by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 24th October, 2019
Fortnite was in a bit of a crisis but the launch of Chapter 2 put the game back on the throne. There are a lot of reasons why Fortnite is the most valuable brand in gaming at the moment, let us explore each one.
After moving away from Gears of War franchise Epic Games decided to dive into the GaaS (games as a service) market. A substantial asset influx from Tencent back in 2012, when the Chinese publisher bought about 40 percent of shares of Epic, allowed Epic to make the Unreal Engine 4 free to use.
The 5 percent royalties coming from all games developed with the engine allowed the company to experiment with different games but the start wasn't really successful.
The first free-to-play GaaS title developed by Epic, Paragon, wasn't really successful. The player base was dwindling and Epic decided to shut Paragon down in 2018.
The other title they had in development, Fortnite, was imagined as another GaaS title but this one was planned as a paid-for game. The core mode, Save the World, didn't achieve huge success (although the game was a relative success and a solid earner for Epic) after it launched in early 2017.
During the same time, the world of video games experienced Battle Royale craze and Epic decided to develop a battle royale mode for Fortnite.
The mode, first planned as a paid-from title, debuted in September 2017 as a free-to-play game and soon after the game simply exploded in popularity.
Player numbers were huge and the massively successful in-game economy based on microtransactions and, later on, Battle Pass purchases made Fortnite Battle Royale the most successful game in the world. The game experienced a huge rise in popularity and it managed to keep its throne for more than a year and a half. In 2019 the game slipped down in popularity a bit but then Epic pulled off one of the best moves in the history of multiplayer games.
The end of Season 10 saw the whole map being devoured by a black hole, putting not only the map offline but also the whole game, its servers, as well as every social media page.
The viewership numbers soared through the roof and Fortnite became the talk of the town again. The game was in the dark for almost two days and then Chapter 2 launched and player numbers have risen dramatically.
Fortnite shaved off the crisis it had and again become the most popular game in the world. At the moment Fortnite is probably the most valuable brand in gaming and it kept the title for two years. Here are the reasons why the title became so popular and why it will stay one of the most popular games in the world in the years to come.
I don't talk here about simple controls or universal gameplay appeal; I'm talking about the fact Fortnite can be played on countless devices. The game is available on the PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch, Android and iOS devices and it works like a charm on every platform.
The unmatched scalability of the Unreal 4 engine allowed Epic to port the game to every gaming platform imaginable (the only gaming platform Fortnite isn't available on are Tesla cars) while keeping its visual identity and achieving excellent performance.
What's better, the game allows easy account migration which means you can play the game on your PC, smartphone, and a console using the same account.
Your progress, achievements, items, and purchases are tied to your Epic Games account and can be accessed from any device. Just connect your account, a one-time action, and you can enjoy the game on every device you own with all of your cosmetics, progress, and achievements moving from one device to the next.
Next, while Fortnite features relatively complex gameplay that includes a combination of a third-person shooter and building game in the vein of Minecraft and Terraria the controls work rather well on every platform. Even the smartphone version of the game includes pretty good touchscreen controls that, in combination with subtle aim assist, make Fortnite enjoyable and fun to play even on mobiles. Even without hooking a controller, quite rare in the world of mobile gaming.
And of course, the game's a free-to-play title that doesn't offer any paid items that can affect gameplay, allowing anyone to fully enjoy it without paying a single dime. The combination of universal availability, perfect optimization on each device, excellent control scheme for mobile devices, and a free-to-play nature of the game definitely helped Fortnite to reach stellar popularity.
Fortnite's unique cartoony style makes the game easily recognizable. You can play just one battle royale match and you will definitely recognize the game and its visuals even in case of not playing it for a while. In the world of super detailed graphics on the one side and tons of pixel art, indie titles on the other having a strong visual identity is important if you want to make your game popular.
And Epic has done just that - they created a game that looks pretty but that also has its own thing, its own visual flair that keeps it stand above countless other multiplayer titles.
Further, Epic managed to keep the game almost the same across every platform. Sure, Fortnite on mobiles looks noticeably worse than on a powerful PC or the Xbox One X but the game is instantly recognizable.
No matter whether you see it on a huge ultrawide monitor, a 4K TV, or a small phone screen you will immediately recognize it. The source aesthetics of the game is kept across different platforms. That, combined with the strong visual identity is an important part of why Fortnite became the behemoth it is today.
Fortnite's target demographics is literally everyone. From elementary school kids to experienced gamers in their 30s and 40s, Fortnite players are from every single age demographic. This universal appeal is unmatched; no other game keeps high popularity among gamers of all ages sans Minecraft, GTA V, and some MOBA titles (Dota 2 and League of Legends).
And the universal availability allows Fortnite to be popular among PC gamers, console gamers, and mobile gamers. Again, no matter what gaming platform we're talking about Fortnite is among the most popular titles on it. Finally, the game is super popular around the world because all it takes is an internet connection and any gaming device and you can play it.
Next, Fortnite is a perfect pastime for casual gamers who just want to enjoy beautiful visuals and shoot some people. The game is also suited for hardcore players who always aim for the first place.
The sheer number of players and the clear divide between competitive and casual playlists means you will have a good time playing the game no matter your skill. Combine universal availability with universal appeal and you have a virtually unlimited potential for popularity.
Fortnite is probably the first GaaS title that nailed live service storytelling. The game's map and environments are the main ways of telling the story. The map constantly evolves, always offers something new to players.
It doesn't get stale; it constantly introduces changes and these changes bring cool new ways to tell a story. Each season is filled with events and new challenges that make the game fresh. No other game can keep with Fortnite in that department.
We've seen meteors falling, locations getting destroyed and rebuilt, a giant cube that slowly crawled across the map, a volcano eruption, and many other events.
And each event unfolded in real-time, while people played the game, creating a completely new way to tell a story in a persistent universe. Add in the mystery surrounding each event and the promise of revelation at the end of each season and you get a perfect carrot on a stick to keep people interested throughout each season.
There are no cutscenes here, everything is told through events and environmental cues. We've seen objects popping up on the map with each new season. People interacted with said objects and learned more about what's going on on the island. This is a perfect way to keep players engaged and to return to the game, again and again.
And what to say about impressive seasonal events that also unfolded in real-time. A huge robot battle, the asteroid impact that wiped Dusty Depot and a subsequent rocket launch from the same site, or the latest appearance of the singularity that devoured the whole map.
Each event was watched by millions of people while there were playing the game, something that hasn't seen before even in massively popular MMO games such as World of Warcraft and The Elder Scrolls Online, games that also are based on persistent universes. This new way of telling a story evolved video game storytelling and should be studied by every other studio wanting to create a persistent world GaaS title.
Just look at what happened with Apex Legends, another excellent Battle Royale game that exploded in popularity when it launched but the lack of persistent storytelling and constant evolution of its map made player numbers to drop massively after just a couple of months. Fortnite, on the other hand, is a constantly evolving game with the world that continuously shifts and that's one of the most important reasons why the game is still extremely popular.
Fortnite is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously and that makes it a perfect platform for all kinds of promotions and marketing campaigns. In the world of Fortnite, everything can happen and anyone can appear and Epic used that to not only evolve storytelling but also to introduce new ways of advertising that don't bother players, unlike most other forms of advertising we've seen in games before.
Instead of giving Sam Fisher a Sony Xperia smartphone, putting Axe body spray billboards all over Mexico City in Ghost Recon, or Mercedes cars in Mario Kart, Fortnite hosts live events that present players with a subtle promotion, far from blatant product placement we're used to in the world of video games.
The game hosted Batman, it allowed players to play as Thanos. Players could play soccer during the 2018 World Cup, Pennywise from It lurked from bellow scaring people and reminding them about the movie. John Wick visited the island; Marshmello had a gig and more than 10 million people attended. Players could wield Avengers weapons and there were other, smaller promotional events, each happening in real-time and each being live for a limited time.
The combination of younger players, limited availability of each event, popular brands, and the popularity of the actual game made each event a massive success and introduced a new way to promote your product to gamers. This surely created a massive profit for Epic and in the future, we will surely see new events taking place. Another reason why the game and its brand are the most valuable IPs in the video game world.
I'm certain Fortnite wouldn't become the most popular game in the world if people at Epic weren't ready to take massive risks. In many cases, those risks paid out and they had a noticeable positive impact on the game.
Shifting to the GaaS model was a huge risk. Instead of working on one of the most popular gaming franchises (which can be said both about Gears of War and Unreal Tournament) Epic decided to enter new waters that were unknown to the company. The first victim was Paragon and even the first version of Fortnite wasn't a massive success. But then the Battle Royale game and changed the gaming world forever.
The company took a risk with cross-promotional events too. Players could've bashed the game for introducing those events like they did with almost every other case of in-game advertising but instead, they embraced the events and today cross-promotional events are a big part of Fortnite culture.
And what to say about a completely new way of doing storytelling. A story that unfolds over the course of months (each season in Fortnite lasts about 10 weeks) could've easily proven as inefficient and tedious, especially with younger generations and their ultra-short attention span.
But instead, we've gotten massive popularity and huge attendance during each season-ending event and hype building up each time a new season was around the corner. Ultimately, Fortnite changed video game storytelling forever.
The most recent risk was the end of Season 10. Epic decided to not only suck up the whole map but also to turn the game off for days. No other multiplayer video game did that and for a good reason. Multiplayer games live off players who engage with them on a daily basis. Battlefield, Call of Duty, WoW, Destiny, they all suffered from server issues in the past.
And each time servers went down players bashed the games and developers because everyone wants to play their favorite multiplayer game whenever they want. Make it unavailable just for an hour and you will get massive uproar and tons of critiques. Make it longer and you risk players moving on to some other title.
Fortnite made the game unavailable for almost two days straight and no one complained! Instead of massive migration to other games, millions of players waited patiently for the game to return, many of those watching the blackness for hours at a time.
Hundreds of thousands of viewers joined streamers and they stared into nothingness together for days! Shutting a GaaS title down for almost two days was an extreme risk and it paid off and then some. When Chapter 2 arrived, players flocked back to Fortite and the game is more popular than ever.
Sure, some risks didn't pay off, or at least it looks like that on the surface. When the game received those nasty mechs player base bashed Fortnite like never before.
Popular streamers threatened they will abandon the game and go play something else. Fortnite subreddit was filled with complaints. But even a failure that mechs were ultimately made a positive impact because it kept Fortnite the main topic of the gaming journalism sphere throughout Season 10.
A perfect turn of events that probably made the whole black hole event even more popular. Maybe Epic pulled the mech move on purpose in order to push the game back into daily coverage on every gaming site after it lost a bit of traction in recent months? Could be.
The future is bright for Fortnite. New map, lots of new stuff and a blank slate that will surely host crazy new live events. Player numbers are on the rise and the game will surely be among top titles in the foreseeable future.
Of course, nothing lasts forever and Forntite popularity will surely take a dive at some point but if Epic continue to drive the game forward like they did in the past two years the future is bright and filled with hordes of players.