Fortnite is transforming the gaming industry … and a model for engaging millennials on their mobiles

June 22, 2018

It was getting late in Tomato Town. The storm was closing in, and meteors pelted the ground. Gizzard Lizard had made his way there after plundering the sparsely populated barns and domiciles of Anarchy Acres, then by avoiding the Wailing Woods and keeping the storm just off to his left. He spied an enemy combatant on high ground, who appeared to have a sniper’s rifle.

In a hollow below the sniper’s perch was an abandoned pizzeria, with a giant rotating sign in the shape of a tomato. Gizzard Lizard, who had quickly built himself a redoubt of salvaged beams, said, “I think I’m going to attack. That’s one of my main issues: I need to start being more aggressive.” He ran out into the open, pausing before a thick shrub. “This is actually a really good bush. I couldbush-camp. But naw, that’s what noobs do.”

“The craze for the third-person shooter game has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and eating Tide Pods” says the New Yorker magazine.

“Fortnite: Battle Royale” is a 100-person fight to the death set in a colorful, surreal world. It’s a third-person shooter where you only have one life to live. If you survive, you win.

Forbes took a look at the business model behind Fortnite. “As a free-to-play game, Fortnite has to make its truckloads of cash somehow. The biggest tool developer Epic Games has in its arsenal is the battle pass, a combination of traditional and free-to-play game mechanics. The battle pass is a big collection of skins, emotes, gliders, pickaxes and other cosmetic rewards, but you don’t get them all when you pay the initial purchase price. You have to level it up by completing in-game challenges in order to get everything it has to offer.”

Each battle pass is tied to an in-game season, and those seasons last 10 weeks. So when you buy a battle pass, you have until the end of the season to unlock everything it has to offer. You can buy a basic version for approximately $10, or spend approximately $25 to get a version with 25/100 tiers unlocked. Those prices are an estimate because you also might have some of the game’s premium currency lying around from last season’s battle pass.

The battle pass doesn’t just give you access to cosmetics it also gives you challenges with which to structure your play. Every week you get a set of challenges that you can complete to earn battle pass tiers and new cosmetics: these range from eliminating opponents in a particular location to following simple treasure maps. They’re fun, and you can’t do them without the battle pass.

The FT reflects that whilst Fortnite may be about killing everyone else, but it is also about teamwork, dressing up and victory dances — especially the dancing. Its developers, US company Epic Games (who has Tencent as its major investor), drew inspiration for the game’s celebratory, pre-programmed “emotes” from online memes and “vintage” television shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Scrubs. Now, Fortnite dances such as the Floss are showing up on YouTube and in football players’ goal celebrations.

Part of Epic’s success may be due to the fact it is based in Cary, North Carolina, rather than Silicon Valley. The town of 160,000 was previously best known for its Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival. While the big tech giants stumbled around seeking the next big thing after the smartphone, including VR headsets and “augmented reality” glasses, Epic stole a march. Fortnite’s sudden rise is rattling much larger games companies. Executives at Electronic Arts, creators of the Fifa football simulators and Battlefield shooters, protested on a recent earnings call that they had not seen a “giant impact” from players switching to Fortnite. Still, the impact was apparently big enough for EA to add Epic to its list of top competitors in this week’s annual report. Activision Blizzard, the US’ largest games publisher, has said it plans to incorporate the battle royale format into existing games including Call of Duty.

Epic is trying to stay ahead of the copycats. This week, it pledged to create a $100m “prize pot” for competitive Fortnite matches, dwarfing prizes handed out at existing esports tournaments. Fortnite has already become a spectator sport, breaking records on streaming sites including YouTube and Twitch, which specialises in gaming. The pool of potential players has never been larger: more than 2bn people carry a smartphone and 1.5bn people regularly tune in to YouTube. This shift has been building quietly for years. Amazon paid $1bn for Twitch in 2014 and some of YouTube’s most popular stars play and talk about video games. Fortnite’s fans include rapper Drake, and it has minted new celebrities such as the pink-haired star player Ninja.

Fortune says that Fortnite is even being namechecked by investors. “The business world loves a good buzzword. Witness the number of big companies that have started talking about Bitcoin, ICOs, and all things crypto. But now there seems to be a term buzzing even louder than Bitcoin: Fortnite.”

Corporate executives discussing their financial performance on their quarterly earnings calls used “Fortnite” a total of 54 times during the past earnings season, according to an analysis by business news site MarketWatch of transcripts collected by FactSet. That topped the 45 times executives mentioned “Bitcoin” or other cryptocurrencies in those calls.

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