When you think about video game music, we can bet what first comes to mind are the bouncy chiptunes of Mario, the sweeping epic orchestras of Final Fantasy, or the pumping electronica of Tetris Effect. But you may equally think of Billie Jean in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, MGMT’s Kids in FIFA ’09, or Through the Fire and the Flames in Guitar Hero III.
These iconic musical moments came about via licensing, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the industries of music and gaming.
It’s no secret that the music industry is one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic. With venues closed around the world, artists haven’t been able to tour, while music fans are increasingly turning to the algorithms of Spotify and YouTube to discover new music.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The mutually beneficial relationship between music and gaming has grown stronger as a result of these limitations, opening up new avenues for music fans to discover new artists and for artists to provide engaging experiences for their fans.
Epic Games’ battle royale-turned-multiverse Fortnite is leading the charge in this regard. Last year, rap superstar Travis Scott broke new ground in the virtual concert space by performing within Fortnite, in an extravagant show that mixed the psychedelic visuals and pumping sounds of Scott’s live shows with the community-driven engagement of Fortnite.
This touchstone moment opened the doors for Post Malone to partner with Nintendo for a live concert in the world of Pokémon. While it was undoubtedly bizarre to see Malone singing about Bacardi and Bentleys while dancing alongside Pikachu and Lugia, it was also an undeniably joyful moment for many in Post’s generation who have grown up with music and video games as inseparable aspects of their personalities.
Minecraft has also embraced the virtual festival, and has put on several big-name acts including San Holo, Massive Attack, and Flatbush Zombies. Even more niche games like World of Tanks are getting in on the action, debuting The Offspring’s new single in-game.
This weekend, Fortnite will host the Rift Tour, a live music event even bigger in scale than the Travis Scott event, which will stretch across three days, mimicking the layout of a music festival. Epic is teasing a “record-breaking superstar” as its headline act, this event will likely be the biggest crossover of mainstream music with video games ever, setting the stage for other artists to follow suit.
While this is all very exciting for game platforms that have the reach and scope of Fortnite, there remains a question of how smaller game franchises can get in on the action. As any indie developer can tell you, music can make or break a game, and a game doesn’t have to be a triple-A blockbuster or a world-conquering live service game to incorporate great music. Increasingly, electronic music producers are getting career kickstarts by producing soundtracks for indie games – even whole genres such as the burgeoning ‘LoFi’ scene arguably grew out of video game soundtracks.
For upstart game developers, partnering with musical artists is a great shortcut to tapping into a new audience. In a world increasingly governed by algorithms, rising musicians should see video games as a chance to get their music in front of a new audience, benefitting both the publisher and the artist.
While virtual concerts are never likely to replace live music, games themselves can be a platform not only for music discovery but also for unique musical experiences that would not be possible at a physical concert. As gaming and VR technology improves, we can’t wait to see what is possible when these two mediums collide.