As one of the world’s most popular video games, “Fortnite” has also become a platform. It’s hosted virtual concerts for Travis Scott and DJ Marshmello, and it debuted the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” Now, Fortnite is taking on another cultural linchpin: The film festival.
Short Nite, dedicated to animated films, kicks off at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. The free, 24-hour event will feature 12 animated short films, ranging from Academy Award-nominated titles like 2007’s “Oktapodi” to newer films such as “Bench,” which is currently long-listed for a BAFTA Award. Short Nite represent the first time a video game has been used to host a film festival, and for the filmmakers it offers an unprecedented marketing opportunity: Their work will be broadcast on a video game that, per publisher Epic Games, has more than 350 million registered players.
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Released in 2017, “Fortnite” has become a cultural phenomenon that is as well-known for limited-time events and crossovers — including game modes that feature “Star Wars” and Marvel Cinematic Universe characters to the aforementioned virtual concerts — as it is for gameplay. It’s a combination that serves to broaden the game’s appeal, including audiences who might not typically play video games.
“‘Fortnite’ is at its core a social game, and that helps transcend traditional gaming DNA,” an Epic spokesperson told IndieWire in an email interview. “Once we realized the social impact of ‘Fortnite,’ we began to design massively participatory events, and have grown them over time and in different categories.”
The consumer-facing Short Nite isn’t a traditional film festival in the vein of Sundance or TIFF — acquisition deals aren’t being inked, there’s no awards, and it’s unlikely to be a networking hub — but the event is very much an opportunity for the filmmakers to promote their art to a large audience, including those who might not otherwise be exposed to their films.
“It’s a whole new platform and audience for animation,” said “Bench” creator Rich Webber. “People that would be playing the games wouldn’t necessarily be going there to watch animation, so the fact that people will go and watch your film is giving those players something new is fantastic. It’s a big audience; a lot of people play ‘Fortnite’ from all over the world. When you’re making something, you just want it to be seen and to know it’s going to be seen by quite a few people is nice.”
These events also serve as key moneymaking opportunities for Epic. Although “Fortnite” is free to play, players can purchase V-bucks, the game’s virtual currency, to acquire in-game cosmetics (i.e. avatar or weapon skins) or unlock dances and other emotes. Epic typically offers limited-time microtransactions during its special events and Short Nite is no exception: A “Jumbo Popcorn Emote” will be available during the event for 500 V-bucks (roughly $5). Such microtransactions have made “Fortnite” one of the most financially successful video games in history; the Nielsen-owned SuperData reported that “Fortnite” generated more than $1 billion in 2020 and 2019.
Limited-time microtransactions tend to sell particularly well, especially when they’re tied to a special event. Doug Clinton, managing partner of tech VC fund Loup Ventures, noted that events such as Short Nite can serve as strong sales drivers for Epic. He predicted that future in-game events could see additional forms of monetization.
“Scarcity has always been a good impetus to get people to buy things,” Clinton said. “These events are like real-world events, so digital passes make a ton of sense, as does traditional e-commerce like digital or physical products. For a movie night, people maybe want to buy a director’s cut of a movie or get physical merchandise, especially for things that are powerful brands like Marvel and ‘Star Wars.'”
The video game industry has taken a liking to “live service” games — ones that receive regular updates for months, or years, as opposed to releasing new titles at regular intervals. As developers work to entice different kinds of consumers, virtual film festivals, concerts, and other non-gaming experiences will likely become more common in “Fortnite” and other live-service games. Epic sees value in connecting with moviegoers and has made a concerted effort to make a name for itself in the film industry. Epic’s MegaGrants program is now funding “Gilgamesh,” an animated feature film that will be created using its Unreal Engine software.
Epic declined to provide data on the number of consumers who created “Fortnite” accounts to participate in the game’s previous music and film events, but in April 2020 Epic claimed over 12 million players participated in Scott’s “Fortnite” concert. As for the artists, Forbes reported in February 2019 that DJ Marshmello’s music enjoyed large spikes in streaming and sales following his virtual Fortnite concert event.
“The game industry has never thought of itself as more than just games where people come to do one specific thing then leave,” Clinton said. “‘Fortnite’ has shown the power of having this sort of open-ended platform where people come not just to play a game but connect about a lot of different things… Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, and other traditional social media platforms have so much going on that it’s easy to get lost in the noise if you’re doing a movie event or launching a product. ‘Fortnite’ is an interactive world and it’s still a fresh, unfettered place for companies and creators to go and share their wares.”