'Fortnite' was the most important video game of this decade, and it will be for the next one too
- "Fortnite" has inspired a cultural phenomenon beyond that of most any other recent video game, with more than 250 million players worldwide.
- Epic Games' has the ability to understand and adapt to its huge audience, and "Fortnite" has provided a new model to which these kind of ongoing games can aspire.
- Epic has used the success of "Fortnite" as leverage to challenge the way the gaming business operates.
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In the hit-driven video game industry, few franchises grow large enough to become household names, and even fewer can remain popular enough to survive more than a few years. "Fortnite," however, has already surpassed both milestones to become one of the most influential video games in recent history.
The sandbox shooter created by North Carolina-based Epic Games has brought in more than 250 million registered players and reportedly generated no less than $2.4 billion in 2018. "Fortnite" is totally free to play, but players spend billions on in-game microtransactions and other rewards - a testament to "Fortnite's" ever-engaging weekly updates.
Outside of perhaps "Pokémon Go" or "Minecraft," few recent games have managed to reach the level of pop-culture ubiquity that "Fortnite" has enjoyed for the past two years. A star "Fortnite" player made the cover of ESPN The Magazine, and "Time's" list of 100 most influential people. Musicians and actors have been filming themselves playing "Fortnite," and the game even had a cameo in "Avengers: Endgame," the biggest movie of all time.
"Fortnite" itself is a living entity that changes at the whims of its creators and is built to suit the tastes of its incredibly broad audience. Epic Games' ability to understand and adapt with that huge audience is nothing short of impressive and "Fortnite" has provided a new model to which ongoing games can aspire. Epic works with an ecosystem of professionals gamers to keep the game at the forefront of the online conversation.
Epic Games' CEO Tim Sweeney said the success of "Fortnite" has helped the company gain "great economies of scale," which it has used to challenge the gaming business as a whole. The company has pressed industry giants like Sony into changing their tactics, and even launched its own digital storefront to redefine how video game publishers negotiate fees with online marketplaces.
Here's why "Fortnite" is the most influential game of the past decade, and the most important game to watch in the next one:
"Fortnite's" first major success was bridging the gap between phones, gaming consoles, and computers.
One of "Fortnite's" most important innovations was creating parity between mobile devices, computers, and video game devices. When played on a console or PC, "Fortnite" has all the visual flourish of a modern game, but Epic has managed to make the experience perfectly viable on phones, tablets and lower-end computers, too.
While most premium games would require players to purchase multiple versions of the game, "Fortnite" is free and capable of tracking player progression across different platforms.
The low barrier of entry made it easy for young players to introduce their friends to the game, and casual followers can always log into "Fortnite" and try the latest updates for free.
"Fortnite" is redefining the idea of video games as a service by adapting to what players want.
Much of "Fortnite's" success can be attributed to its flexibility. The game is updated on a weekly basis - a testament to the idea of online video games as a service, constantly delivering new game modes, new customizable items, and special events.
"Fortnite" is best known for its 100-player battle royale mode, an online free-for-all that pits a solo player or a team in a survival match against dozens of other players. But the battle royale mode was actually inspired by another game, "Playerunknown's Battlegrounds," commonly called "PUBG."
With matches lasting 20 minutes or less, the short format of battle royale fueled a competitive online spirit and provided a perfect starting point for the millions of players trying "Fortnite" during its early months. "Fortnite's" original core gameplay mode, a $20 single-player campaign called "Save the World," quickly fell secondary to building out the free-to-play battle royale mode when the game became a viral phenomenon.
Epic quickly adapted to the popularity of battle royale and two years later the company is still pushing out "Fortnite" updates faster than just about any other video game in the business. To keep players coming back over time, "Fortnite" has included a rotation of additional game types that include multiplayer favorites and fan-created modes. Players can also complete weekly and seasonal challenges to unlock customizable gear.
"Fortnite" shows how games can become a social experience.
Players who rarely win "Fortnite's" competitive battle royale matches still log into the game on a regular basis because there are constantly new ways to play, and the game provides a place for friends to connect online.
With professional gamers constantly broadcasting their playtime on YouTube and Twitch and live events happening in-game, "Fortnite" has grown into a thoroughly social experience.
Whereas most games separate players who are on Xbox from people PlayStation, and PC gamers can rarely interact with console gamers, "Fortnite" lets friends chat and play together regardless of their platform.
"Fortnite" successfully pushed for Sony to allow cross-platform play, and now games like "Call of Duty" and "Mortal Kombat" do too.
"Fortnite" was the first game to enter Sony's test program for cross-platform play, laying the foundation for several more games to activate similar features. In the year since "Fortnite" joined the PlayStation 4 crossplay beta, some of the games that have introduced crossplatform play include "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare," "Mortal Kombat 11," "Rocket League," and "Dauntless."
Epic Games has also released tools to help creators using the same development software make their games work across multiple platforms.
"Fortnite's" global popularity has shown off the many successful ways gaming and pop culture can intersect.
"Fortnite" has become an unlikely but prominent venue for major pop culture crossovers, hosting everything from a live concert to previously-unreleased "Star Wars" footage. The game's massive player base is a larger audience most movies or musicians can only dream of reaching, so special events become an attractive marketing opportunity.
More than 10 million people logged into "Fortnite" to watch a live concert held inside of "Fortnite" earlier this year, and it was a unique experience.
With its ability to entertain millions of players at once, "Fortnite" has provided the platform for a handful of unique interactive experiences. More than 10 million people watched a concert performed by musician Marshmello live in-game in March, and another 45 million watched it on YouTube.
Earlier this month Disney debuted unreleased footage from "Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker" inside "Fortnite," and nearly so many players tuned in to watch that it was nearly impossible to get online while the event was happening.
People who participated in the "Star Wars" event got a lightsaber with their own personalized color to use in future "Fortnite " matches, as an extra award for joining the event - a perfect model for other ongoing games to fuel engagement.
"Fortnite" provides a sandbox that's easily molded to other types of entertainment.
The flexible sandbox that "Fortnite" provides has led to plenty of interesting crossovers, including playable characters and game modes inspired by movies like "John Wick" and "Marvel's Avengers," or customizable NFL jerseys for "Fortnite" characters to wear during the Super Bowl.
A handful of top "Fortnite" players have made a life-changing amount of money, and even more people have built careers from the game.
"Fortnite" has gradually built its own esports scene, with a $30 million world tournament serving as the pinnacle. But beyond competitive play, the game has provided an ecosystem that lets fans support their favorite players and helps players support the game.
Professional gamers and content creators can partner with Epic to get a creator code. Whenever "Fortnite" players spend money on the game using that code, the creator will get a portion of the sale as a sign of support.
The viral success of "Fortnite" has made it a constant hit on video streaming sites like YouTube and Twitch, and by working with the most popular creators on that platform, Epic has helped "Fortnite" remain at the top of the viewership charts.
"Fortnite" has provided the foundation for the Epic Games Store, a new digital marketplace that's disrupting the gaming industry.
Epic Games is using the revenue generated by "Fortnite" to challenge the way that video games are treated in the digital marketplace. Epic opened its own PC gaming store front last year and is offering publishers a better royalty rate than popular digital marketplaces like Apple's App Store, the PlayStation Network, and the Steam store for PC games.
Publishers who list their wares on the Epic Games Store pay Epic a 12% fee for each transaction - less than the 30% charged by most competing marketplaces. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said the company has no need to charge more, and developers who use Epic's Unreal Engine tools to build their game can get an even lower royalty rate.
Epic immediately opened its store to the 250 million registered "Fortnite" players, leading to instant success.
Epic has also withheld "Fortnite" from Google's Play Store to circumvent paying the 30% transaction fee when players on Android buy items in-game. Sweeney has accused Google and other online marketplaces of unfair manipulation due to their control of distribution.
The Epic Game Store's favorable rate and Epic's willingness to pay for exclusive titles - some hit games like "Borderlands 3" are only available on PC via the Epic Games Store - has given video game publishers leverage to negotiate better rates on Steam and called consumer attention to a largely unnoticed cost for publishers.
You don't have to play "Fortnite" to see why it's the most important game of the next decade.
"Fortnite" has had such a big impact on the gaming industry that you don't have to play it to see how it's changing to the business. In a decade where online games became never-ending products, "Fortnite" has set itself apart as an adaptable juggernaught.
Epic Games continues to expand the footprint of "Fortnite" with new ways to play and unique events that welcome casual fans back into the fold, and the company's moves to disrupt the industry with projects like the Epic Games Store and crossplay will continue to resonate through the next decade.
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