22. May 2020
To the Metaverse – and beyond
Warner Brothers just premiered the latest trailer of the upcoming Christopher Nolan film Tenet – in Fortnite. This got a lot of attention in the media. As a marketing coup, it’s safe to say that it has worked spectacularly well given all this additional buzz and exposure.
Here, I am more interested in another angle: how much of that is a gimmick? Would any media outlet still report excitedly about a movie trailer being shown exclusively in a video game in 2-3y? Will watching an entire movie from within a video game become the norm? And how much of that means that we are all about to dive into the “Metaverse”?
It’s is also interesting to ponder for whom this is ultimately most beneficial. So let’s take a brief look.
How big a deal is this?
Fortnite has an amazingly large audience. Epic recently reported having passed over 350 million registered players and that over 12m players were online to watch the Travis Scott event live. These are big number – not only for a game.
How do these figures stack up to other media? There are three competitors when it comes to showing a movie trailer: good old TV, YouTube, and your faithful, real-world movie theaters. Let’s take a look at some figures:
- The Super Bowl regularly draws in about 100m viewers – not counting online viewership and pre and post match online readership. And let’s not forget that the Champions League is much, much bigger than that.
- “Fox & Friends”, Fox News' morning show, has over 2m viewers – every single morning.
- YouTube has over 2 billion monthly viewers – and those are only registered, logged-in users.
- Covid-19 apart, movie theaters still have more than 1 billion annual visits – just in the US.
I am not a media analyst and there are obvious flaws in such oversimplified comparisons. But it does put the scale into perspective. Clearly, YouTube is the ultimate reach champion with an absurdly huge scale.
But Fortnite can pull an impressively large audience. Moreover, given the right product, this audience is arguably very valuable. Tenet, with its geeky and still obscure theme of “time inversion”, does seems like a perfect fit for such a placement.
Who wins in this?
There are two sides to this. On the one hand, Epic is operating one of the largest games-as-a-service in the world. On the other side of the equation, we have Warner Brothers, who has invested a few hundred million dollars into this movie and tries to promote it in the best way possible.
I have no insights whatsoever about the deal itself but I would assume that some money exchanged hand for this promotional placement. As the movie publisher, WB will always go where the largest relevant audience is. It doesn’t matter where it is – but if it’s there, they will want to promote their product there and they likely will be willing to pay for it.
Fortnite, on the other hand, has two prerogatives:
- Keep the players entertained and in the game.
Regarding point 1, content is king. For a game, “content” comes in many shapes: new maps, new outfits, new weapons, new rules, etc. But showing non game-related content may very well be an extra bonus on top that will keep players hanging in the game and give them a reason to come back. As long as there is something new to entertain and worth their time, they will.
So if you think about it, there are no real winners and losers here but only winners:
- Warner Brothers gets access to a highly relevant audience to promote the movie.
- Epic gains some advertising money and additional (and briefly exclusive) relevant content for its massive audience.
In the end, as all of entertainment is a battle for audiences' attention, if players hang out longer in Fortnite, they aren’t on YouTube or on Facebook. So long-term, the fact that such content is available directly within the Fortnite universe could be a much bigger deal than the additional ad revenue stream this may generate.
So overall, this seems a rare but perfect win-win-win scenario.
To the metaverse – and beyond
Novelty buzz aside, I have strong doubts about this being a momentous occasion in the foreseeable future. It rather feels like a case of Amara’s law: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run.”
The question isn’t whether audiences will spend more and more time in “virtual universes” such as Fortnite. We know they do and we have known this over 20y now ever since MMORPGs came into being. But mediums like games still have a long way to go before they reach the level of YouTube or even old-tech TV in terms of sheer audience size. And even then, I cannot help but wonder whether the mode of entertainment and convenience will not be the much stronger drivers overall.
Let’s imagine that all you care about is finding and watching the latest trailer: would you want to bother to jump into Fortnite and lug your character around? Or would you just go straight to YouTube (or Google, which amounts to the same result). In other words: “playing a game” is a different mode of entertainment – a different use case – than “watching a movie”.
In 2015, Ben Evan’s noted in his succinct adaption of Zawinski’s law that “Old: all software expands until it includes messaging. New: all messaging expands until it includes software”. Today, we see even more of such boundaries blurring, accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis. For games, both parts of that statement have obviously been true for a long time. Almost all successful games will (eventually) have some form of messaging. And games have been part of messaging apps for a long time.
As such, the “Metaverse” still feels like a concept that can be summarized as “being online”. Today, the vast majority of the world is, particularly in developed countries. These online audiences will consume the content they want and there are two major deciding factors involved when it comes to “where”:
- Exclusivity: they can only find this content on a given platform, i.e., you can only watch “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus, “Stranger Things” on Netflix and “Game of Thrones” on HBO.
- Convenience: it’s the easiest, fastest way to get to the content.
I don’t think that games will be able to claim exclusivity of other media content in the same way that e.g. YouTube or Disney or Netflix could anytime soon. Neither do I think that consuming conventional such as movies and TV shows ultimately would be as convenient from within a game. This doesn’t mean it won’t happen or that it’s impossible – just that it is unlikely to reach the same scale as YouTube or Netflix could.
Which ultimately brings me back to the second part of Amara’s law: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Yes, today it’s technically possible if not trivial to show content like movies or music or live streams within a game. But apart from the novelty, there is no real added value here. But that doesn’t mean that added value doesn’t or cannot exist. The real question then is: what type of new and unique forms of entertainment will only be made possible by being together online in a shared “game” universe?
Today, nobody really knows. And that makes it really exciting to watch.
I work for King. All views in this post are personal and my own. They do not represent the views of King or ActivisionBlizzard. This post links to other websites and information obtained from third-party sources and I cannot ensure nor verify accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation.