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Epic buy Rock Band studio to make musical things in Fortnite

Hopefully they won't be stuck doing advertising in Epic's "metaverse"?

Epic Games have bought Harmonix, the studio behind rhythm games including Rock Band and Fuser, to help support their boring attempt to "build the metaverse". The Fortnite and Unreal Engine overlords say that Harmonix "will collaborate closely with Epic to develop musical journeys and gameplay for Fortnite". The battle royale has seen some fancy musical performances, with elaborate in-game events to promote pop stars including Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, but hopefully Harmonix aren't consigned to advertising for eternity?

"Harmonix has a track record of creating fun and engaging music experiences designed for everyone to enjoy," Epic said in their announcement. "As we work to build the metaverse, this expertise is needed to reimagine how music is experienced, created and distributed."

Oh lord, the dread spectre of the metaverse rears its head once more. To Epic, this concept apparently means a virtual platform where all the big brands from across the entertainment world can come together to advertise products and sell skins to children.

"Music is already bringing millions of people together in Fortnite, from our emotes to global concerts and events," said Alain Tascan, Epic's vice president of game development. "Together with the Harmonix team we will transform how players experience music, going from passive listeners to active participants."

They have made some stunning promotional events alright, grand spectacles which whip players through fantastical places, but active participation is usually limited to movement and maybe a spot of violence. Here's the Ariana Grande event from August, which was accompanied by skins players could buy:

Harmonix's own announcement addresses what this means for their current games: not much. They still plan to continue Rock Band DLC, still plan to continue Fuser events, and still plan to sell their games on Steam.

Founded in 1995, Harmonix have made rhythm games including Frequency, Amplitude, Dance Central, Twitch Songs, and Fuser, games built upon songs, where you play along with the tune or act in time with the beat. They're best known from the glory days of plastic instruments as the creators of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band. They did seem to struggle after that market collapsed, suffering layoffs in 2014, cancelling rhythm FPS Chroma, and failing to crowdfund a PC port of Rock Band 4, but they've kept on keeping on. Epic's deep pockets and Fortnite's desirability as an advertising platform might give Harmonix the security and reach to go wild with musical extravaganzas. But it'd be a shame if their considerable talents were only expressed through adverts in Fortnite.

As I said when Nike started advertising in Roblox, Epic and Facebook have the most boring, bland, branded visions of 'the metaverse' and I have no interest in any such endavour. Sadly, I accept that they're visions we will see a lot more of in the coming years as megabucks are put into trying to make them happen.

The consolidation of the games industry continues.

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Alice O'Connor

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Alice has been playing video games since SkiFree and writing about them since 2009, with nine years at RPS. She enjoys immersive sims, roguelikelikes, chunky revolvers, weird little spooky indies, mods, walking simulators, and finding joy in details. Alice lives, swims, and cycles in Scotland.