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Lil Nas’s Roblox debut pushes in-game concerts forward

20th November 2020 Print

Unless you were lucky enough to get out and see a few shows during the first two or three months of 2020, it’s unlikely you’ve been able to attend a concert this year. That’s nobody’s fault - this year has been a bad one for the performing arts industry, and musicians and fans the world over are feeling the strain of not being able to connect with each other. Right now, we don’t know when live crowds will be allowed to attend indoor performances again. In the meantime, musicians are taking advantage of the latest technology to connect with their fans in ways that wouldn’t have been possible as recently as five years ago. 

We're talking, of course, about the new trend of musicians creating avatars and delivering 'live' performances on digital stages inside some of the world's biggest and most popular video games. DJ Marshmello started the trend with a performance inside 'Fortnite' that attracted millions of viewers, followed by Travis Scott, who performed a few months later and managed to attract even more viewers than Marshmello did. Other gaming platforms and musicians took notice of these successes and started getting in on the act. Minecraft hosted its first dance music festival in July this year, offering players the chance to get together in a virtual world and enjoy the music of Griz, Juaz, and many others. 

Even without these boundary-pushing performances, we’ve seen the lines between music and video games become ever more blurred in recent years. One look at a leading online slots website like Kong Casino will tell you that putting real musicians into a virtual world is a guaranteed money-spinner (if you’ll excuse the pun). Rock bands jumped aboard the bandwagon a few years ago, with licensed online slots created for legends of the genre like Guns n’ Roses and Motorhead. It didn’t take long for other performers to see the potential of this new avenue. Today, you’ll find that artists as diverse as the Village People and Dolly Parton have been recreated inside their own dedicated online slots, joined by iconic names of the past like Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley. 

While there's no doubt that gambling enthusiasts enjoy their music-themed online slots, there's a difference between an online slots game - where the music is more of a background attraction - and a 'live' performance where music is played in real-time, accompanied by an avatar of the performer on a stage for the audience to see. The musician is genuinely 'there in person,' logged into the game at the same time as the audience, and able to interact with fans in real time. As so many other ways to connect with fans have been made impossible due to the global pandemic this year, being able to reach huge numbers of people this way has become an increasingly vital part of marketing and remaining relevant for some of the biggest names in world music. Rapper Lil Nas X is the latest big name to give it a try, but he steered clear of "Fortnite" and "Minecraft" when the time came for him to dip his toes in the virtual world. Instead, Lil Nas X has just broken records with a concert held inside “Roblox.” 

"Roblox" might not have the same profile in the media as "Fortnite," but it's no less popular. Having been released in 2006, it might be a little long in the tooth now, but the game has found ways to evolve and remain relevant for the past fourteen years. It's showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. As of the beginning of November 2020, "Roblox" has more than 160 million active users logging into the game every month. A significant number of them - some of whom hadn't logged into their accounts for a year or more - tuned in when Lil Nas X visited their virtual world. At its peak, there were thirty-three million people online to see Lil Nas X, some of whom created a game account for that express purpose. That's more people than there were tuned in to Travis Scott on "Fortnite," setting a new record for this pioneering type of concert. Prior to Lil Nas X smashing through the thirty million barrier, Scott's record stood at twenty-seven million. 

With so many people wanting to get in on the action, Lil Nas X spread his performances out across three days. He appeared for only ten minutes each time. Even in such a short window, players couldn't have missed him when he showed up. His avatar appeared as a giant, standing high above the game world and visible from anywhere on the map. Aside from being a marketing coup for the company behind "Roblox," this also served as a great promotional opportunity for Lil Nas X. His ten-minute sets showcased his new single "Holiday," which will he'll be hoping generates him big numbers of streams and sales in the run-up to Christmas. He can also proudly say that he delivered his vocals live in real time for the entirety of each performance, as opposed to Travis Scott's pre-recorded appearances. 

Hopefully, we'll begin to see an easing of restrictions at the beginning of 2021, and we'll be able to stand next to our friends in busy arenas once more, enjoying our favorite musicians in the flesh as they stand on stage. Even when that happens, though, we don't expect virtual performances to go away. The world's largest music festivals offer musicians the chance to play in front of crowds of up to one hundred thousand people in real life. By stepping inside the video game world, as these pioneering DJs and rap artists have done, they can perform to millions of people at the same time. The experience isn't the same, but the reach is enormous. We suspect that in years to come, we'll begin to see musicians launch their single sand albums inside games more often than they do on the road. Real life tours and concerts won't become a thing of the past, but they'll be joined by virtual performances on an equal footing. The way that we interact with music and musicians is changing, and the genie won't be going back inside the bottle now it's out.