The Rise of Fortnite

Ashton Herrmann
May 1, 2018 · 6 min read

Clutch is a community for content creators and an app for iOS and Android devices that allows users to import, edit, and share their game video captures with one another. Simply download the app, create an account, and connect it to your Xbox gamertag or Playstation Network ID to start sharing.

Epic Games’ Fortnite is a modern gaming sensation with over 40 million confirmed downloads across smartphones, consoles, and PC. Blending the tense and often chaotic action of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds with Minecraft-inspired resource gathering and building and a charming aesthetic that appeals to casual and dedicated players alike, Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode has made a lasting impact on the multiplayer gaming landscape and enjoyed the kind of crossover popularity that only World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto, and a handful of others ever enjoy.

But Fortnite’s success is surprising even in the “hit-based” gaming industry for a number of reasons. Originally announced in 2011 during the Spike Video Game Awards as FORTnITE by Cliff Bleszinski, Epic’s design director at the time, who clarified that it would be a survival game first and a shooter second, the Fortnite millions of players enjoy today is markedly different from what we saw then.

Originally slated for 2013 as one of Epic’s first titles to utilize the Unreal 4 engine, it was co-developed by several of their in-house studios and the Polish developer People Can Fly, who were acquired by Epic in 2012 but regained their independence three years later.

It was during its development cycle that Epic Games, accurately predicting a developing industry trend, began shifting towards service-model games. The studio announced in 2014 a third-person MOBA game, Paragon, as a free-to-play title with microtransactions. It seemed Fortnite had been shifted to the backburner and that Epic intended to launch Paragon as their new flagship IP, but it was met with lukewarm reviews and a seemingly disappointing financial reception in a market that had already become overly saturated.

The rise of the battle royale genre

The following March, in 2017, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was launched on Steam Early Access and became a multiplayer phenomenon in the subsequent months, dominating the Steam sales charts and amassing simultaneous user counts unprecedented for an indie game release. While PUBG may not have been the inceptive battle royale shooter, it became the genre-defining one, and it proved that gamers were hungry for a fundamentally different shooter than the Call of Duties and Battlefields that had dominated the previous decade.

In June 2017, six years after its original reveal at the Spike VGAs, Epic finally announced an early access release for Fortnite on PC and consoles for the following month. While the final version of the game was still planned as a free-to-play title, players could gain early access by purchasing one of several bundles, which included skins, weapons, and character unlocks for the game’s only, PVE game mode (later renamed Fortnite Save the World).

It launched on July 25, 2017 on PC, Mac, PS4, and Xbox One. Epic announced that over 500,000 bundles had been pre-ordered, and they later confirmed the game had surpassed a million players the following month. Early reviews for the game were positive, if not stellar, with a Metacritic score in the high 70s and most critics agreeing that the core gameplay mechanics were fun and novel. But many wondered if the game would see lasting success. It hadn’t captured the imaginations of gamers the way that PUBG and Overwatch had or sparked the same levels of discussion as Bungie’s Destiny or Ubisoft’s The Division.

It seemed as though Fortnite would suffer the same fate as Paragon: a good game but not one good enough to justify its own existence in a saturated market.

But in September 2017, just two months after a separate internal team led by Eric Williamson and Zack Estep had begun working on a new Battlegrounds-inspired game mode , Epic Games publicly announced Fortnite Battle Royale. The new game mode, they detailed the following week, would be free-to-play across all of Fortnite’s existing platforms, including the PS4 and Xbox One. PUBG, which had been announced as a timed exclusive for Microsoft’s console, was not slated to hit consoles until December 2017, meaning that Fortnite would beat Battlegrounds to consoles by three full months.

Fortnite’s unique take on the battle royale formula and its less violent aesthetic resonated with both hardcore and casual gaming audiences, and just two weeks after it launched, over 10 million players had logged in.

It continued to have success in the coming months, particularly as it caught on with Twitch streamers, and over 20 million players were confirmed by November. In March 2018, Fortnite Battle Royale was ported to Android and iOS devices. In that same month, it was estimated that the game had been downloaded by 45 million players, and it had become the most-watched game on Twitch.

Tyler Blevins (aka Ninja)

One particularly skilled and popular Fortnite streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, began making headlines when he announced that he was making an estimated $500,000 every month playing the game on stream and that his list of followers included celebrities such as hip-hop artist Drake. On March 14, Blevins joined up with the rapper on-stream, where they were joined by Travis Scott, Kim DotCom, and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The stream garnered over 600,000 concurrent viewers, making it one of the most-watched in Twitch’s history.

Seeing that the game had gained popularity among celebrities and A-list streamers alike, Epic Games later announced their plans for the Fortnite Battle Royale Celebrity Pro-am, which will pit 50 mainstream celebrities and athletes against 50 top players during this year’s E3 in June.

Fortnite’s popularity hasn’t yet appeared to have peaked, particularly among younger audiences and mobile gamers. Weeks after it rolled out on mobile devices, games media outlets began publishing stories about the disruptive effect that Fortnite Mobile was having in schools and on school network, and one teacher on Reddit even prompted Epic to add a warning to the game about not playing the game in class.

Fortnite’s popularity on the Clutch app

We’ve been able to watch Fortnite’s rise first hand since our launch last October, when it made up less than 1% of all video clips posted during our first month of operation. By February, Fortnite accounted for 50% of daily clips posted, beating out all other community favorites, including PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Call of Duty: WWII, and Rainbow Six: Siege. As of April, it continues to account for over half of all clips posted daily on Clutch, and on Fortnite’s most active day in the month, the next most popular game (Rainbow Six: Siege) accounted for a mere 10% of all videos.

Top 5 Games By Month On The Clutch App

Fortnite’s performance against its most obvious competitor is also noteworthy. To date, more than 60% of all Clutch users have shared at least one Fortnite clip, while only 16% have ever posted one or more from PUBG. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ popularity within our community peaked alongside its launch on the Xbox One last December, earning nearly 10% of all the videos posted in that month. While it consistently performs around that level from month to month, it has since been outclassed by Fortnite in every metric we track.

Percent of Fortnite Clips Shared as Percent of Total Clips

Given its success, it’s easy to forget that Fortnite is still such a new title, and it remains to be seen how Epic Games will continue to build on their success, particularly as they move towards a version 1.0 launch of the game later this year. In the meantime, however, Fortnite Battle Royale has put Epic Games back on the map as a leading games developer and transformed both the multiplayer gaming and Twitch communities, and it’s certain we’ll see its influence on upcoming games within the battle royale genre and beyond for years to come.

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