There was lots of excitement around the huge audience for dance artist Marshmello’s concert in video game Fortnite in February 2019: 10.7 million players showed up to watch (and dance). Since then, there have been some other partnerships between Fortnite’s publisher Epic Games and the music world: an island based on Weezer; a dancing emote based on Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’; and ‘skins’ (characters) for Major Lazer and K-Pop star Jung Chan-woo among other artists.
Now Fortnite is preparing for another ambitious musical event to rival Marshmello’s. Epic has teamed up with US rapper Travis Scott for ‘Astronomical‘, which it describes as “an other-worldly experience inspired by Cactus Jack’s creations, built from the ground up in Fortnite”. Cactus Jack being Scott’s alter-ego: this has nothing to do (sadly!) with the famously-chaotic persona of wrestler Mick Foley.
Exact details of Astronomical are being kept under wraps, but we know it will involve “the world premiere of a brand new track”, and that it will be structured like a mini-tour, with five separate ‘shows’ planned for this Friday and Saturday (24-25 April) to suit fans in different time zones. In advance, fans can buy skins, emotes and other virtual items based on Scott from Fortnite’s in-game store, with a series of challenges to unlock more stuff for free.
It’s a big deal: the kind of treatment for a single music track that was recently afforded to the new Star Wars film. We’ll be very interested to see how Epic and Scott’s rightsholders handle the event in terms of the many YouTubers and Twitch streamers who’ll be showing up – and whose videos may thus include the new track, which may present Content ID / copyright headaches on those platforms if they make the videos available after the event.
Note the launch of a ‘Creator guide’ for Astronomical, which states that Epic is “working with our partners on guidelines for how to safely create content from the event. Check back here for updates” and adds that creators should turn on the option in their settings to “avoid most licensed audio in Fornite that might cause you issues”. This is a setting that was added after the Rick Astley partnership caused Content ID issues, although Epic is making it clear that “this setting does not apply to the music within Astronomical”.
Fortnite’s creators are clearly treading carefully here. Any large-scale in-game music event that would see the rightsholders able to claim monetisation for the subsequent videos made by YouTubers might please the music industry, but would enrage those gaming creators. And while Content ID claims can be waived for promotional purposes, there’s also publishing / performance royalties to consider. Astronomical is a fascinating and exciting event as a music marketing campaign, but it’s also one that will highlight some of the big questions around these kinds of events on the rights side too.