The festival announced a new activation with the video game and its parent company Epic Games on Thursday with the creation of Coachella Island. The result is a virtual world launching inside of Fortnite on Friday — the first day of this year’s festival — along with mini-games, art installations, festival-themed merch, and virtual recreations of Coachella staples like the concert’s psychedelic Spectra building and the ferris wheel.
As Coachella’s innovation lead Sam Schoonover tells Rolling Stone, making the new Coachella-verse in Fortnite comes from the festival’s attempts to engage with a community outside of its two concert weekends each April.
“The tagline is the weekend that never ends, and we’re going to be building a program to work with the creators in the Fortnite creative community to add and continue building and expanding what Coachella is inside Fortnite,” he says. “Games, art, music; we want Coachella to be the place that Fortnite creators want to debut new music and art experiences in collaboration with artists, and just on their own too for their new experiences.”
Coachella is the latest in a long list of companies who’ve tried delving into the metaverse to expand its brand. Among the buzziest tech topics of the past several years as consumers were stuck at home during the pandemic, metaverses themselves have lost some steam as many big-name developers’ efforts have failed to pick up traction.
Disney reportedly shut down its metaverse division at the end of March as part of its greater company-wide layoffs, while Meta — the parent company of Facebook which changed its name reflecting its efforts to build out the metaverse — has faced struggles with its flagship metaverse project Horizon Worlds. While that environment has cooled, Coachella is still willing to try with a world of its own as it looks at new ways to expand its community reach.
A partnership with a brand whose main demographic is children isn’t the most obvious choice for a music festival whose crowd skews toward young adults. But Schoonover sees breaking ground in the game as a similar step to expanding the livestream on YouTube, which he attributes as a significant contributor to making Coachella a more global event and booking more international artists.
“Coachella has become more of a worldwide phenomenon than it ever was before because people have this amazing window to it through that live stream,” Schoonover says. “The demographic of Coachella fans online has changed past what the demographic of Coachella attendees are. Fortnite becomes an extension of that in a different way, where it’s bringing that experience to people younger in their lifetimes.”
Fortnite has produced high-profile music events before, creating concerts for Travis Scott, Ariana Grande, and J Balvin, among others. Given the time, money, and resources that went into those virtual concerts, Schoonover says not to expect a virtual Coachella event on that sort of scale yet. He admits they’re limited with what they can do on Fortnite’s Creative Mode, but ideally, “We’re going to unlock and introduce a lot of those features over time.” In the meantime, music from Porter Robinson, who’s playing Coachella this weekend, is the soundtrack for Coachella Island.
Last year, Coachella showed off augmented reality (AR) visuals during Flume’s set for its livestream on YouTube. It’s expected that AR will return on the livestream again this year.
Schoonover is ambitious in his view of the future of music festivals, which he says could end up becoming more immersive mixed reality experiences as technology continues to improve. While an AR livestream or video game world aren’t the final step, it’s certainly a step closer.
“I think at some point there are glasses on a festival site, AR glasses,” he says. “That could be 10 years from now, it could be 20 years from now. The way for us as a festival to continue preparing for that, this is still using a lot of the same things. It’s just using cameras instead of glasses and the viewers are at home instead of the festival site, but it’s still getting us a little bit closer to that eventuality.”