What ‘Fortnite’ can teach us about sewers, water quality, and dance celebrations

It’s huge. Whether you are a parent of a teen gaming his or her way into the wee hours of the morning, or an adult who loves the interactivity and action of it all, Fortnite is a game unlike few others in recent history.

So yes, we’re shamelessly chasing the bandwagon for a few worthwhile clicks, too, I’m OK admitting that.

The reality is that there are lessons that a utility can learn from Fortnite’s popularity: A little about the systems themselves, but more about why engagement is so important.

Social matters.

Built on a social platform, the gameplay and real-time engagement with players from around the world keeps you locked in. So much so that viewers tune in to watch other people play it without an active role of their own on the battlefield. They feel invested, and they feel a connection.

Can utilities establish a bond like that with customers? Not easily, but the stakes of infrastructure and environment are certainly higher that your place in the latest round of Fortnite. The more active customers can feel in the process and projects we are working on, the better for both of us. Even for followers outside of our customer base, social connections can affirm a sense of relationships and personal commitment to causes much bigger than a service area.

Interaction matters.

With headsets on and strategy flowing from the lips of its players, Fortnite gamers often communicate throughout the rounds. Planning, trash talking, laughing, maybe sometimes cursing, the back-and-forth reaffirms the connection between players.

Clean water projects affect neighborhoods, streams, entire regions, and success of such projects requires interaction and engagement. Social media is one opportunity, as is public meetings, perhaps even more personal examples like our Good Neighbor Ambassador program, all of them are intended to not only inform residents but to hear from them. Learn from them. Know them better.

The system matters.

Fortnite gamers know their maps. They know where they want to land, they know the hot spots and tough terrain. That comes from experience.

We love to let customers know us more personally and get to better experience the systems we work in every day. That includes sewer systems, stream networks, gray infrastructure, gray infrastructure, lab and maintenance services, and many things in between. The work matters, and its complexity can only be known with more engaging exposure.

Creativity matters.

Colors, outfits, victory dances, creativity in the Fortnite world encourages expression and attraction. We might not victory dance when a new sewer tunnel goes online (“But we should,” one of our wastewater pros tells me, and I can’t disagree), yet we as a utility do embrace creative solutions, whether that be in communication, water quality, employee development, or project management.

This is not a game promotion article. It’s an exploration of some of the elements that have led to Fortnite’s surge in popularity. Trends change, and a new game or social platform is just as likely to appear even before reading the last line of this post.

But one thing that has emerged is the sense of relationships, engagement, and immediacy becoming more socially critical. Not all utility work is immediate, but a greater awareness of relationships and engagement in the here and now, and creatively educating communities about long-term realities, can build a winning strategy.

Game on.