We’re excited to be relaunching The Score, our vertical on music and gaming, as a monthly free newsletter. In each issue, Water & Music member Mat Ombler will break down how the gaming industry is impacting artist strategy, with a focus on marketing, partnerships, and licensing opportunities.
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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:
- Metal: Hellsinger — Rhythm-based first-person-shooter with original music from metal vocalists like Serj Tankian and Randy Blythe.
- Tetris Effect: Connected and Rez Infinite — Two titles launched with PlayStation’s new VR headset, PSVR 2, featuring dynamic soundtracks adapting to in-game actions.
- Rhythm Sprout— A rhythm action game with K-pop, EDM, and hip-hop tunes.
- Ragnarock — A Viking rhythm racing game where speed is determined by the intensity of Viking percussion.
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
- K-Pop group TWICE have launched an immersive experience in Roblox, which was visited by over one million Roblox users in its first three days. [Link]
- Lil Wayne is now a playable character in NBA 2K23. [Link]
- Another PUBG: Mobile concert has been announced, this time featuring K-Pop star Hwasa from Mamamoo. [Link]
- Could 50 Cent make an appearance in a GTA TV series? Apparently so, according to a now-deleted tweet. [Link]
- The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest report shows video games are contributing to a rising interest in classical music among young people. [Link]
- “A lot of people come to the Fortnite concerts because they love the musicians, but then they leave because they’re not shooter players. We see massive opportunities for growth.” Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, answers Verge’s questions on the metaverse and what’s next for Fortnite. [Link]
Soundtracks & licensing
- The multi-territory licensing hub ICE partnered with the gaming and metaverse startup Styngr. [Link]
- Hipgnosis entered into a licensing deal with Reactional Music, a UK company that allows real-time personalization of music in video games. [Link]
- Seven Gorillaz tracks have been added into Synthriders VR, a rhythm game for PSVR2. [Link]
- Nominees for ASCAP‘s Video Game Score of the Year category have been revealed. [Link]
- 45 tracks from the original Pokemon games are available to stream for the first time since their release in 1996. You can listen through the Japanese Pokemon YouTube channel or the Pokemon Sound Library website, which is region-locked to Asia. [Link]
- If you’ve been enjoying the TV adaptation of Sony PlayStation’s The Last of Us, you might want to pick up the 66-song soundtrack that’s been announced. [Link]
- Super Mario Kart’s composer, Soyo Oka, has released a chiptune solo album. [Link]
- Ryland Kurshenoff’s latest Jungle mix covering tunes from the PlayStation catalog is a nostalgia overload. [Link]
- NTS Radio hosted a special Women of Video Game Music show spotlighting female video game composers. [Link]