Let’s Talk About FORTNITE
By Joseph Kim
When I sat down with my supervisor, Mike, about article ideas for this week, I pitched him two concepts: a movie review of Bad Times at the El Royale, or an overview of Fortnite. As soon as I uttered the latter, Mike immediately insisted I write about it.
“I’ve been hearing about it everywhere, and I want to know more about it.”
So, we’re going to talk about it. Produced by Epic Games in July 2017, Fortnite was originally conceived as a cooperative strategic-shooter game, where players would work together to defend their fortress against an invading horde of zombies. Although that game mode received overall positive responses, what propelled Fortnite to the national spotlight was its second game mode: Battle Royale.
At the same time of Fortnite’s release, another game was released to the public, on multiple platforms including mobile: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG. Designed as an online, multiplayer battle royale game, PUBG boasted a photorealistic aesthetic, that positioned 100 random players to drop down from a plane and fight to win as the last player standing. With this game model, PUBG garnered massive success, by focusing their energy on a game mode which everyone can appreciate.
Epic Games realized that they can capitalize on PUBG’s success by releasing their own Battle Royale game mode. And since September 2017, the game has blown up in popularity, arguably more so then PUBG, gaining mainstream attention from major news industries, jumpstarting new careers and opportunities.
From what I’ve seen, there are clear reasons why Fortnite has gotten more mainstream coverage than PUBG. While both games run on the Unreal Engine, Fortnite runs more smoothly than PUBG, critics pointing out numerous glitches and technical issues over the course of its history. Fortnite’s colorful aesthetic is far more marketable to a wider audience than PUBG’s realistic depiction. But most importantly, Fortnite is free.
To clarify, both Fortnite: Battle Royale and PUBG are available for free on mobile devices. But Fortnite offers more available gameplay options than PUBG, allowing free access to PC players. Both games are available for purchase on console devices, like Playstation and Xbox. Making a game free on mobile, although difficult to receive a maximum amount of profit, fosters an audience for more content. If people know more about a game through one game mode, then perhaps some of those people will be interested in purchasing the full version. A full, uninterrupted preview.
Unlike other shooter games out there, Fortnite has an ongoing narrative. Every couple of months, Fortnite will introduce a new update to the game’s system, that introduces new gameplay and redesigns the map. These updates are treated like seasons on a television show, with each season focusing on a new theme. Unlike a TV anthology series or other video games, these changes aren’t solely aesthetic or bonus content. The changes have actual consequences for the remainder of the narrative.
For example, during Season 3, players noticed a large meteor in the sky, making its descent slowly, over the course of several weeks, leading up to the start of Season 4. When the update hit, the meteor did as well, destroying one of the major landmarks of the map. This event has not been rewritten or forgotten, but has become a permanent fixture of the story.
And consequential events like this continue to happen. The excavation of the meteor revealed a spaceship that housed a supervillain, who eventually launched a rocket which later opened up rifts in the space-time continuum, opening up the time-travel theme of Season 5. These events aren’t just one-off stories, but chain reactions that are simultaneously spontaneous yet flowing. A game that wants to open its doors to everyone is ambitious, but doing so while providing a deep lore and constant surprises around the corner is impressive.
The Elephant in the Room
To be blunt, besides differing aesthetics and modes, Fortnite: Battle Royale and PUBG are essentially the same game, They are so similar in fact, that Bluehole, the company behind PUBG, sued Epic Games for copyright infringement, since Fortnite was developed using the same interface as PUBG.
But this legal battle raised questions about genre, since both games were based off the 2000 Japanese film, Battle Royale, and game modes, as previous games and franchises had battle royale modes as well. Could a single game claim ownership of a game mode? Because of the difficulty in defining these terms, the case was dropped. Either way, people can’t help but compare the two games.
The Real World
What’s impressive about Fortnite’s growth is its real-world impact. The game has jumpstarted careers in the gaming industry. Ninja, a prominent professional gamer, is a Twitch streamer, who live-broadcasts his gameplay on the platform to over eleven million followers and an average of over 43,000 viewers per stream. Fortnite isn’t the first game to demonstrate the surging popularity and reputation of E-Sports, but it is a poignant point in its development.
Actually, it was Ninja who shined a light on celebrities playing the game, when he streamed a game with rappers Drake and Travis Scott, entrepenuer Kim DotCom, and Pittsburgh Steelers wide-receiver JuJu Smith-Schuester. This event actually inspired Epic Games to coordinate a live broadcast tournament at E3 2018, where 50 pairs of professional gamers and celebrities would play the duo-mode in Battle Royale.
Fortnite is also responsible for reigniting a dance craze. The “Floss” dance, first popularized by Russell Horning, or the Backpack Kid, online and on Saturday Night Live, became an available emote for players, a game feature that allows players to express themselves in fun dance moves. This emote gave Fortnite a physical identity, roused kids into the next big dance craze. As cringeworthy it can be to see 8 year olds try to do that dance, it is evidence of the real-world impact that this game can have.
So, with all this in mind, is Fortnite worth the hype?
Well, yes and no.
All of Fortnite’s features, from its understandable rules and controls, to its story and lack of a price, raise the game’s accessibility to millions of people everyday. I’ve even played it myself, and it’s addicting to say the least. The desire and potential to be the last man standing, to get that “Victory Royale”, is enticing.
Let’s be realistic: there will always be the “next big thing”. Fortnite has gotten popular very quickly, and the fact that this much hype has happened over a single year marks the prematurity of the hype. I don’t think that Fortnite will be catalogued as super impactful to the future of gaming, and I don’t think people are going to stick with it for years to come.
But Fortnite’s storytelling, experimentation with new game modes, and strategic marketing is something that can be appreciated right now. Because there’s no harm in trying out. After all, it is free.