Roblox,” reads a post on the Monstercat Twitter page. “Our mission to empower creators continues with access to over 50 tracks, with more music added soon. Can’t wait to see your creations in-game!”
As well as “empowering creators”, the partnership aims to allow artists to use the site as a promotional outlet, targeting Roblox’s 150 million active monthly users.
The potential for crossover between gaming and live music has been exemplified recently by events such as Travis Scott’s ‘Astronomical’ in Fortnite Battle Royale, which drew 27.7m viewers, and Marshmello’s famous record-breaking 2019 in-game appearance, also in Fortnite, with IQ calculating that gamers could represent 750m new live music fans.
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:
Five Vectors receives $1m from esports investor
Five Vectors, a start-up bridging the gap between the music and gaming industries, has raised US$1 million in seed funding, in a round led by esports investment specialist Bitkraft Esports Ventures.
Five Vectors was founded earlier this year by former Universal Music Group executive Andres Lauer and ex-ESL executive Wasae Imran, and is based out of Los Angeles and Berlin.
Combining the two founders’ expertise, the company produces music for esports tournaments, leagues, games and teams, working in partnership with gaming industry publishers and esports organisations.
Five Vectors has created music for esports league Rainbow Six Siege, SK Gaming’s League of Legends team and the Japanese esports projects of creative gaming agency PlayBrain, among others.
Currently, Five Vectors initiatives engage over 4m gamers, with 600,000 monthly active users, and its artists collectively have more than 15m streams on Spotify.
“Music and games are coming together in new ways”
The funding will be used to attract additional music talent and to make music more accessible to game publishers, platforms, teams, leagues and creators across the gaming and esports industries.
“We are extremely proud to welcome the Bitkraft Esports Ventures family as an investor in Five Vectors,” says Lauer, CEO and co-founder of Five Vectors. “We see a powerful overlap between music and gaming and created Five Vectors to fill the gap in the industry by providing customised music solutions for the global gaming audience.
“Music and games are coming together in new ways,” says Bitkraft founder and managing partner, Jens Hilgers. “With our investment in Five Vectors, we are supporting an incredibly ambitious team that has subscribed itself entirely to music experiences and technology in gaming and esports.”
Esports revenues are on track to exceed $900m this year as more and more sponsors and investors show interest in the competitive gaming sector.
Big Hit acquires music game company Superb
Big Hit Entertainment, the agency behind K-pop stars BTS, has acquired Seoul-based music game company Superb.
Superb will retain its management team and “maintain its unique colour and independence as a game company.”
Through the acquisition, Big Hit expands its reach into music-based game development and services. Superb will capitalise on the entertainment company’s music and intellectual property to create games.
Big Hit chief executive Bang Shi Hyuk says he believes that the gaming industry “will create a strong synergy” with the music industry.
“We believe that Big Hit will especially thrive in the two industries, so we have been looking into many different opportunities. We believe this acquisition will bring a positive value and more possibilities for both companies, as well as the multi-labels that Big Hit is expanding into,” says Bang.
“We believe that Big Hit will especially thrive in the two industries, so we have been looking into many different opportunities”
Bang adds that Big Hit will continue its partnership with Korean game publisher Net Marble, which developed the game and mobile app BTS World.
Superb’s co-chief executive Kim Sun Haeng states that Big Hit is “revolutionising the music industry’s business model” and believes the deal “will be a new opportunity” for the gaming company.
“Superb has been focusing on creating new ways of having fun by combining music and games,” says fellow co-chief executive Oh Min Hwan, “through both parties’ revolutionary content and development ability, we will work to create content that lives up to expectations of global users.”
Founded in 2016, Superb has released rhythm-based game Pianista for mobile and Nintendo Switch and Yumi’s Cells with Naver Webtoon.
MSG names Dan Fleeter esports head
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has appointed Dan Fleeter as its head of esports and chief operating officer of Counter Logic Gaming (CLG).
Fleeter, who helped to initiate the partnership between MSG and North American esports team CLG in 2017, has worked at MSG since 2015, most recently serving as vice president of corporate development for MSG.
The new esports head already has a seat on the board of directors for CLG, which he deems as “one of the best esports organisations in the world”.
CLG, founded in 2010 by owner George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis, a former star League of Legends (LOL) competitor, has some of the most successful teams in video gaming.
In his new role, Fleeter will oversee all business operations for CLG, focusing on growing the brand, forming partnerships and enhancing fan engagement.
“Dan has been at the forefront and played a key role in the growth of MSG’s presence in the esports industry”
He will also develop relationships with major game publishers and leagues across the esports industry, as well as helping to create events that showcase esports at MSG’s venues across the country.
Fleeter says it is an “incredible honour” to take on the new role. “I admire what they [CLG] have built and cannot wait to help continue that growth.”
“Dan has been at the forefront and played a key role in the growth of MSG’s presence in the esports industry,” comments MSG president Andrew Lustgarten. “We know he is the perfect fit for this leadership position.”
CLG founder Georgallidis says Fleeter’s “ambition, drive and preparation are infectious and exactly what CLG needs to ensure continued success in all areas of the organisation.”
Music-industry partnerships with esports organisations have become increasingly commonplace over the past few years, with DEAG, AEG, BookMyShow, Creative Artists Agency, TEG and Vivendi among those to get involved in the US$1 billion esports sector.