The Fortnite Battle Royale phenomenon and why no one can escape it

Fortnite Battle Royale phenomenon

Unless you have been living under a rock during the last year, there is no way in the world that you haven’t heard about the Fortnite Battle Royale phenomenon, and just how successful it is.

Love it or hate it, there is always someone in your circle of acquaintances that is actively playing it, or instead wishes that it would altogether disappear from the face of the Earth. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about it, but what could possibly be the reason for such a worldwide success? What is so special about this game and what instigated the widespread Fortnite Battle Royale phenomenon that we hear about every single day for over a year?

In one word, PUBG. Or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, if you prefer it that way. It was Bluehole’s Battle Royale game that gave birth to the newest trend in the competitive video gaming scene. As you surely know by now, the video game industry has this habit of going in circles, making the old stuff new and fresh again in regular intervals. We’ve been going through this retro gaming movement for a few years now, but if we restrict ourselves to online gaming with an eSports focus, then we have to look at the MOBA craze – League of Legends’ success is responsible for the hundreds of copycats – and more recently we had the collectible card game mania, where Blizzard’s Hearthstone was mostly to ‘blame’.

For Battle Royale, it was the resounding success of PUBG that awakened an entire generation to the joys of frying pan armor – although Cuisine Royale now does it better. It was nothing that we haven’t seen before, but it had a tremendous potential and it can be a blast to play with friends. Millions of players agreed and PUBG remains as one of the top games on Steam.

And so, it was only a matter of time before other studios go and try and get a piece of the tasty Battle Royale pie. The renowned Epic Games team took notice, and as an experienced studio and makers of Unreal Engine 4 (PUBG runs on this engine), they scratched their heads and found out a way of getting on in the fun in record time – their new co-op game Fortnite was the perfect template for a Battle Royale system that on the surface may look like PUBG’s, but at the same time is tremendously different and features some original systems, such as the construction elements. It was also helped by its original graphical identity, featuring a cartoon look that made it appealing to every demographic and kept it clear of any possible ‘anti-violence in video games movement’ that could arise. Not that eight and nine-year-old kids aren’t playing Fortnite and doing some very nasty things. But hey, parenting, right?

Anyway, Fortnite Battle Royale was different enough from PUBG to avoid any legal hassles, but that didn't stop PUBG Corp. from trying. The lawsuit was eventually dropped, as it was expected.

The makers of Gears of War are known for working at an impressive pace, and their previous attempt at a free-to-play game showed what the studio is capable of. Paragon tried to be a new kind of MOBA, played in third-person, but despite featuring amazing visuals and a creative cast of characters – with a new one coming out every three weeks –, it failed to be profitable and ended up canceled. Lessons learned, and Epic Games shifted gears to Fortnite Battle Royale, joining in right at the perfect time and with a huge difference from the top dog: it was going to be free-to-play.

Curious players everywhere started flocking to the game, and the Fornite Battle Royale phenomenon was becoming a reality, with over 10 million players shooting around two weeks after its release. Revenues were peaking month after month, Epic Games saw an incredible boost in its valuation, and the frequency and ingenuity of the updates sealed the deal. PUBG was just unable to keep up, and Fornite Battle Royale eventually generated millions of dollars per day.

The Fornite Battle Royale phenomenon was boosted by some unexpected marketing twists. Celebrities such as Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Drake helped promote the game to new heights, and it was inevitable to escape its grasp. It was bigger than Minecraft, way bigger than PUBG, and everyone seemed to know it or play it. During the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, French player Antoine Griezmann celebrated a goal during the final of the competition with the ‘Take the L’ emote. In fact, these emotes are one of the major factors that are contributing to the continuous growth of the Fornite brand, with some crazy celebration dances appearing where you least expect it, including Fox News. Go figure.

With the hype and demand surrounding Fortnite, Epic Games clearly had to deliver the game to the largest player base possible. That is why the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions were swiftly followed by a Nintendo Switch release, as well as iOS and Android releases, all of them to great acclaim and massive profits for Epic Games. The fact that Fornite Battle Royale supported cross-platform play certainly contributed to an even larger adoption rate, as it was clear that no matter what your platform was, there would be no lack of players in this game.

Unless you play Fornite Battle Royale on PlayStation 4, that is. With Sony rejecting cross-play for its very particular reasons, there was no way that these players could meet friends and rivals from other platforms… until September 2018, when it finally surrendered and welcomed players from every platform. A gaming world without frontiers – and irrational ones at that – is always a better world.

There is no way of knowing when the Fornite Battle Royale phenomenon is going to end. With further releases planned for China (Tencent) and Korea (Neowiz), two whole new markets are going to open up to the game and bring in a new stream of cash for the North American studio. Fortnite’s biggest challenger, PUBG, still sports a very healthy player base and yet remains at an incredible distance of the number one Battle Royale game.

One thing is certain: unless some top studio such as Blizzard or Ubisoft decides to reveal a triple-A Battle Royale game soon, while it’s hot, I can’t see the Fornite Battle Royale phenomenon fading away during the next couple of years. It may stabilize, even slow down a bit, but judging by Epic Games’ current power and experience, there is always going to be something new (like the Avengers: Infinity War crossover), something interesting to keep players around, and even bring in more players to the game.

As long as the funky emotes keep coming, every Fortnite fan will keep doing those crazy dances. Even if that means getting into some dangerous situations.

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