A global phenomenon that continues to innovate
Fortnite won’t die because:
1) It’s free to play, unlike prominent competitors
2) Strong game developer support (bi-weekly updates)
3) User-generated content is constantly unique & new
4) If Apex didn’t kill it, what will?
Fortnite’s Meteoric Rise
Back in 2011 at the Spike Video Game Awards was the first time anyone ever heard about the development of Fortnite. While Fortnite offered two different modes, “Save the World” and “Battle Royale”, the free-to-play Battle Royale is what has made it one of the most popular games in the world. Officially released on September 27, 2017, Fornite took the gaming world by storm and now has nearly 80M (as of Sept, 2018) monthly active players and 250M registered users. With the rise of any dominant game, the gaming community is continuously on the lookout for the next game that will be the “Fornite Killer”.
In this piece, I’ll break down why this hasn’t happened yet and why I believe it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Also, why games don’t need to be a “Fortnite Killer” to be successful.
250M Registered Users
When Fortnite was released (Sept, 2017), the biggest competitor was PlayersUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), developed by Bluehole (a South Korean studio). By December 2017, Fortnite had 30M monthly active players vs PUBG’s 30M. On January 17th, Epic said another 15 million people had picked up the game, bringing the total player base to 45M. Fortnite then hit 125M players in June 2018 and then broke 200M by November 2018. Today, Fortnite has over 250M players as of March, 2019.
The rise of Free-to-Play:
Free-to-play (FTP) games have become much more popular, especially given the success of Fortnite, which is free to download and then you can purchase in-game items via microtransactions. Fortnite has advanced this business model for game creators across PC/Console/Mobile by creating an in-game economy that users saw value in. They also were able to monetize without creating a Pay-To-Win (performance advantages) dynamic and keeping all microtransactions centered around cosmetic items.
There is a more consistent gratification of making a purchase when you can constantly visualize the cosmetics.
As shown in the chart below, many titles have made significant profits through a “pay-to-win” model whereas Fortnite made $318.3M in one month purely through cosmetic items. One benefit that Fortnite has over First-Person-Shooter (FPS) games is that Fortnite is a third-person shooter that makes cosmetics more valuable to the user (because you can see the items on your character at all times).
What makes Fortnite special?
1. Bi-weekly patches/updates
Fortnite schedules updates to the game on a bi-weekly basis (If a fix is necessary they can also push out a “hotfix”). This allows them to respond quickly to the community’s requests, bugs in the game, game dynamic adjustments, and much more. In the past, if a game had an issue then the gamer would likely abandon the game, knowing that an update wasn’t technically possible.
With the rise of internet gaming & connectivity, games like Fornite can release a patch/update on a regular basis in order to keep the gamer’s experience as optimal as possible. In return, Fortnite has chosen to monetize via microtransactions vs an upfront download cost (PUBG is $30 is play and they also have microtransactions).
It’s not healthy when game developers are being overworked or getting harassed by their player base.
There has been an increase in community unrest recently which I believe is more tied to the ways that games are released & updated today, not the result of a suddenly unrealistic player base.
If you release a game in this manner and can not provide updates necessary to keep your base engaged, don’t release a game like this. Gamers didn’t force the industry to switch over to live service games (like Fortnite) and they aren’t responsible for the increased pressure.
The success of a live service game is directly tied to how fast the game developers can react to the community’s feedback.
2. Events and New Seasons
Epic Games (who own Fortnite) makes sure to keep Fortnite fresh through events and new seasons. In case you’re not familiar, a “season” is a 12-week time frame where players can compete and various improvements center around this release calendar. While events are typically in-game events that happen every once in a while, the seasons not only have begun to have themes but also some have had details in the map slowly change throughout the season — this amounts to “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) because not playing for a couple of days, or a week, could mean missing out on the in-game event.
These continuous changes are typically small enough that you aren’t constantly distracted by them, but these updates keep you interested in how they will end or develop. The events are what are really interesting as Fortnite is one of the first video games to do co-branded events for their gamers. Some of these events are Limited-Time Mode’s (LTM’s) and some are one-time events. Here are a few examples of cobranded themes in Fortnite:
- Wick’s Bounty Event (John Wick 3: Parabellum)
- Fortnite x Avengers (Avengers: Endgame)
- Showtime (Marshmello) — Biggest event ever (10M+ people watched)
- Polar Peak Ice King Event (Season 7 map change)
3. Map Changes
Take a look at how the map has changed from Season 1 to Season 9:
Unlike PUBG’s minor edits to their maps (or release brand new maps) and Apex Legend’s lack of map updates to their only map (so far), Fortnite has decided to continuously make significant updates to their one map instead of adding new maps. It is necessary to mention, while Blackout isn’t as popular in the battle royale scene, they have taken an interesting approach to updating the map by adding locations from past Call of Duty titles to the Battle Royale map. This keeps the game fresh and even if you haven’t played in a while, things like map updates and events make the players come back (myself included). Also, adding new maps can segregate your user base and create issues within the base which is the last thing most games want.
4. User-generated Content
User-generated content is, quite literally, free advertising. Fortnite is arguably one of the best examples of a game built for user-generated content and this is something I believe is at the core of Fortnite’s success. Games like PUBG, BO4, and Apex Legends have only had limited success in user-generated content as it starts to become repetitive. This is also directly correlated to the lack of updates that add new dimensions and play-styles to the game. Since Fortnite is always changing the map, adding new items, and different Limited-Time Mode’s (LTMs), there is always new content to create.
What causes a game to “die”?
Video games die when there is a lack of dev support — dev support will continue until the comparative advantage of the revenue being generated stops outweighing the cost of developing & improving the game.
Every time a new battle royale is released it’s deemed the “Fortnite Killer” as tweets and twitch chats flood the ecosystem with “Fortnite is dead.” First and foremost, this is an extremely toxic aspect of the gaming ecosystem. Gamers, of all people, shouldn’t care if a game is a “Fortnite killer.” Why should a game’s success depend on its ability to “kill” another game? The answer is pretty simple: we’ve created a toxic environment where if you like another game you are somehow less of a gamer than someone that’s a fan of a similar title. This assumes there can only be one successful title, which is inherently false.
Just take a look at the graphic above and you’ll understand why gamers are so reactionary. Apex had a great marketing strategy: streamers only. They paid streamers to exclusively stream Apex Legends the day it was released and some for the first week after being released. This created an anomaly in any data from Twitch and convinced a huge amount of gamers that Fortnite was dead even though Fortnite was still generating 20M+ hours watched.
Every game is going to be hyped when it is first released, especially games that have marketing budgets that are being used to pay streamers to play the game. This needs to be clearly understood so we can move forward as a community and understand that just because you don’t like one game as much as another doesn’t mean that the game is dead.
It’s easy to look at this chart and see this as a reason why people were saying Apex Legends is the ‘Fortnite Killer’, but this is misleading and posts that are “cheering the death of Fortnite”, without much context, add gasoline to a community that is already toxic.
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, was interviewed by GamesBeat after Apex Legends hit 50M users and made sure to mention Fortnite’s success in the same timeframe which is not represented in this graph. “We’re very close to hitting 250 million Fortnite players,” said Sweeney.
“Since Apex Legends came out, we’ve gained an Apex Legends worth of Fortnite players, which is amazing.” — Tim Sweeney (CEO of Epic Games)
This is why we shouldn’t compare these games in the sense of “X is the Y killer” but “X being competitive to Y is great for the gaming ecosystem.” In the ideal gaming ecosystem, there are dozens of games in each category that continually compete with each other not because one is inherently better than any other but because they each offer something different to each gamer.
Also, the community wouldn’t look at each as a competitor, but more of a co-existence (i.e. Pepsi vs Coke). This doesn’t mean they can’t compete with each other over each individual gamer, but the communities opinion shouldn’t be based on a game’s ability to force another game to shut down.
Competing games are better for the ecosystem because with each update for one game requires the competing titles to either follow suit or try to build out their own version of the update. This is extremely prevalent in the Apex vs Fortnite competition. When Apex was released they offered a respawn system and as soon as Epic Games saw how well-liked this feature was they added it to Fortnite. This is great for the battle royale community because, through Apex’s innovation, Fortnite was able to discover a feature that benefits them and keeps their community happy.
First and foremost, the success of a game should never depend on its ability to ‘kill’ another game. That said, I see no end in sight for Fortnite due to a truly differentiated gamer experience that transcends every demographic and offers unique user-generated content compared to other shooters and battle royale games.
You can come back after taking a break for weeks or months and the game feels fresh. Few other games have the developer support to continually push out updates and quick fixes to the game’s issues. Epic Games has built a developer-gamer relationship that makes the gamers feel appreciated and listened to — this is how you build a healthy gaming community. What is most important is building a complete gaming ecosystem that doesn’t rely on one game reigning supreme, but instead relying on many different games that keep the ecosystem interesting and offering totally different experiences, even within the same genres.