Video games have come a long way from pixels and Pacman. What used to be frowned upon as a waste of time has now turned into big business and a legitimate art form. Video games, as an industry, actually topped both music and movies combined, having grown 27% to $56.9 billion in revenue in 2020. The next step seems to be the integration of NGT games and audience interaction.

Something the video game industry has over other industries in the entertainment sector is the ability to adopt new technology. While that may not be the sole reason for the art form’s success as a business, it certainly plays a major factor.

In 2006, Nintendo released the Wii. And while the Wii seems like an old hat fifteen years later, people were lining up around the block to get their hands on the console before that year’s holiday season. More recently, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X have enjoyed so much success, that it’s nearly impossible to get your hands on one or the other for the sticker price.

The success and ridiculously rabid rate at which new consoles are purchased speaks to the fanaticism of video game fans. They, just like theatre fans, are some of the most passionate in the world. But there’s something to be said about an industry succeeding because of a continued adoption of new technology. In that way, video games have somewhat of an unfair advantage.

The nature of the art form is linked inextricably to technology. Consoles are, after all, basically just computers. And in terms of capability, computers advance at a higher rate than, say, film cameras.

An argument could be made that, due to the close association that video game companies share with technology, they are more likely to adopt new technologies that aren’t as closely linked to the industry. NFTs and crypto are examples of tech that isn’t necessarily meant for the proliferation of video games as a form of art and entertainment, yet the video game industry has adopted it almost right away.

Cover art for the game Axie Infinity from Sky Mavis.

Developed by Vietnamese game studio Sky Mavis, Axie Infinity is a game that uses an Ethereum based cryptocurrency called SLP (Smooth Love Potion). The game allows players to trade and battle with creatures known as “axies.” In that way, Axie Infinity is sort of like Pokemon, but unlike Pokemon, players are actually able to earn big real-world bucks playing the game.

In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some players in the Philippines were playing the game as a full-time job. More games like Axie Infinity are on the way. The recently announced MetalCore, for example, is a similar type of game that is powered by decentralized blockchain technology and allows players to grind out real world currency.

Marrying the ability to make real-world money with a video game isn’t just changing the video game industry, it’s bringing into question the product-audience relationship. And other industries can possibly take advantage of those now blurring lines.

The theatre industry is an example of a sector within the greater entertainment business that may be able to leverage NFTs and blockchain to evolve the fan product relationship and change the future of audience interaction. One of the more basic ways theatre can adopt NFTs is by creating digital merchandise.

While this may seem like a relatively simple aspect of the industry, involving NFTs will transform merchandising into something completely different. An NFT is, by its very nature, a limited-run collectible. And so adding a digital approach to merchandise makes sense, as it would add an additional stream of revenue to a production, one that would continue on far after the curtain falls. For instance, on marketplaces like Third Act, fans can auction their NFTs, and unlike selling that old shirt or mug on Ebay, productions get a slice of every NFT sale.

And while that changes the audience interaction somewhat, it doesn’t do it on the same scale that has occurred for other industries like video games. But there are other, more innovative ways that the theatre industry can use NFTs.

Lion King and Wicked putting on a live performance through TikTok.

Two very popular musicals, The Lion King and Wicked, have had their own moments premiering in popular digital spaces. To celebrate its return to performances, The Lion King offered fans a livestream of the opening number exclusively on Tik Tok. While the performance of the opening number was the main event, fans were also treated to a pre-show.

NFTs can factor into future live streamed events. Similar to how video games reward players with NFTs and crypto currency, musicals could offer similar rewards to fans who show up to these digital performances. They could also offer other incentives for audience interaction. Likes, comments, and shares could be rewarded with exclusive digital merchandise available only to the fans who viewed the live performance. And a similar tactic could be used to fill physical audiences, with fans receiving NFTs for showing up to theatres.

In games like Axie Infinity and MetalCore, players play the game in order to mine crypto. They are issued NFTs based on their performance in game, which can, in some cases, be traded for real-world cash. The same sort of ecosystem would apply here. With the “players” or audience, receiving real world cash for showing up and participating in either a digital, or physical, a show.

The theatre industry would be wise to take note of the popularity that Tik Tok has with theatre fans. It gives an indication on how theatre audiences, especially younger segments of the audience, react and act in the digital space. It also could be a harbinger of things to come.

NFT Collection from Third Acts, Herding Cats collection and NFT examples from Axie Infinity.

Admittedly, all that may seem a bit far off in the future. But there are ways, other than just merchandise, that the theatre industry can look to right now in order to reshape audience interaction. Since NFTs are digital, they can, unlike physical merchandise, update and change. Imagine audience members being issued NFTs of a script, or early sketches of musical numbers, and watching as those NFTs go from rough draft to complete piece. The same could be done when it comes to costumes or set building. Audiences could purchase NFTs that are living pieces of art, ones that evolve with their physical counterparts, until eventually the NFT is “finished” when the real-world piece is.

This would give the audience a backstage pass to how theatre is created, but it would also open up an entirely new revenue stream for theatre productions. Right now, theatre is capturing only a miniscule slice of what is possible in terms of market share. Owning an audience’s attention before the curtain goes up and after the lights go down, is going to be important in a digital future where audiences live online.

Some may think that giving audience’s an inside look into how things are made, or even a say in what’s being made, is a recipe for disaster, the nature of entertainment is becoming more democratized. With streaming and the ability for fans to interact with their favorite actors and writers, the internet and the digital are changing forever the face of audience interaction. And while it may be some time before the next Hamilton pays out NFTs to their audience, theatre, like video games, should think about the forever-changing nature of audience interaction.

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