With most theater chains still closed, Christopher Nolan took to a new medium: He premiered the “Tenet” trailer on on Fortnite last Thursday, marking the first time a high-profile film trailer has debuted on a video game. While Nolan is an unabashed fan of the very biggest screens, the very biggest audience was the next-best thing.
After decades of Hollywood finding mixed success as they mined video games for IP, the biggest opportunity may lie in marketing directly to the video game audience. According to a tweet from Epic Games worldwide creative director Donald Mustard, Nolan’s inspiration to create the Fortnite premiere was borne of necessity — but even when theaters return, there’s every reason to believe that video games will become an increasingly essential part of movie marketing. According to developer Epic Games, Fortnite has more than 350 million registered players, who regularly stream their gameplay to audiences that often total hundreds of thousands of viewers. That represents a unique opportunity for movie and TV marketers.
The idea of debuting the TENET trailer came from a phone call with Christopher Nolan. We were all talking about our love of seeing new trailers in a THEATER and how sad we were that we can’t do that right now – but how maybe this could be the next best thing. Hope you love it!
— Donald Mustard (@DonaldMustard) May 21, 2020
“Video gaming is such a gigantic industry and is taking the time and attention of people, especially the young adults who studios want to appeal to,” said video game industry analyst Rod Breslau. “The whole reason video games are as popular as they are is because they’re on the forefront of cutting-edge tech, while the movie industry has a more old-school approach to things. So much of online culture is about online video gaming, so a film distributor dropping a trailer in Fortnite helps them succeed because it is a new and different way to premiere and extends the publicity cycle.”
Hollywood is well aware of video gaming’s growing pop-culture prominence. CEO Reed Hastings told investors last year that he considered Fortnite to be one of Netflix’s primary competitors, as opposed to rival streaming services and networks. “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” Hastings said in a letter to shareholders.
Unlike movies, or Netflix subscriptions, Fortnite is free to play. However, players can purchase Fortnite’s own currency, V-bucks ($10 = 1,000 V-bucks) and make “microtransactions” in which they spend anywhere from 800 to 2,000 V-bucks to dress up their player avatars, give them “harvesting tools,” or the ability to perform dances.
All that whimsy adds up: SuperData, a Nielsen-owned research firm, reported that Fortnite generated $1.8 billion in 2019. The firm partially attributed the game’s enduring popularity to its crossovers with various film and TV franchises.
That’s included a variety of in-game events from “Star Wars” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fortnite has run limited-time in-game events where players could use lightsabers, play as Thanos and wield his Infinity Gauntlet, and buy cosmetics to make their in-game avatars look like characters from those film franchises. The game was also used to premiere an exclusive clip from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” last year; looking ahead, Fortnite plans to host a stream of one of Nolan’s feature films.
Netflix’s “Stranger Things” boasted its own Fortnite crossover to promote the show’s third season last year, where players could acquire outfits based on Chief Hopper and the Demogorgon and travel through portals reminiscent of the show’s gateways to the Upside Down.
While Fortnite is the world’s most popular online video game, other online multiplayer titles like Counter-Strike and League of Legends also boast large player bases. ESPN began streaming League of Legends competitive gaming (esports) tournaments in 2018.
However, Fortnite may be unique in the scale of its efforts to create high-profile, brand-name crossovers. Doug Clinton, managing partner of tech VC fund Loup Ventures, said that Epic Games worked to make Fortnite an approachable video game that can appeal to a wide audience and has collaborated with all manner of celebrities and brands to boost the game’s profile to those who might not otherwise play video games.
Fortnite has hosted virtual concerts from artists such as Travis Scott and DJ Marshmello, and there’s data to suggest that that such collaborations have financial benefits. Forbes reported that the tracks that DJ Marshmello played during his Fortnite concert last year saw large boosts in video streams and sales numbers in the week after the performance. Clinton said it’s likely that the apparent success of Fortnite collaborations will cause more entertainment companies and performers to look to the video game to promote their content in the future.
“Video games are such a large part of the lives of millennials, so when they see things in video games it translates to the real world,” he said. “DJ Marshmello did a great thing for his digital brand when he did his virtual Fortnite concert and it has translated into a real-world following. Fortnite has made itself very approachable and I’d expect to see more of these events in the future.”