In 1997, Jean-Michel Jarre landed in the record books. Well known at the time not only for his electronic music but also his bombastic and laser filled live shows, Jarre attracted 3.5 million people to his free concert celebrating Moscow’s 850th anniversary. The record stood for over 20 years, until it was obliterated by the American rapper Travis Scott, who drew a crowd of 12.7 million to a single live event. Over the course of three of these gigs, that number increased to 27.7 million. How did he do it? He performed in a video game.
Scott’s performance in Fortnite was a watershed moment for the game in it’s transformation from a fairly standard third person “battle royale” shooter into a virtual space for gamers to play, hang out, and experience massive scale immersive events. The developer, Epic Games, clearly sees this as a strategy to grow its player base and increase revenue. And it’s working.
The concept of virtual spaces to hold live events is not a new one. Large gatherings of like minded people in virtual spaces can be seen in massively multiplayer online role playing games and traced back to the mid 1980’s with Island of Kesmai. More recently, the popularity of Second Life in the early 2000’s displayed a burgeoning interest in hanging out in digital worlds.
The advancement of Virtual and Augmented Reality technology increases the potential for Virtual Events exponentially. Attendees are immersed completely, with key body points tracked precisely so they can express, dance and interact with those who are nearby virtually but across oceans in reality.
Here are some examples of how live events can be transformed using virtual spaces in VR and AR:
Artists such as Coldplay, Kanye West and U2 can spend vast amounts on set design to evoke awe amongst the crowds. It is as important as the music in the draw of the live event. Using simple green screen technology and a game engine to create a set, virtual events can create bigger and better sets for a fraction of the cost. The only limit is the imagination of the artist and those creating the environments.
The opportunities are not limited to grand, stadium scale experiences. Using Augmented Reality, the dream of having your favourite band play a set in your living room is ever more achievable. As hardware becomes more accessible and improves in user experience, this could become as commonplace as a Netflix marathon.
The Under Presents is an experience where live actors, captured in real time and represented by shapeshifting 3d avatars, perform at scheduled times to an audience from around the world and is one of the first of these kinds of products to become widely commercially available in VR. It is a natural progression from interactive theatre, to not only find yourself within the performance but for that performance to change environment, to morph space and time and for actors to be untethered from physical limitations. This is Cirque du Soleil for the virtual generation.
Sports events would not only benefit from a more immersive experience for those who cannot attend in person but can also overlay the action on the field with graphics and visualisations in real time and 3 dimensions. New viewing angles will be available, from anywhere the viewer wishes, even allowing you to be on the field of play rather than beside it. Esports events are now extremely popular and come ready made to be experienced in the virtual setting they take place in.
Events in virtual space also bring with them platforms for advertisers to reach audiences in new and exciting ways. The superbowl every year commands massive advertising spend and so the potential for immersive ads that utilise the same 3d space and lack of physical constraints as the performances themselves is considerable.
Possibilities for virtual events are wide ranging, however some formalisation is necessary to take advantage. Segmented and disparate ways to view each different event will lead to lower viewership, therefore curating and organisation of these events is a considerable business opportunity. It’s easy to envisage a communal lobby where attendees can socialise and catch up before entering their live event of choice and catching up afterwards.
Just as in person events require a large infrastructure around them, so do their virtual counterparts. Environments and sets will need to be created. Unrestricted performances will require choreography. These events demand low latency for all viewers to experience them in the same moment and users will access them through a variety of different hardware combinations so the back end to support them will need to be managed, tested and developed continuously. Opportunities for hacking and malicious activity will be rife and as such while in person events have security guards and systems, virtual events will have security teams ensuring the integrity of their platforms.
Fortnite has proven beyond doubt the sustainability and popularity of virtual live events. There are myriad possibilities and opportunities but it is up to entertainment companies to capitalise on this success and deliver events that not only are mind blowing for the attendees but also coherent, accessible and secure.