In March this year, Music Ally got very excited about the announcement of Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN).
It was an application for building richer games and experiences for Fortnite’s ‘Creative’ mode, accompanied by an economy that would share 40% of the popular game’s revenues with the creators of the best examples.
A couple of months later, Fortnite’s publisher Epic Games claimed that 220 creators were already on course for more than $100k of annual payouts from this initiative, including 43 on track for over $1m, and five who could make more than $10m a year from Creative mode.
Why is Music Ally excited? Because music has already played a prominent role in Fortnite thanks to big events with Marshmello, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, as well as with the game’s smaller-scale (but just as interesting) ‘Soundwave Series’ concerts.
Artists including The Kid Laroi and Easy Life had already experimented with their own islands in Creative mode, while Epic Games’s interest in music has also been shown with its acquisitions of D2C platform Bandcamp and music-games maker Harmonix.
We think there are going to be opportunities with UEFN and its creator economy for musicians and for music companies. But what kind? Matthew Zanazzo is well placed to explain some of them.
Zanazzo leads the Fortnite team at Gamefam, one of the growing number of metaverse-focused developers that are helping the music industry (and brands more widely) launch experiences for and campaigns within games and virtual worlds.
The company claims more than 50m plays on its branded Fortnite maps, including projects for Twitch and Puma, but it has also worked on three of the five most popular virtual concerts on Roblox: Saweetie’s Super Bowl concert as well as experiences with The Chainsmokers and 24KGoldn.
As for Zanazzo, having started out creating Fortnite maps and showing off those builds on his ‘Immature Gamer’ YouTube channel, which has nearly 70,000 subscribers, he has since worked on Fortnite content for the likes of Puma, Samsung, Twitch, BBC Studios, Epic Games itself, and football star Neymar.
Ever since Fortnite Creative mode launched in December 2018, anyone has been able to use it to build their own experiences. However, it’s a smaller group of people who learned to do it well, creating maps that hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of players would enjoy. Zanazzo is one of them, and is well placed to explain what UEFN’s launch means.
“Creative 1.0 had major limitations, but with UEFN we can really build anything now. It is a monumental moment not only in the UGC [user-generated content] space, but in the Fortnite / metaverse space as well,” he says.
“In Fortnite Creative 1.0, they gave us the assets – these prefabs [buildings and elements of bigger structures] – and we had to manipulate them to create whatever. We couldn’t import anything, including our own sounds or music. But UEFN opens up a massive door for what we can do.”
Such as? Importing your own assets for starters. Zanazzo notes that a Creative creator can now buy 3D models from a service like Sketchfab and import them to use in Fortnite. UEFN also makes it much easier to create terrain, and opens up cinematics for more-narrative experiences.
There’s also a programming language which, while limited at launch, has considerable scope to evolve, and the ability to ‘partition’ experiences to create bigger open worlds.
“Probably most important for the music industry is that we can do motion capture. That’s what was used for the big music performances like Ariana and Travis Scott, and even the Soundwave Series, but your creative team had to work with Epic Games to get that. Now we can do it ourselves,” says Zanazzo.
In other words, this could make those kinds of virtual performances accessible for more artists, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be cheap.
Since UEFN launched, Zanazzo has noticed some trends in the kinds of experience that are being made for Creative mode in Fortnite. There has been an notable spike in horror games – “mostly because we can import really cool, scary assets, including music and sounds!” – as well as driving games, making use of the world partition feature and its larger landscapes.
He also has some ideas for what music companies and artists could do with Creative mode now that UEFN has expanded its palette of possibilities.
“You could do something that hasn’t been done yet, like a music rhythm game mode. It could be really fun to bring in the artist and the Fortnite characters and make a really fun music scape, then gamify it so you’re playing against your friends or strangers, racking up a score, with a leaderboard to show how well you’re doing,” he says.
“If you create a game like that, it will have some retention: fans will want to come back and get better scores.”
Zanazzo thinks retention is key, and hopes that the evolution of Fortnite and Roblox alike is encouraging more music experiences that live on beyond a single performance or album-launch campaign, and keep fans coming back.
(Which, after all, is the kind of activity that will generate better returns from Epic Games’s payouts for Creative mode.)
He also notes that hiring a game developer like Gamefam to create a brand new Fortnite map is not the only way artists and music companies can work with it. The company has a number of its own Creative Mode maps that are already popular. Deadpines Zombie Survival, for example.
“That gets one or two million plays a month. Maybe we grab Rob Zombie and add some fun music and gameplay into that,” says Zanazzo. “So it’s not that we will only make brand new maps with you [as a client] – we can do integrations with our popular maps too.”