Epic Games, Bandcamp and fandom for the “me” generation
Honestly, it’s been hard to find the inspiration to write a blog post about the music industry considering what’s going on in the world right now. But along came this story, which is telling enough to put virtual pen to paper: Epic Games buys Bandcamp. Not only does a games company buying a music company make for an interesting story, but also the apparent cultural mismatch. Which means there’s probably a series of really interesting strategic drivers behind the move. But it is above all a game of economics for the creator, but which places the consumer at the center of creation.
Epic Games, Bandcamp and TME, the music subsidiary of Tencent (40% owner of Epic Games), all have one thing in common: they are fandom machines. All allow their respective userbases to communicate their identities and tribes through fan merchandise, from badges and Fortnite skins to t-shirts and vinyl. It’s the art and science of fandom that underpins the Epic Games and Bandcamp alignment – but much more in the direction of the future they can build, rather than where they are now.
Epic Games is building the infrastructure for the company it wants to become, rather than the company it is now. This vision, if successful, will be of a diverse business, with games as the driving force – but notfair on games. He obviously needs to be careful and make sure he doesn’t get too distracted and “do a Rovio” – the Angry Birds creator had the biggest game on the planet for a while, but he pushed the attention so far from its heart that it failed to make a successful follow-up game and has since waned in importance.
What Epic could do with Bandcamp
So what can Epic Games do with Bandcamp, and vice versa. Here are some options:
- A set of consumer creation tools: play music games (Harmonix + Epic / Fortnite) and try to sell what you do on Bandcamp, then get it pumped into Fortnite radio
- Fandom: Epic Games has a proven ability to monetize players’ desire to express their identity. Physical fandom products are an obvious area of growth. Likewise, artists selling games. This could mean rare digital goods, which would mean NFTs without being NFTs
- metaverse game: (yes, we had to eliminate the ‘M’ word). Artists register on Bandcamp and sell on a version of the Fortnite store (sound clips, emotes, skins, etc.)
- Virtual artists: K/DA type Fortnite band(s) that are exclusively available on Bandcamp and Fortnite, also using Bandcamp’s nascent streaming
- Virtual events: Bandcamp and Fortnite could create a range of hybrid livestream/gameplay formats together that would help virtual events coexist with IRL concerts
- A mix: By combining much of the above, Bandcamp could become the Beatport for virtual artists and gamers/creators.
So there are many directions Epic could go with this deal, but our bet is that the first element is the most important. Much has been said before about Epic building an ecosystem of creative tools (see the acquisitions of Sketchfab and ArtStation), but Epic is very likely one step ahead of everyone else when it comes to design. economy of creators. The focus has been (at least in music) on creators as the next music industry, engaging a much larger base of music creators than the industry today. But Epic is thinking much bigger and, perhaps, even viewing the creator economy gold rush as little more than an in-between stage. Epic has its eye on the consumers themselves. Just as TikTok and Instagram turned large-scale consumers into video creators, Epic could turn them into large-scale music creators. MIDiA first wrote about it cultural creator opportunity last year, and Epic could be the one to realize it.
It’s all about the consumer
Turning consumers into creators is certainly part of Epic’s long-term vision. As far back as 2016, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said (about the future of games):
“It’s going to be user-centric. Users are going to create things… It’s going to be about empowering users to make those things happen on their own.
Clearly, the rights situation for billions of user-created pieces of music would be chaotic, and the current industry architecture would likely crumble under its weight. A self-contained music/games/creation ecosystem would allow Epic to circumvent much of this complexity, although a content identification system and PROs should still be part of the equation.
In a few years, we’ll see Epic and TikTok battling it out to become the future of mainstream music maker, with a bunch of the usual suspects catching up. At the heart of this revolution in creator culture will be a reimagining of fandom. So far, the fandom has been largely expressed through the following stars. In recent years, the fandom has fragmented from a few massive stars to a larger body of smaller stars. The natural end point of this evolution where everyone becomes a fan of themselves and their friends. Creative tools have fostered this self-fandom, from selfies and Snapchat filters to Instagram posts and TikTok videos. Whether it’s the zenith or nadir of fandom and creation, their heightened connection is clear – and Epic and TikTok may both be building the ultimate fandom platforms for the ‘me generation’. .