2019 is going to be a transitional year for social media, as we begin to see digital communities emerging outside of the traditional social media platforms. Business Wire cited a survey which reported 41% of Gen Z feeling anxious, sad, or depressed by platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. With them being the first digital native generation, I’m sure everyone else is feeling the effects even more.

This coincides with the fact that there are simply more places to digitally escape: whether that be streaming networks, playing video games, or tuning into our favorite creators on YouTube and Twitch. There are many different flavors of digital escapism. However, the ones that figure out how to turn their entertaining escape into a digital community, are the ones that will create a bond with their members beyond the entertainment and they’ll reach essential status.

Look at Fortnite, for example. Most will see it as a battle royale video game. Some will see the unique business model behind it, where it’s free to play but users pay to upgrade the looks of their character. But the people who really understand Fortnite’s strategy, are the ones that see the digital community Fortnite has forged:

  • It’s welcoming to new members. No matter what platform you own, whether that be the PC, iPhone, iPad, Nintendo Switch, PS4, or Xbox, you can play the game.
  • It’s purpose driven. Hop on a game, try to win a battle royale, and keep it moving. That’s all.
  • It has members that expand on this purpose. Fortnite’s players stream their games live to audiences, offer lessons to each other, and post about their experiences everywhere.
  • The most important piece of the puzzle, the community admins giving back to their community in the form of events.

That last point is something new to Fortnite. But it’s a critical part of cultivating digital communities that want to exist in a larger form than an online presence.

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A Concert in a Video Game?

Fortnite broke down barriers and introduced us all too a new concept less than two weeks ago. Fortnite put on a live, virtual concert in their video game. Pleasant Park, which is an area on the Fortnite game map, became the latest stop on a musician’s music tour.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of electronic music or have never heard of the EDM producer Marshmello, Fortnite’s live in-game concert was still a shockingly stunning sight to behold — it was also an unprecedented moment in gaming. It truly felt like a glimpse into the future of interactive entertainment, where the worlds of gaming, music, and celebrity combined to create a virtual experience we’ve never quite seen before.

At 2PM ET today [Feb. 2, 2019], every one of the likely tens of millions of players of Epic Games’ battle royale title were transported to a virtual stage. There, Christopher Comstock — who goes by the DJ name Marshmello and is known best for his signature food-shaped helmet — began a 10-minute mini-set.

…[Fortnite crafted this experience having learned from some of the] past one-time live events like its iconic rocket launch and its most recent freezing over of the entire game map.

Nick Statt, The Verge

Virtual events are by no means a new concept. Oculus Venues puts on multi-monthly virtual reality concerts, NBA games, conferences, and even comedy shows. Second Life, the online game where you literally live a second life, allowed users to host live concerts in the game – and this was more than a decade ago. However, we’ve never seen a free event, at this large of a scale, and inside a video game.

The Abilities of Virtual Events.

There are really no limitations to the size of virtual events. Unlike a stadium, which has a capacity and therefore a need to maximize revenue. Virtual events are basically limitless. The logistics of housing 10 people versus housing 10 million comes down to computing power. And that can be accounted for.

In an article titled, Clickbait as a Business Model is Dead – Will Live Events Save Journalism? I talked about how media publications will start using virtual events to attract paying users.

Barstool Sports is one media company that’s getting live events right. A couple of years ago, they purchased an amateur boxing league called Rough N’ Rowdy and has since turned it into a quarterly fight night that features anyone from amateur boxers to average joes that want to settle a grudge. One of the first events they had they sold around 13,000 pay-per-view seats at $16 a head, which isn’t that bad for a small media company.

Similarly, BuzzFeed’s Tasty food network has built a strong enough following where it would be interesting to see them monetize through virtual cooking events. Viewers can pay to join and cook along with some of the Tasty chefs, engage in some nice dialogue with the creators, and just have a good time.

Live Events Will Save Journalism

However, I don’t believe digital communities should use virtual events to generate revenue – at least not revenue from their members. This is easy to say for Fortnite, who’s figured out their revenue streams already – having generated an estimated $2.4 billion in 2018 solely off of in-game character skins. Honestly, though, the principle applies to all digital communities.

A virtual event should be used to generate connection, not revenue. Digital communities, by nature, lack human touch. Therefore, virtual events are a great way to get that face time in and create a massively shared experience.

A digital community’s greatest defense against competitors is the community itself. So the more you provide that community with different experiences, the more ingrained in their lifestyle you become.

Fortnite committing to an event like this once a week or every other week is going to go a long way in making sure they don’t lose a bunch of gamers to Apex Legends, which is Fortnite’s competitor from EA.

In a way, virtual events are to digital communities, what free birthday cake is to restaurants. Restaurants will happily give you a free slice of birthday cake and sing to you, as gratitude for choosing to celebrate at their restaurant. It’s a gesture that pays dividends over time.

This is the value of virtual events to digital communities. And as I said before, digital communities are the future of human interaction on the internet.

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