Fortnite, Gaming, and Social+

It’s interesting that Fast Company magazine’s World’s Most Innovative Companies in 2021 lists Epic Games as an innovator in social media, not in gaming, largely because of Fortnite. Interesting because that’s how I see Fortnite as well.

A couple of people have commented on the increased number of stories on gaming in my newsletter, The Tech Landscape, this past year or so. To clarify, it’s not all gaming that I post about there, but a very specific area: social+ gaming.

Social+ is (very, very broadly) platforms which have a social graph that isn’t the main reason for using them. The social graph is critical to Facebook and Twitter; the feed exists because of your connections, and if you don’t follow anyone, there’s little use for them. Whereas in Fortnite (and TikTok) you go there to play, to create, to learn, or otherwise be entertained, and the social graph improves your experience but isn’t necessary for it.

So while I, as a gamer, generally enjoy narrative-heavy single-person gaming, what I post about in the newsletter are social+ games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Fortnite, Roblox, and so on. They’re interesting to me because of the social+ aspect; because of their in-game economies and opportunities for customisation, and because they’re games that enable creation as well as consumption.

Anyway, all of this is to say: please sign up to my newsletter, The Tech Landscape.


Physical+Virtual Events

The 10th annual League of Legends World Championship has just finished (Korea’s Damwon Gaming team won). The final is famed for its opening ceremony; this year saw physical music stars and dancers perform with the virtual group K/DA, in an augmented reality experience created with live in-camera digital effects and broadcast on the big screens of Pudong football stadium to 6,000 fans

The quarter-finals of the competitions used virtual studios: the room the contestants played in had walls and floor made of LED screens which ran animations to provide optical illusions, enhanced by in-camera AR. This meant that the dancers in the opening sections could interact with the digital effects in real-time.

This behind-the-scenes video explains the technology (also used in the Disney+ show, The Mandalorian) and shows more effects that it enabled.

In the same weekend, Fortnite’s Party Royale Island hosted a 30+ minute set by musician J Balvin, using a virtual studio and post-production effects (as well as some cute ghost costumes).

The New York Times has an in-depth piece on how the J Balvin set was recorded—including its virtual guest stars, recorded separately in front of a green screen, then added later.

The LoL World Championship was an IRL event augmented with digital; Fortnite’s Afterlife Party was a digital event enhanced by IRL enhanced by digital!

Lockdowns around the world make it hard to produce live (or as-live) entertainment events, but the desire to be entertained hasn’t gone away. Entertainment (and fashion) brands moving into games is one of the most interesting shifts happening in digital at the moment; another is the move in the opposite direction, where the graphics engines which power those games (like Epic’s Unreal Engine) are starting to be used for real-time digital effects in visual media. A great merge is underway.