Virtual Concerts Get Unreal
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
I love live music, and my favorite concert experience was Nirvana at American University in 1993.
Two years later, I had my first exposure to an online shared 3D world in a program called “Worlds Chat.” It was like a simple version of “Doom” with the guns and hellspawn replaced with a text box and a cursor.
At the time, immersive, 3D spaces like Worlds Chat felt like the inevitable next step that would eventually replace the 2D, text-and-image based internet.
Twenty-five years later, in the face of a global pandemic, the live event and virtual 3D worlds are colliding.
While there’s still nothing that can replace seeing an amazing artist live, 3D spaces are offering experiences that transcend the 2D world of Zoom, Instagram/Facebook, and Youtube.
The gold standard was set two weeks ago by Travis Scott, who held a massive 3D virtual concert with over 12 million simultaneous viewers for the initial launch with almost 30 million viewers overall. The show was a highly produced interactive spectacle, delivered via the popular Fortnite game.
The 10-minute event featured multiple set changes between surreal environments ranging from the bottom of the ocean to outer space and launched a #1 song.
That said, it certainly wasn’t without its rough edges — to get into the event, I had to set up an Epic account, download and install Fortnite (which is currently taking up over 70 GB on my PC’s drive), and find the event buried in the game’s sub-menus.
Once inside, I was greeted by the sounds of gunfire and people trying to kill me (just another day in Fortnite).
A few minutes and a few hundred rounds of ammunition later, the event started with a slow musical build that transitioned to Scott’s hit, “Sicko Mode,” performed by a Godzilla sized version of the artist.
As much as the lead-up experience was a bit off-putting, once the show started, I was impressed.
All of the time spent walking through the Fortnite map before the show added to a sense of scale and presence once the concert began (watching a video doesn’t quite do it justice).
The ability to move around and interact with aspects of the event made the experience so much more impactful.
I could even trigger dance moves with keypresses, including one inspired by the techno-Viking.
In addition to the set changes, there were physics changes, where the floor became a trampoline and or tilted side to side.
This all added to the sense that I wasn’t just watching something, but actually taking part in it.
The Other Guys
That sense stands in stark contrast with two other recent virtual events I’ve tried: Wiz Khalifa’s concert in Oculus Venues and Post Malone’s virtual Nirvana tribute.
Malone put on a pretty standard rock show, streamed from quarantine over Youtube, and Khalifa did basically the same thing, streamed into a shared VR theater.
The big difference here was that in the Wiz Khalifa show, the streaming video was presented in a VR theater where I could look around and talk with the people sitting nearby.
This was both a plus and a minus; it felt a lot more like being at a concert than just watching a youtube video (sorry Post). On the other hand, it required a VR headset, linking to my Facebook account (what’s that password again?), and the payoff was hearing a bunch of strangers talking over the show.
The Holy Grail
So what’s the answer here?
The ideal online event experience should be as captivating and immersive as Scott’s Astronomical and as easy to access as Malone’s YouTube concert (just click a link and you’re there).
Throw in a dash of the social features of Oculus (but with actual friends instead of randos), and we’ve got something pretty compelling.
Let users interact in a meaningful way (or at least let people dance for real), and it could be truly spectacular.
It sounds like a lot to ask for, but live events are actually a perfect test-case for cloud rendering/processing, where the number-crunching and massive data storage is done on remote servers at the cost of some latency (more acceptable for a concert than a game).
Obviously, nothing will ever take the place of the excitement and energy of a live concert, but in a world that is socially distancing for a while, this might be the next best thing.