At the end of June, Fortnite hosted three Christopher Nolan movie streams in-game -- "Batman Begins," "Inception," or "The Prestige," for free, for players to watch.
On July 4th, they hosted a conversation about race and racism in America, “We the People,” hosted by Van Jones, rapper Killer Mike, Jemele Hille and Elaine Welteroth.
Aside from the obvious level of “wow, who knew a game could do that” or “a screen within a screen? That’s crazy!”, there are further implications for Fortnite burgeoning into the video ecosystem and putting on events like this.
For many who are unfamiliar with Fortnite game play, it can be hard to imagine what watching a movie within a video game might look like. Here is how that works.
Fortnite is a third-person game that allows you to pay for customizable costumes, dance moves, poses, and more for your avatar.
At designated times around the world, Fortnite players went to a specific part of the arena -- dubbed the Party Royale Big Screen, stripped of any weapons or absurdly distracting weaponry/vehicles that Fortnite usually contains, and got into position to watch the movies.
If players were talking too much during the movie, individual players could simply choose to mute all communications from them. The only issue, really, was that players could block other players' view of the screen with their own avatars.
However, that proved to occur very infrequently, as many players sat still trying to watch it for themselves, and dashed around during the parts when they got bored.
Best of all, players were given tomatoes to throw, which many did during parts of the film they did not like, and sometimes for no reason at all.
During fight scenes they could play fight along, and during epic moments they could jump around too. It sounds like more fun that a normal movie theater in some ways, right?
The Social and Intellectual Side
When I was a kid, my parents, like most others, believed that I was locking myself in the basement and gaming all night by myself, and that ultimately I wasn’t being social.
Quickly, they realized how wrong that impression was. For the most part, I only play games that I can play with my friends, and one of my friend groups is entirely kept together by our mutual video game-playing.
One is an investment banker living in NYC, while another is a security council researcher in Switzerland, and the third is a full-time video-game streamer on Twitch in Florida. We all had met in middle school and early high school, but went our separate ways shortly after and would not have maintained the relationship that we have without gaming.
With COVID-19 making it sketchy -- and in many states, prohibited -- to go to movie theaters and engage in communal activities, Fortnite's community-friendly movie screening is a great way to keep kids connected.
We have already seen the great success of Fortnite’s in-game concerts with Travis Scott and the electronic DJ Marshmello -- 11 million people attended Marshmello’s set, while 28 million attended Travis Scott’s performance -- so this feels like a no-brainer.
What I also liked in particular about the July 4th discussion of race is that Epic Games and Fortnite attempted to deliver crucial educational content to Fortnite players.
While many might be too young to understand, or found it boring, they are introducing key, real-world social issues into the “curriculum,” so to speak, of gamers.
In addition, these kinds of events continue to build upon the growing and deliberate idea that Fortnite is more than just a game -- it’s a digital world away from the real world in which players live another life.
If this is the first time you’re hearing this, it’s not a novel idea. There are a myriad of articles by myself and others diving deep into the open dialogue of CEO of Epic Games and publisher of Fortnite Tim Sweeney, on Fortnite’s existence as a metaverse -- aka, the digital world I just mentioned.
The Business Side
Full disclosure -- I don’t watch linear TV. I’m a 23-year-old male who bums off of his parents’ various streaming subscriptions (except for the Disney+, they bum off of mine!). However, I do watch video content through my Xbox and those streaming services via apps -- so I am, in effect, still part of the TV ecosystem.
Critically, Fortnite’s movie event places video within a TV still, and as mobile phones have developed the same video capabilities as consoles, desktops, and TVs, you will ultimately find parts of the video ecosystem no matter where you look.
Fortnite has now become a place to take part in the video ecosystem by watching video with friends, not just playing games.
It’s more than just Fortnite -- it’s a place to connect with all sorts of other content.
I wrote previously about Fortnite’s in-game, promotional tune-in type advertising with the release of the latest Star Wars movie in December.
In May, and pre-movie screenings of Nolan’s films in Fortnite, the in-game event rolled trailers for Nolan’s next film, "Tenet," the release of which was pushed back again and again due to COVID-19.
After the original debut in May, they even hosted a quick one-on-one discussion with the "Tenet" lead actor, John David Washington.
I’m a gamer. I know I speak for my fellow gamers when I say that gamers don’t like interruptive ads. They ruin the gaming experience and feel forced upon us. Fortnite’s form of advertising, through these trailers and in-game events, feels different.
They feel like inclusive and fun community events that you experience alongside others, not just alone sitting on your couch or going through your computer. Heck, I haven’t even played Fortnite since its launch three years ago, and even I felt like I was missing out on a cool, futuristic experience.
Bottom line -- it would have been great to throw some tomatoes and mute some annoying kids. Can’t do that in a real movie theater, can you?