How ‘live events’ are changing storytelling and social spaces in video games for the better

BY ALEX WAKEFORD

Last month, thousands gathered in the Tower to watch the sun-killing Almighty vessel get blown up in Destiny 2.

Last week, several Christopher Nolan films (InceptionThe Dark Knight, and The Prestige) were streamed live as part of a movie night… in Fortnite.

The meta-verse of gaming is evolving, with it comes new opportunities for storytelling and social spaces. And so we are moved to ask: are ‘live events’ in games the future?live eventsBack in my day (oh no!), the extent to which large-scale multiplayer was possible involved taking your controller, or even your console, to a friend’s house on a Friday evening.

Then came the Xbox with its revolutionary online features, enabling people to play together online. Halo 2 brought with it countless nights of mayhem along with the massive popularity of machinima in-conjunction with the birth of YouTube.

Suddenly, people were using their in-game avatars, multiplayer maps, and various camera tricks and glitches to tell their own stories. It’s quaint now, but the social and storytelling possibilities back then seemed endless.

Enter the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which refined online play even further with heavy-hitting legends like Halo 3Call of Duty 4: Modern WarfareGrand Theft Auto IVGears of WarCrackdownLittle Big Planet, and the explosion of ‘party games’ like 1 vs 100, Viva PiñataGuitar Hero and Rock BandTrails HD, and many more.

Watching the trajectory of this progression has been fascinating, as the latest incarnation of social gaming has met the intersection of how games themselves are changing.2020-06-17 (15)No longer is it seen as a viable strategy for the Triple-A market to release a new sequel every three years. Games are being purpose-built for the long-term now, with ‘game-as-service’ models and ‘seasons’ of new content to keep things fresh.

We’ve had colourful Battle Royales and character-based Hero Shooters take centre-stage as some of the most successful titles, a far cry from the arena shooters of old and the modern military shooter phase that followed the original Modern Warfare.

Games are about persistent online worlds and social hubs where you can meet up and mess around with your friends.

Matches with up to a hundred people from around the world are well beyond novelty now, which can be intimidating for those of us who grew up playing in a maximum group of sixteen!

And so the question that is being asked now is “What’s next?”

The answer seems to have been found in live events. These are in-game things which happen in real-time, which players must tune into to experience when it happens.06-06-2020_18-49-48-w1jtok5qOn May 26th, the Almighty appeared in the skies of the Tower in Destiny 2, towards the end of its Season of the Worthy.

The Red Legion, the faction of Cabal we fought in the game’s main campaign, in their death knell, set their sun-destroying superweapon on a collision course with the Tower and it was up to us to stop it.

In the game, this manifested as an event activity which lasted for several months where players would have to build weapon satellites stockpiled with missiles for the AI Warmind known as Rasputin.

On June 6th, those weapons were fired. 

Players and NPCs alike looked to the skies to watch as the sun was blotted out by the ever-approaching Almighty, with the red lines of missiles trailing through the sky as they made their way to their target.

Eventually, they hit their mark and the flaming wreckage of the vessel came crashing down to the nearby mountains.

This was significant as it was Destiny’s first live event, but also one that was made by the team at Bungie under the restrictions of Covid-19.

What this represented for Destiny was Bungie’s commitment to exploring new possibilities with their game, which was followed shortly after by the momentous reveal of the expansions spanning the next two years – ‘Beyond Light’ (2020), ‘The Witch Queen’ (2021), and ‘Lightfall’ (2022).06-06-2020_19-51-10-u2mp4sjqMeanwhile, on Fortnite, over 12 million players participated their own live event, ‘The Device,’ with a further 8.4 million watching on YouTube and Twitch.

Prior to that, 27.7 million unique players tuned into the in-game Travis Scott concert in April, with Gamesindustry.biz reporting that the final figures showed Epic’s playerbase took part in the live concert 45.8 million times across the five events.

These figures are absolutely incredible!

When I was working as a teacher, it was common to hear the kids talk about the latest goings-on in Fortnite. This was very much an “okay, boomer” moment for me, as I didn’t think too much of it (just as I’m sure the adults I gushed to about Halo custom games shenanigans back in the day had no idea what I was on about), but the sheer scale of the impact this has made… most events in life don’t see these kinds of numbers!

Fortnite has had something of a head start in pioneering in-game live events, its most significant being the way it ended a chapter back in October by quite literally pulling its map into a black hole.

That Epic Games has doubled down on making these more frequent and bizarrely diverse says a lot about their commitment to retaining the game’s mass appeal.2020-06-17 (18)Watching a Christopher Nolan film in Fortnite seems like a totally baffling concept, but in the absence of cinemas during the time of Covid-19… well, it’s fun to be able to watch things with your friends (without any health risks), right?

Years from now, when people talk about Fortnite, I think that it will be remembered not for its early contributions to the quickly-saturated genre of Battle Royales, but in the creativity it pioneered to maintain its playerbase with these live events.

It’s not yet taken shape in many games, what we’ve witnessed thus far strikes me as a toe being dipped in the water for a lot more to come over the next few years, moving into the technological opportunities afforded by the next generation.

Storytelling in games has moved away from the desire to emulate Hollywood movies over the last decade, and has gradually been settling more into considering how games can deliver stories by using what’s possible with their systems and mechanics.09-06-2020_20-03-04-45404vvzAs a result, we’re witnessing the appearance of huge pyramid ships in Destiny 2’s Season of the Arrivals, dominating the skyboxes of these world’s we’ve been so familiar with over the last few years – something we’ve previously compared to being like witnessing the arrival of the Reapers from Mass Effect in real-time.

We’re also witnessing games becoming what’s essentially their own social network platforms, where players are as likely to spend hours goofing around while watching films as they are playing the originally designed experience.

Ten years ago, this would’ve been an inconceivable idea.

Ten years from now, who knows where it’ll be at?

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What are some of your favourite in-game live events that you’ve experienced?

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