“Like Starbucks buying Duracell”, exclaimed one puzzled Twitter user at last week's news of Epic Games ("Epic") acquiring Bandcamp. While this may have come as a surprise for many games and music fans, the acquisition is a logical step for Epic which has, over the past two years, been slowly exploring the music space. The game developer’s in-game virtual concerts (by the likes of Marshmello, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande) in Fortnite have been a resounding success. Last year, Epic also developed the online “upside-down digital/analog universe” exhibition to accompany Radiohead’s Kid A Mnesia reissue package. Besides, for Epic, acquiring creator-friendly companies is something of a habit. Bandcamp is another string to its bow.
Bandcamp’s update reveals that the pair are seeking to build “the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world”. This was echoed by Epic, which stated that the two companies “share a mission of building the most artist-friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money.” Both companies are indie at heart: Epic was founded (naturally) in a garage in the early ‘90s and has, some might say, for most of its life been an outsider in the games development space (normally known for its game engine instead of its games), while Bandcamp’s artists-first ethos and low commission rate have earned it a loyal underground following among fans and musicians alike.
Epic had a stroke of genius when it pivoted towards a Games-as-a-Service (“GaaS”) monetisation model, where revenue is generated by subscriptions to games and in-game purchases. This move led to the release of Fortnite in 2017 which caught on like wildfire due to its Free to Play (“F2P”) distribution model and battle royale format, generating billions in revenue through in-game purchases. Fortnite’s meteoric rise provided Epic with the perfect sandbox in which to experiment with the metaverse and earned it a pioneering status (especially with the availability of Fortnite: Creative).
Bandcamp claims the acquisition will allow it to “expand internationally and push development forward across Bandcamp, from basics like our album pages, mobile apps, merch tools, payment system, and search and discovery features, to newer initiatives like our vinyl pressing and live streaming services." While these are exciting and welcome prospects, it will be interesting to see whether, over time, Bandcamp adopts features from the games space's GaaS and F2P models, and whether the hand of major investor Tencent (rumoured to have pushed for the pivot towards GaaS) will be sensed. (Note that Bandcamp already offers subscriptions, but these are more akin to Patreon-style plans for die-hard fans.)
Epic might, at some point, guide Bandcamp into the metaverse. Bandcamp, a music marketplace, gives creators complete control over how they offer their music. There is no intermediary: artists can upload their music (and merchandise) to the platform directly and set the prices. This creator-friendly platform could offer artists a point of access to the metaverse and provide the opportunity for them to devise their own projects, such as virtual concerts and festivals (no need for artist visas), digital band merchandise (read my article on digital fashion here), and NFT-turned-access-token “backstage” passes. Bandcamp's community of vibrant, independent creators, well-versed in experimentation, could benefit from new ways to grow and connect with their audience. In return, fans would have new ways to enjoy the music they love. Will players also get to purchase skins of their favourite artists in Fortnite? Hopefully.
We share a vision of building the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world, and together we’ll be able to create even more opportunities for artists to be compensated fairly for their work.