On a Friday in April millions of people sat on a grassy hill watching popular rap artist Travis Scott play tracks off of his latest album. The rapper was the size of a building, a storm was closing in, and the audience consisted of humanoid hot dogs and soldiers with fish bowls for heads. This wasn’t some crazy fever dream. This was a concert that took place inside a video game.
Admittedly, the words “Travis Scott Fornite concert” sound like a mouth full of nonsense, but it may prove to be a seminal moment in the live entertainment space. You may have never heard of it before reading this article, but consider this: 12.3 million people watched that concert through a video game. No need to clean your glasses or pinch yourself, that’s a real number. 12.3 million.
Virtual concerts aren’t an entirely new thing. The video game Second Life hosted a virtual concert all the way back in 2007. While that show didn’t receive a ton of fanfare, it was the first in what would become a growing trend of musical artists creating virtual and AR, or augmented reality, experiences for fans. Singer, Bjork, released a virtual reality music video in 2015. And bands like the Gorillaz brought their music videos to life back in 2017.
To some, digital events like the Travis Scott concert are more than just a fad. They are signals that we are moving towards entering what some in tech and Silicon Valley refer to as “the metaverse.”
The metaverse, simply put, is an imagined future internet made up of shared digital spaces connected to a larger digital “universe.” The term came from the 1992 novel, Snowcrash, and the concept has been explored in films like Tron and Ready Player One, among others. But the metaverse has jumped from the pages and screens of science-fiction stories and is becoming real life.
Some say we’re already living in the metaverse, others think it may be some years away. Whatever the case may be, the results, so far, are real. As mentioned before, 12.3 million people attended the Travis Scott concert, 10 million attended DJ and music producer Marshmello’s Fortnite concert, and even bands like ABBA are getting in on the action, announcing a string of virtual concerts. Not only that, companies like Facebook are betting on the metaverse as we move away from the fringes and into the heart of the digital age.
So far, it is mostly concerts that have been hosted in these new digital spaces, but other industries will certainly be affected by the rise of the metaverse. The theatre industry will no doubt be among them.
It may not happen through a video game such as Fortnite, but watching a theatre performance in a shared digital space is not much of a stretch. There are already shows that have taken advantage of technologies like live streaming. Herding Cats, a show that played at the SOHO Theatre in London, also offered a livestream version of the show for fans around the globe to enjoy. As the next generation of theatre fans grows and adds their spending power and trends to the bottom line, there is no doubt that these livestreams will go from a simple livestream to taking place within a digital universe that these younger fans will be accustomed to inhabiting.
While plenty of other shows will no doubt take advantage of live streaming, especially with social distancing and new COVID variants, unfortunately, popping up, the Herding Cats example has an interesting element that may reveal something about theatre and the metaverse at large. That is the use of NFTs.
The first instance of NFTs in theatre came from the company Third Act, a company specializing in bringing NFTs to theatre fans. In collaboration with the production team behind Herding Cats, Third Act created multiple non-fungible tokens for the production. While this may have been the first ever instance of NFTs being used in the theatre industry, it certainly won’t be the last.
As theatre takes advantage of these digital spaces, these tokens will prove to be integral to the development of the metaverse. Not only will they be a new type of souvenir, but they will also act as an entirely new type of asset that fans can collect and trade. You could never buy the actual physical chair you sat in the first time you watched Wicked at the Winter Theatre in New York City, but in the digital world, there are no such limits. Everything involved in the performance would be for sale. This would add not only an entirely new revenue stream for shows, but would almost be, much like a parallel universe in which you compete with friends in battle royale style combat, a parallel industry in the digital space.
While the metaverse may sound like a flight of fancy, it’s actually not that crazy of a concept. In a way, we already live in a primordial, two-dimensional version of the metaverse. We are constantly looking at social media (digital spaces) on our phones through the internet (a shared digital universe). So it’s not such a crazy stretch to think that, with the proliferation of VR and AR, these spaces will go from 2D to 3D. And that we will be able to watch Broadway shows from everywhere within a specifically tailored digital space. And as NFTs provide an economy for these digital spaces, companies like Third Act, which create those NFTs, will become integral to this new digital economy.
You may not be watching Dear Evan Hansen while playing World of Warcraft any time soon, but you’d be surprised how fast things move. And with millions of people already on board, it seems it is only a matter of time before we enter the theatreverse.