Love it or hate it, but if you know a child who is in elementary, middle or high school; they know about Fortnite. Even if you don’t think you know about Fortnite, if you’ve been around kids at anytime during the last 18 months, you’ve probably seen them emulating the dances popularized in the game.
Fortnite is a global phenomenon that was launched 18 months ago. Since launch, it has taken the gaming world by storm.
Even if you’re not a gamer or the parent of a gamer, there are 7 surprising ways Fortnite has changed game development forever.
1. In game purchases that don’t impact winning
The primary way to monetize games is by purchasing a copy of the game or by offering a subsequent release that uses the lessons learned to make the new version more attractive.
In recent years, this has evolved to a freemium or premium strategy that offers the initial game for free or lower cost and then in order to access additional levels or benefits, you have to pay.
These additional benefits used to be in the form of cheat codes that would either extend life or enable other benefits like a more powerful weapon.
Fortnite has developed a way to monetize gameplay through limited-edition skins (character outfits) and emotes that have no advantage for helping a player better compete or ultimately win the game. Using V-bucks (in-game currency bought with real out of game currency - $USD), players can buy these items and have their characters appear differently or perform dances for a limited period of time before new items are introduced.
For the Instagram generation that has grown up on selfies and very powerful smartphone cameras, this is a great example of bringing together two disparate trends into a winning product feature.
In addition, decoupling monetization from game performance is brilliant because it incentivizes all players to participate versus those who can simply gain an advantage with additional lives or better weapons.
In the long run, the performance-based monetization strategy could ultimately discourage less talented players. Instead, by utilizing visual or aesthetic benefits, it gives all players equal opportunity to participate meaningfully not just those who are good at the game while also creating a competitive gaming environment for those who are interesting in winning.
2. Watching streams is as popular as playing
Often times there are things that become true in conjunction with something else being true that create the perfect conditions for a new somewhat unpredictable innovation to occur. For the last several years, improved technology in servers and video production has enabled high quality streaming to become more mainstream.
When this technology is combined with popular viewing platforms like YouTube & Twitch, you create the perfect conditions for streaming to become as popular as playing the game.
At Digital Adventures, our students will often let us know that they spend hours watching YouTube videos of their favorite players Fortnite sessions. In many ways, they feel that it is just as interesting as playing the game themselves.
Watching versus playing a video game is not a new phenomenon. For as long as gaming has been around, as the number of friends increased; there was a larger likelihood that there wouldn’t be enough controllers to go around to allow everyone to play So, while you were waiting for your turn, you watched and waited patiently.
In addition, watching a recorded stream it is not too dissimilar from watching ESPN SportsCenter highlights of your favorite sport or live streaming from watching a sporting event real-time.
In essence, the fan base has expanded because there are now multiple opportunities for participation. For some, they will play. For others, they will watch. And, depending on the person or the time, this could be the same person or someone completely different.
3. Rise of the Celebrity Gamers
In every area of interest, there are often celebrities who inspire others to perform. In sports, you have talented players such as Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, Wayne Gretzky and LeBron James. In entertainment, you have Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington. These are typically people who are at the top of their fields and who have earnings and a lifestyle that are commensurate with their outsized impact.
Gaming has never really had this inspirational or crossover celebrity. In fact, one could argue that most parents reluctantly let their kids play games in hope that they will grow out of it for fear of it stunting their social life.
However, there is a gaming celebrity, Ninja, who has completely changed the dynamic when it comes to gaming. Young, entertaining and generating tremendous earnings; Ninja is the first gamer who is enabling parents and players to see that maybe gaming isn’t simply a passing fad.
However, he is not the stereotypical gamer in that he played sports in high school, and worked his way through college all while earning good grades. It’s relatively harder for a parent to argue that gaming is a harmful activity with a celebrity gamer like Ninja who doesn’t fit the traditional stereotypes of anti-social, overweight, basement dweller.
In fact, Ninja puts in quite a bit of work in order to generate earnings at this level. By some accounts, he streams for 8-10 hours/day for 7 days/week. This would mean that he is working between 50-70 hours just on streaming. He also has to practice his gaming skills to improve and make sure that he wins a fair amount of games or risk losing his appeal.
And just like Michael Jordan inspired the next generation of basketball players to achieve success, Ninja will motivate the next generation of gamers to exceed his accomplishments in this emerging field.
4. Multi-player social gaming at scale
By some estimates, Fortnite is able to simultaneously serve more than 100 million players at a time. In addition, the individual unit of Fortnite involves 100 players being parachuted onto the battlefield. Traditional games rarely were able to accommodate this number of local and global players.
As a result, Fortnite is able to benefit significantly from social-based network effects. As more players learn about Fortnite, you are increasingly likely to tell your friends about the game. With more players playing the game, it becomes increasingly likely that Fortnite could simultaneously serve more than 250 million players at a time.
Similar to how Facebook’s growth was accelerated by continually learning about how fast the social network was growing, Fortnite has a similar ability to draw new players in due to fear of missing out especially among the population of gamers who could be interested.
In addition, it is quite a technical challenge to seamlessly serve such a large number of players and create a great experience. Yet, Epic Games seems to be managing the challenge well while continuing to create and maintain a significant amount of interest in Fortnite.
5. Cash Prizes & profitability
In gaming, the traditional reward was beating your opponent. Whether that was in Mortal Kombat or Mario Kart. However, the new form of rewards are not credits to buy more skins and emotes. Instead, modern day gaming platforms have introduced an all new incentive - cash prizes via winning competitive tournaments.
Fueled by the sheer number of players and the ability for the technology (you sign into a Fortnite account) to know who’s playing, there are now a small number of players who can earn significant money by gaming full-time.
And since the network is in the cloud, you can host events remotely and at global scale which unlocks a previously unimaginable level of engagement and profitability.
By moving beyond the traditional vanquishing of your opponent into monetary rewards, this has created a whole new emerging market - professional gamer.
As a result, we are now seeing the introduction of e-sports leagues at the high school level. There are also Fortnite coaches that a small group of parents are hiring for their children to improve their chances for success. There is no doubt that this will continue to develop due to the real monetary reward for developing skill in playing these games.
6. Cross-platform accessibility
Typically, games would be released on computer or gaming consoles and it was often difficult for others who weren’t using the same hardware to play against each other simultaneously. Epic Games completely flipped this model and enabled Fortnite players to play with each other regardless of the platform.
This meant that regardless of your entry point, everyone would be able to play the game. In addition, the developers at Epic worked really hard to create a high quality platform experience. Similar to web developers ensuring their websites and applications work on Chrome, Explorer and Safari; Epic developers ensured the PC, Mac, and gaming consoles delivered a native experience. The technical challenge of this accomplishment is extremely impressive.
As a result, it has led to unbelievable numbers of Fortnite players simultaneously playing the game. By some estimates, Fortnite has reached 100+ million players playing at the same time.
7. Programmatic Gaming
In traditional broadcast television, shows had seasons that were thematic. They would build up to some event or conclusion throughout the season and then there would be some cliffhanger that would leave you wanting to return to watching the season at the beginning of the subsequent season.
Netflix has begun to break this model by making full seasons of shows available for simultaneous download upon launch which has created a whole new phenomenon called binge-watching.
While this is beneficial to Netflix’s business model, gamers and parents of gamers may not necessarily appreciate several hour gaming sessions over a relatively brief period of time.
In typical gaming, a game is released with all the bells and whistles at the time of launch and then you have to wait until the next version is released for any updates and improvements. A great example of this is Mario Kart from Nintendo. This popular racing game is now on its 8th iteration and continues to be a favorite of many gamers because of the ways they have continued to improve on the core offering.
However, the key evolution is that the game created an anticipatory event that enabled players to modify their play in response without having to launch an all new version of the game. Not only did it improve the quality of the game but it also expanded the conversation around the game with players discussing where the meteor would ultimately hit which improved engagement with the platform.
This gaming-as-a-service approach keeps the interest level high and prevents those who are skilled from fully mastering the game. Epic’s approach also ensures that these constant changes and updates to the story will interest those who are viewing live or recorded streams.
While for some it may seem like Fortnite is an overnight success, the reality is the conditions for a massive multi-player game have been developing for years.
Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, has their own platform that others are able to use to develop new games. Using this insight, there were able to pull all these different elements together to forever change gaming.
While other studios are rapidly trying to replicate the success of Fortnite, the reality is that Epic Games has showed everyone what is possible from several different perspectives.
The next generation of developers will be influenced by being part of the team that develops the first game to be played by 1 billion people simultaneously.