It’s impossible to predict what the biggest movie will be in a decade. The same goes for games and music, even sports and social networks. Given the speed at which culture moves, it’s really anyone’s guess. Maybe superheroes will continue to reign supreme. Maybe in 10 years, frisbee golf will finally get its due and blow up on Vine 4.0. But there is one thing that could very well happen: the most popular movie, game, social network, and sport could actually be the same thing.
The idea of products that span different mediums isn’t new. There have always been licensed video games, and Marvel’s entire model involves putting stories about Captain America and Spider-Man in as many places as possible, whether it’s comic books or blockbuster movies or a new streaming series. But the last few years have given rise to a new kind of all-encompassing entertainment experience that tries to give you everything and demands all of your time in return. It’s a highlander mentality: in the eyes of the biggest entertainment companies, there can be only one. And right now, this comes in two forms. You’re either sucked into a multiverse, or you’re spending your life in a metaverse.
The metaverse mentality: create a game or virtual world that has everything you could ever want
Often, this starts out as a video game. A little over a decade ago, Riot released League of Legends, a five-vs.-five strategy game set in a fantasy realm where players took control of various magical beings in an attempt to destroy the other team’s crystal. In many ways, it was just another multiplayer PC game, one that didn’t seem all that unique compared to Valve’s Dota 2.
Today, it’s something completely different. The game remains fundamentally the same, but everything around it has changed. There are League of Legends comic books and a Netflix series. The game has three virtual bands with albums you can stream on Spotify, ranging from metal to K-pop, and a character that started out as a virtual influencer on Instagram. Those bands have “performed” through the magic of AR and holograms while decked out in Louis Vuitton, at the annual League of Legends World Championship, an esports event with tens of millions of viewers and professional teams across the globe, each of which competes in their own regional leagues.
League of Legends is no longer a game — it’s a lifestyle.
The same could be said of Fortnite, which began life as a battle royale and now hosts movie festivals and concerts and copies any game that challenges its place on top. It’s one of the most popular hangouts for teenagers, to the point that developer Epic even added an area devoid of violence where you can virtually party. It’s the metaverse mentality: the idea is to create a game or virtual world that has everything you could ever want. Fortnite and League are stories and sports and social spaces and more.
Concepts like transmedia and virtual worlds have floated around for years, but they’re taking off now thanks to a mix of improved technology (Fortnite is a lot more fun than Second Life ever was) and proven success (when every Marvel movie makes $1 billion, everyone wants their own cinematic universe). Couple this with the pandemic, which saw entertainment and virtual communication skyrocket, and you have a huge shift in how we interact with each other and the stories we watch and play.
When these things become so large and all-consuming, it doesn’t leave much room for anything else
The success of these games and comics turned-all-consuming-entertainment-experiences has changed the way companies approach new ideas. Sure, standalone blockbuster movies still come out from time to time, and single-player video games haven’t completely disappeared. But they’re becoming increasingly rare. Everything competes with everything; it’s Netflix versus Fortnite versus TikTok. In order to stay relevant, you can’t be just one thing. When Krafton, the company behind PUBG, announced it was licensing the Korean fantasy novel The Bird That Drinks Tears, it didn’t reveal a game or a movie but rather plans for a multimedia franchise. One of the goals of Amazon’s game division is to come up with a property that can become a Prime Video series or movie. Netflix and Amazon are making games; Riot and Ubisoft are making TV shows. A Pokémon Unite esports league is likely to happen at some point. Facebook just rebranded its entire company around metaverse software that barely exists.
This is only going to get more pronounced. Companies are investing more and more into projects, thinking of them as genre- and medium-spanning franchises from the very beginning. You can’t listen to a modern media executive talk for more than a minute without hearing either “IP” or “metaverse.” This is great news if you happen to love Fortnite or Star Wars. But there are very obvious drawbacks, and they’re already happening. Disney’s blockbusters are pushing smaller and mid-tier films out of theaters. Netflix is suffering from content overload, making it hard to find all but the most popular titles. Live-service games have become so lucrative that large publishers are chasing the Fortnite high with their own never-ending titles. The problem is that when these things become so large and all-consuming, it doesn’t leave much room for anything else.
The way things are going, it doesn’t seem like these projects will get any smaller. Instead, their scale will likely grow to absurd proportions. You’ll go to see the trailer for the new Fortnite movie on a screen inside Fortnite, sipping an IRL can of Slurp Juice while your friend sits beside you and talks, looking like a deepfaked version of Peely. It’ll be a new kind of verse, where multi and meta combine, and free time is nonexistent.