Fortnite burst onto the gaming scene in 2017 and quickly established itself as one of the greatest cultural phenomena of all time. It has attracted more than 250 million players and grossed an estimated $4 billion for developer Epic Games over the past two years. Fortnite has even been cited in divorce proceedings, as some players simply cannot get enough of the exhilarating action it offers.
Yet its popularity appears to be waning. Player numbers are declining, celebrity streamers are being lured away and gripes among the community are becoming amplified. The video gaming sector is extremely fickle and Fortnite has already enjoyed greater longevity than most games ever gain. How long will it be until the Fortnite bubble bursts?
Fortnite’s epic rise to prominence
Fortnite capitalized on the surging popularity of PUBG in 2017 when it offered a cartoonish, fast-paced and outrageously fun alternative. It rapidly began breaking records in terms of player acquisition, and it grossed a cool $2.8 billion for Epic Games in 2018. That amounts to a record-breaking year for a digital game, surpassing the $2.1 billion that League of Legends earned in 2017.
It makes its money from microtransactions, selling season passes that unlock additional features and individual skins in a rotating store front. The microtransactions are optional and they never felt too invasive, so there were few complaints from the community and many have been happy to pay in order to boost their experience. Around 70% of Fortnite’s players buy digital items and they spend an average of $85, turning the game into an economic sensation.
Epic Games chief executive Tim Sweeney is now worth $7.2 billion thanks to the popularity of Fortnite. He has come from out of nowhere to sit among the top 250 richest people in the world, worth 0.04% of the entire GDP of the USA. Epic is understandably keen to maintain Fortnite’s popularity, but will it be possible? We decided to examine the case for its long-term health, and the case against.
Reasons to be cheerful
Obituaries were written for Fortnite when Apex Legends emerged as a serious challenger last year. It started gaining players at an even quicker rate than Fortnite had, EA paid influential streamers to play it, many reviewers preferred the gameplay and it was clearly seizing a great deal of market share from Fortnite. Yet Epic Games then played its masterstroke.
It announced that it would be channelling $100 million into a Fortnite esports scene throughout 2019, culminating in the $30 million Fortnite World Cup in New York City this summer. You could almost see the dollar signs lighting up players’ eyes. It was a remarkably effective tactic, as hardcore gamers rushed back to Fortnite to brush up their skills in an effort to win the big bucks.
Becoming an esport is the perfect way to achieve longevity in the fickle world of video gaming. LoL is celebrating its 10th birthday this year and it is still going strong. It follows a similar model to Fortnite: free to play, constantly updated to keep it fresh, taking feedback from the community on board to improve the experience, making billions through microtransactions, nurturing a community and a competitive scene.
Fortnite should be such an effective esport, as it can be difficult for viewers to follow the multiple perspectives in a battle royale, while the reliance on RNG and general randomness throws the competitive balance out the window. Yet the Fortnite World Cup was, by all accounts, a roaring success. Fans enjoyed it, and the mass media across the world went nuts for stories of teenagers earning life-changing sums.
That will surely inspire more teens and young adults to play the game. Epic has just announced that the The Fortnite Champion Series, held later this month, will have prize money of $10 million. Money talks, and that should ensure a healthy competitive scene for a considerable period of time. You can see from these esports odds just how many big tournaments are taking place on a regular basis and how strong certain players are looking each year. Epic has cash to burn and it is likely to continue using it to drive longevity into its flagship title.
Prominent streamers often have a love-hate relationship with Fortnite, but they can never stay away for long. Besides, a new crop has emerged post-World Cup, including Bugha and King. Fortnite has seen off competition for Apex and PUBG and the passionate community continues to enjoy it.
Reasons to be fearful
Fortnite’s popularity peaked in August 2018, when it racked up 78.3 million active players during the month. Since then it has decreased. Epic Games has not released official player numbers since March 2019, but it may never match the zenith it achieved last year. The 250 million player figure that is routinely trotted out refers to the number of registered accounts, but many are now inactive.
There is a risk that boredom will set in among the Fortnite community. The likes of Bugha have shown just how brilliant the pros can be, as the speed with which he builds is a joy to behold, but Fortnite does not have the same level of strategy and the high skill ceiling of games like LoL and CS:GO. It is imperative for Epic to keep updating the game in order to keep it fresh, vibrant and exciting, but updates are becoming fewer and further between, and they are often annoying the community.
Season 10 has introduced the B.R.U.T.E. and many players absolutely hate it, because they find it overpowered. Epic admitted that it is a ploy to attract new players, but it seems like a misstep after the furore over the Infinity Blade.
Essentially, Epic may struggle under the weight of trying to please too many people at once. Nurturing a strong competitive scene is crucial for its longevity strategy, but many older, casual players are becoming alienated. They feel they cannot compete with 16-year-olds trying to win $3 million, and they find themselves blown away too quickly. The serious players resent Epic adding mechanisms like the B.R.U.T.E. and the Infinity Blade to skew the competitive balance and allow newcomers to flourish. It is a fine balancing act and Epic will struggle to be all things to all people.
Rival developers know just how much love there is for battle royale titles, and you can expect intriguing challengers to hit the market in the year ahead. Fortnite is a fun game, but it is not perfect, and the community could be lured away by flashier new titles.
How long does Fortnite have left at the top?
It is hard to see Fortnite dying any time soon. Epic Games has simply made too much money over the past two years to allow it to fade into obscurity. While it will not reinvest all the cash it has made, it is likely to use a significant chunk of its earnings to reinvigorate the game.
LoL has laid down the blueprint, and Fortnite will try to follow in its footsteps. StarCraft II is also more than nine years old now, while Dota 2 and CS:GO have enjoyed great longevity too thanks to their popularity as esports. A battle royale title has never pulled it off, but the genre has only just shot to prominence.
Fortnite may never quite return to its August 2018 heyday, but it has already seen off impressive challengers and it should still have several years left at the top. Epic will still have a few aces up its sleeve, including map overhauls, reboots and glitzy tournaments. The game will probably not be able to last a full decade, but we should expect another solid few years at the top before the bubble bursts.