More than 12.3 million players joined Fortnite's live virtual concert with rapper Travis Scott on April 23, in which he introduced his new single and partnership with Kid Cudi. It was the largest in-game event ever.
In what participants called "a stunning and spectacular experience," we roamed the familiar worlds of Fortnite while a skyscraper-sized version of Travis Scott towered above us and teleported across surreal landscapes.
As Travis Scott shifted characters from human form to massive cyborg to spaceman, the digital world around us imploded and exploded to the beat of the song. One second I'm chasing Scott into a new rift while others dance around me, and the next we're all lifted into the air as he turns gravity on its head.
Players celebrated with custom in-game items designed for this event, and the new single, titled "THE SCOTTS," rocketed to #1 on Billboard charts. Across four replays over three days, 27.7 million unique players attended the event 45.8 million times. The video captured in Fortnite has already reached more than 24 million views and is trending in 44 countries.
My Fortnite character is an extension of myself, with powers limited by the familiar Fornite world. But suddenly that world was influenced by a higher power. Scott took godlike form and transported us across his own universe. It was the closest experience we’ve had to the tantalizing future imagined by books like "Ready Player One," "Armada" or "Ender's Game."
And it only gets better from here.
Merging worlds is the secret
Games have been creating events like these for a while now. But by opening its platform up to others, Fortnite took it somewhere new. Events organized by game publishers are typically limited to the game lore itself, meaning all elements of the experience connect to the game’s principal narrative.
An event can only go so far when limited to the game’s existing backstory. You can't fully appreciate the experience unless you're familiar with the game and you've played it long enough. It's an isolated, insular event, one that isn't crossing any borders.
The Travis Scott event with Fortnite is different. It melted two known and separate worlds together, breaking into new territory.
Fortnite players were thrilled to see the environment they call "home" temporarily turned upside down. Meanwhile, Travis Scott fans who didn't necessarily play Fortnite (yet) saw their favorite artist gain superpowers and control a new world with 12.2 million players in it. By joining forces, both Fortnite and Scott reached new yet presumably compatible audiences.
The power lies in the context
Many companies and musicians have tried to pull off an event like this. But they usually do it themselves, within their own world and on their own platform.
Scott could have developed his own technology for this event and asked people to sign up for it (artists like Björk and Gorillaz already have). He could have created a similar experience with his own proprietary technology and put millions behind broadcasting it, but it wouldn't have been the same.
Travis Scott has an audience that would have shown up. So does Coca Cola, if they chose to develop a game and let people participate in digital events. They've done it before. But this is not where the magic is.
The magic is in merging two worlds. Two worlds that are appreciated either by similar or completely different, yet compatible audiences. Leveraging and activating a new audience is the primary marketing goal for a partnership, but Fortnite’s event took it much further than this.
Open-world games like Fortnite, World of Warcraft, Second Life and Animal Crossing have amassed millions of loyal players. We can be more invested in our characters and the digital life we've created than we are in our “real life” household. Our digital worlds have become a second home, one we care for and visit to relax and meet friends.
When our familiar, cozy digital world temporarily expands, our minds and our interests do as well. Which is exactly where the possibilities lie for smart brands.
Games are the new platform
Games are more than just entertainment. They're platforms. They’re a ready stage for Travis Scott, for Coca Cola, for Tesla.
To take advantage of gaming platforms, brands need to come up with creative ideas that honor and elevate the game mechanics, the community and the existing game lore.
It's more than slapping a banner on Facebook. It's more than sponsoring a festival by putting your logo across the main stage. It’s more than creating some custom skins for a game with your logo on it. The game is our home. It’s not a race car, plastered in logos. That’s a 2005 marketing idea at the latest, and it’s time we do better.
The new era of games partnership is all about a deep integration and the merging of two existing worlds. These partnerships will benefit from a temporary, exclusive approach to make them more effective. After all, we don't want Travis Scott forever stomping around Fortnite. We eventually want our old world back, the one we know. But we'll keep our special Travis Scott items (including the physical merchandise Scott and Epic Games are still selling) as a souvenir and badge of pride, just like we’d wear a festival T-shirt. To prove we were part of something.
A player is ultimately here to play their game. So if you're able to successfully interrupt that experience and bring us somewhere special, somewhere that bends the rules of our known worlds just for the night, you've made magic. And it’s the smartest, most self-aware brands that will know how to get there.