From The Sims to Fortnite, in-game gigs are more popular than ever – is live music’s future virtual?

Travis Scott Fortnite

For the most part, we may not be able to visit actual music festivals this summer: but pop music is currently thriving virtually in video games.

The Sims 4 is just the latest in a long line of games to offer a digital music experience, and it’ll be a world away from Glastonbury.

From 29 June until 7 July, an in-game music festival called Sims Sessions will run with headline act Bebe Rexha who’ll be singing in Simlish. 

She’ll be joined by Glass Animals lead singer Dave Bayley and singer, songwriter and producer Joy Oladokun.

Since 2004, The Sims has partnered with almost 500 artists to record their songs in Simlish, but this is the first time Simlish songs will be featured in-game in the festival format.

“I’ve always been a fan of how The Sims empowers players to express their creativity with others in the game,” said Bebe Rexha. 

“Sims Sessions will be a fun experience for fans from around the world to enjoy music and hang with friends in a way that only The Sims can offer. I’m so excited to return to the game and also can’t wait to see the fans posting their Simlish videos of ‘Sabotage!’”

Sims Sessions is more evidence of pop artists using gaming and virtual worlds to share their music.

Back in April, electronic artist Porter Robinson performed at his second Secret Sky virtual festival. The browser-based festival had support for VR headsets to allow attendees to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

Beyond the main stage, a number of smaller areas were accessible, with avatars for each member of the crowd who could dance and chat with each other. Despite being individuals on headsets, the aim was to recreate a communal experience virtually.

Visually, Journey provided key inspiration.

In an interview with Games Radar, Robinson discussed creating the experience.

“I think that there are certain parts of the live concert experience that you miss when it’s just a video and a chat,” he said. 

“So I think that was, that was quite a bit of the goal, we just thought it would be an interesting thing for a virtual festival to do to have a physical place where the show can be experienced, where you can have maybe more of a sense of how many people are around you and see people jumping around.”

He adds: “I think that the future of VR is really, really bright and so I think that VR concerts are just going to get better and better.”

Fortnite, of course, is the headline act when it comes to music in games. Load up a match and you’ll be instantly hit by other players dancing along to the latest chart-topping hits, from Doja Cat to BTS.

But it’s also where virtual concerts in gaming began, with Marshmello way back in 2019, even before the pandemic made in-person gigs impossible. At the time it was the biggest in-game event yet, with 10.7 million players logging in to watch. A YouTube video of the concert is now almost at 60 million views.

This was later beaten in 2020 when Travis Scott performed to a staggering 27.7 million in-game viewers. You’d struggle to find a stadium big enough to hold that many spectators, to say the least. 

And on 24 June, Leicester indie band easy life performed in Fortnite too – the first British act to do so.

“There are no boundaries in Fortnite,” said lead singer Murray Matravers to Newsbeat. “It was like making a huge music video.”

There’s no doubt that such a massive platform for the band will see an uplift in fans alongside the usual music marketing.

Perhaps more exciting, though, is when pop music and gaming are integrated in more unique ways.

Sayonara Wild Hearts, released back in 2019, describes itself as a “pop album video game”, with an original soundtrack from Swedish composers Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng.

Like the best pop albums, it deals in heartbreak, touching on mental health and queer themes too. And with its euphoric dream pop music, it rivals the bittersweet sounds of other Swedish popstars like Robyn – all icy synths and catchy melodies.

As a rhythm game that lasts around an hour in total, it is essentially an interactive pop album – the next step on from Beyoncé’s visual albums that have since been replicated by others. It’s also a brilliant pop album in itself, outside of the game. Good luck getting “your wild heart glitters” out of your head from the trailer above.

More exciting still is the forthcoming release We Are OFK. Part narrative game, part interactive EP, the game follows the story of four teen friends who form an indie pop band.

The latest story trailer was revealed at the Wholesome Direct as part of E3 2021, showing off the gorgeous colourful graphics, its cast of queer characters, and of course the band’s single “Follow/Unfollow”.

We Are OFK is due out later this year as yet another example of music and gaming merging together in a new project from the ground-up. Indeed, more and more the worlds of music and gaming are colliding and intertwining together in unique ways. 

Can video games ever replicate the unique atmosphere of a gig? That remains to be seen: sticky floors, the smell of sweat and the surge of a mosh pit aren’t things you can experience virtually. However, the possibilities are certainly endless.

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