How Fortnite came to conquer the world

Thursday, 17 January, 2019

While you attempt to engage your beloved children beyond the grunts they make while killing their friends on Fortnite, you may wonder how it came to this – whether there may be a time you’ll ever get the kids back. Today it is estimated there are 200 million Fortnite players worldwide playing a game they can download for free. It is a multi-billion pound industry and looks set to be around for some time.

Fortnite is everywhere because the barrier to entry is so low. It’s available everywhere. Almost anyone can play it on a phone, anywhere they can play games. By virtue of it all over the place and free to play and a very popular type of game in terms of Battle Royale stuff, it’s a kind of a perfect storm. It really came together for them in a big way.

- Jeff Gerstmann: Editor-in-chief, Giant Bomb

It may be free, but the game has proven to be extremely lucrative. Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, does not release figures on sales and profits but some sources believe the game has generated profits of a staggering $3 billion.

So how do they manage such returns?

Firstly, they have been able to brilliantly exploit the so-called ‘freemium’ games model, where money is made through in-game micro-transactions. This is where the game is free, but players can purchase digital add-ons that enhance the play.

Because freemium games can essentially be used as a marketing tool, they are an ideal way for new start-ups to build a user base without expending resources on things such as costly advertising campaigns or a traditional sales force.

But this model has a chequered history. Consumers have consistently complained that addictive freemium games are simply tools to exploit their wallets. Fortnite, it seems, has side-stepped this issue because it doesn’t charge players to play or even win, simply to look cool while doing it.

A player on Fortnite can win without having to pay a penny to aid them. But to look cool while doing it players can purchase skins or costumes. And then there are emotes.

Worried parents may have noticed their kids twitching with strange bodily movements that are revealed to be Fortnite dancing when they celebrate victory. Emotes can be expensive but it seems people are buying a lot of them.

But just check out the myriad videos on YouTube with Fortnite characters dancing and real people attempting them. This has led to some of the dancers behind those featured now suing Epic claiming it stole their intellectual property by digitising their moves.

Will this last? Video games come and go. Remember Pokémon Go? There was a time, not so long ago, when it was everywhere. Until one day it wasn’t. Even the ubiquitous FIFA game has seen a downturn as youngsters have moved over to Fortnite.

So, will Fortnite go the way of all these other digital phenomena? Industry observers think not. Epic seems to have bypassed the problems games such as Pokémon Go faced as it continues to offer add-ons that people actually want as opposed to things that makes them angry and eager to complain about.

Sorry parents, but it seems it’s likely to continue to plague your household for some time yet – just learn to love the grunt.

Image: Sergey Galyonkin

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.