A Digital Theme Park, or to... Infinity & Beyond?
Updated: Sep 18
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” - Walt Disney
The sound of a car trunk door closes. Spare clothes, sunscreen, and snacks are packed and ready to go. A family of 4 enters their old Toyota Camry and begins to make their 40-minute journey to the Disney theme park located in a quaint, leafy suburb a few miles off the interstate. In the distance, the deep bellow of a ride followed by high-pitched squeals is on repeat, permeating the blistering hot day.
A Love Affair with the Imaginary
For decades, theme parks have flourished from our fascination to take part in imaginary and socially accepted fantasy worlds.
For the better part of a summer weekend, we are thrown into various fictitious narratives and refamiliarized with Disney’s lineup of archetypal characters; at the end of the day, we step out of this immersive environment, dispose our dog-eared event schedule pamphlet, and reminisce on our action-packed day.
Photographs capture transient moments within the fairytale land of castles, rides, and fireworks, fueling our imagination for next summer’s visit. This year, COVID-19 has forced parks to wind down, but quietly, Disney +, the firm’s novel direct to consumer streaming program, has amassed over 60M+ paying subscribers in a matter of simply 9 months.
While clearly no small feat, Disney’s uncharted pivot online reflects a greater aspiration held by gaming and media companies to build the next generation of online engagement.
Introducing the Virtual Theme Park:
Epic Game’s Fortnite has evolved at unprecedented rates due to its unique cross play capabilities across all entertainment platforms (Xbox, PlayStation, iOS, and Android) as well as COVID induced increased digital video traffic. Today, with over 350 million registered players, Fortnite has become increasingly analogous to that of Disney’s theme parks, boasting similar “mini-worlds”, “town squares”, and “live events/concerts”.
In addition to the recent Travis Scott and Marshmello in-game concerts, Fortnite has also produced limited theme brand partnerships, most notably, with Nike’s Air Jordan and Keanu Reeves’ John Wick series.
Hence, to characterize Fortnite as simply a digital theme park might be myopic. Perhaps, the platform is poised to grow into an immersive, indefinite, online environment defined by both user agency and external brand interaction. To test this hypothesis, hundreds of Instagram posts and several YouTube videos were analyzed in order to glean insights into both user and brand engagement.
Results from the Emotion AI across Instagram and YouTube reveal “creativity”, “excitement”, and “fear” (which could be interpreted as Thrill) as the top three emotions. Interestingly enough, there was no evidence of emotions associated with executing objectives and goals, such as feelings of “achievement”, “success” or even “defeat”, which are often associated with games like Minecraft or Call Of Duty.
Furthermore, the leading emotions of “excitement” and “fear” are ones often experienced when one enters an entirely new community setting or social fabric. This reiterates Fortnite’s core value proposition as a social network, purporting an evolving community experience and not simply one that’s a plot-based, objective-driven game.
Our Color AI analysis identified dark slate grey, black, and dim grey as the defining colors of the game, appearing the most out of all colours. Connoting a sense of modernity and individualism, they aid in crafting an out-of-this-world, unreal atmosphere, and confirm users’ in-game free agency to build futuristic civilizations without any friction.
Instagram Fortnite hashtags are extremely diverse, ranging from #fortnitecommunity to #fortnitenews to #fortniteaccountsfortrade to even #bestfreindsforlife. The breadth of Instagram content testifies to both the diversity and maturity of Fortnite’s platform and community base. More specifically, these wide-ranging conversation topics are reflective of a living and highly functioning ecosystem that is layered with both cultural and historical connotations.
Virtual World Brand Collaborations
Despite Fortnite’s galactic and utopian allure, we can observe traces of real-life familiarity that extends beyond the mere presence of physical infrastructure (i.e houses, guns, trees). Through the limited, but highly memorable, presence of consumer brands and entertainment events, Fortnite appears to judiciously integrate complex physical ideas into its immersive, offline platform.
Take for example Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert this past April, in which 12.3 million players participated; as Travis descended into the arena, the preset concert setting evaporated, and surrounding players were immediately propelled into various directions. Even at a micro level, Nike’s Air Jordans, which are often customized by consumers prior to final purchase, were well received by Fortnite users who were seeking to personalize their own online avatar.
It seems evident that cultural synergy determines the success of a brand’s presence on Fortnite. After all, Travis Scott’s history of edgy and trippy live performances gels well with Fortnite’s futuristic and unpredictable interaction style. Similarly, Nike’s Air Jordan, which can inherently be customized, is symbolic of Fortnite’s championed tenet of agency, which in this case, reflects a user’s desire to personalize their avatar according to their liking.
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