The Score: Mapping Epic Games’ future music strategy

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Scalable discovery: Mapping Epic Games’ future music strategy

It took nearly one whole year for the independent music community to see some initial fruits from Epic Games’ acquisition of Bandcamp.

Epic first announced its acquisition of the music platform in March 2022, garnering a mixed response from artists and gamers at the time. Many wondered what Epic would gain from a music platform, what the deal might mean for independent artists, and whether the acquisition might change Bandcamp’s artist-first ethos.

Finally, earlier this year, Fortnite added new music from Bandcamp artists to its in-game radio station Radio Underground, as part of the game’s Chapter 4 Season 1 update (which ran from February 17 to March 10, 2023). The playlist featured 11 independent artists from around the world, hand-curated by Bandcamp — almost like an extended, Fortnite-native version of the Bandcamp Weekly show.

We see three ways to map potential next steps for Epic Games’ music strategy — through the lens of artists, gamers, and developers.

ARTIST UPSIDE: Exposure and licensing opportunities at scale.Fortnite players can already listen to well-known artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, Metallica, and Post Malone throughout the game’s current radio stations (full list here). The Bandcamp radio integration specifically shows how Epic is betting on games as amore scalable, persistent discovery platform for emerging artists, beyond the expensive, one-off virtual concerts that have historically been limited to mainstream celebrities. Other game developers already regularly deploy this marketing strategy of alignment with emerging artists, such as in Rocket League’s playlists with Monstercat and Riot Games’ collabs with artists like ericdoa.

DEVELOPER UPSIDE: Easier access to licensed music for use in games.At the latest Game Developers Conference (March 22, 2023), Epic Games unveiled a new beta feature allowing Unreal Engine 5 game developers to publish their creations directly into Fortnite. Imagine if those same developers could launch in-game radio stations or music packs featuring songs from Bandcamp artists that had already been cleared for both in-game use and external livestreaming. This could make the licensing and monetization process much simpler for both sides of the table (namely, developers and music artists).

GAMER UPSIDE: Access to diverse, stream-safe music for livestreams.Aside from facilitating more virtual concerts and live music events from popular artists, Epic could work with Bandcamp artists to offer “stream-safe” music — i.e. tracks that won’t trigger DMCA takedown requests on livestreaming platforms like Twitch. Some music publishers such as Monstercat offer claim-free songs that are suitable for livestreaming, partnering with game developers to promote these background music options to content creators. Epic could do something similar with independent artists on Bandcamp that could bolster the former’s position in the music market as a trusted, vetted discovery channel, both in-game and in third-party streams.

(Notably, Epic also owns Harmonix, best known for developing the rhythm game series Rock Band and Dance Central; the Epic Games Store, a digital storefront for Windows and PC games; and Unreal Engine, a popular 3D game engine. So, the potential reach of the Bandcamp deal can expand into multiple game properties beyond just Fortnite.)

Lil Pump, GTA, and custom game servers

Lil Pump promoted the release of his latest track “Tesla” by creating his own branded experience in Grand Theft Auto Online, in partnership with SoundCloud’s artist services team. His server includes a strip club called “Pump’s Playhouse,” an underground gambling zone, mansions, and various flashy cars — all on-brand for the controversial rapper.

ARTIST UPSIDE: Self-serve, DIY marketing moments. While GTA Online doesn’t feature the same bottom-up UGC potential as other platforms like Fortnite and Roblox, it does allow players to create their own servers and add modded content into the game. In fact, Lil Pump’s activation doesn’t look like it was an official collaboration with GTA developer Rockstar Games, but it still allowed the rapper to align his brand with one of the most recognized video games in the world.

Tee Grizzley launched a similar GTA server last year that had over 90,000 active paid members. And artists have used other self-serve worldbuilding games for similar purposes, to develop their own marketing moments without official endorsement from game developers — as seen in the virtual Minecraft experiences from Disclosure and 100 gecs.

GAMER UPSIDE: Brand familiarity and recognition. If you search for “Lil Pump GTA Online” on YouTube, you’ll find that the rapper already has strong organic links to the game. Players have made made Lil Pump a character in the game’s character creator mode, and even a music video for his track “Be Like Me” that uses GTA footage. Leveraging that connection helps drum up excitement for new music, while leaning into a sense of familiarity with GTA’s audience — whose Steam user base alone averages 100,000 daily players.

Rhythm games continue to expand music licensing opportunities

One of this year’s biggest gaming surprises is the sudden release of Hi-Fi Rush, a rhythm-based action game developed by Tango Gameworks that was announced and released on the same day (January 25, 2023). As a studio, Tango Gameworks was previously known for survival horror, making Hi-Fi Rush a significant stylistic departure. And yet, standout features including a wannabe rockstar narrative and a soundtrack featuring music from The Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails, and Black Midi has earned the game a 10/10 rating on Steam.

Hi-Fi Rush’s rhythm-based mechanics mean you must time your combat moves with the beat of the music playing in the background. It joins a growing number of rhythm games utilizing music in innovative ways, outside of the typical lane-based formula you’d associate with series such as Rock Band or Guitar Hero:

ARTIST UPSIDE: Continued expansion of licensing revenue. In a previous post from The Score, we highlighted how the growing popularity of games as a whole could expand licensing opportunities for independent musicians. The continued resurgence of rhythm games in particular offers musicians across genres and career stages a valuable opportunity to earn incremental sync income, while also broadening their fan bases (especially with a Gen Z focus).

Artists who are serious about syncing their music with rhythm games and other kinds of video games would do well to keep an eye on the Steam wishlist for rhythm games for potential licensing and partnership opportunities.

In other news

Marketing & partnerships

Soundtracks & licensing

Listening recs