The Secrets Behind Fortnite's Massive 40 Million Player Success 

When Epic Games originally announced a Battle Royale mode for its co-op zombie survival game Fortnite, the internet seemed sceptical. Battlegrounds had already taken over the world, so it was easy for Fortnite: Battle Royale to look like a trend-chasing copycat. Months later, the studio's enormous player base seems to have proven everyone wrong.

Much of Fortnite's appeal is that it is the perfect embodiment of "games as service". Epic Games promises meaningful, game-changing updates every week that go beyond simple bug fixes. They want you to have something to look forward to every time you turn the game on, whether that's a limited-time 50 vs 50 mode or a useful new pistol. Eric Williamson, lead systems designer on Fortnite: Battle Royale, says the team is using a new development feature called "level streaming", which allows them to add more content with ease, including map changes, player skins and gameplay tweaks.

It's a system that allows Epic to continue iterating on the game. As a testament to that, this week Fortnite will get a big new update that will overhaul the map. There are two new areas that will hopefully even out the island by giving people more places to explore on the eastern side of the map. According to Epic, internal player density maps showed that this section traditionally wasn't very populated.

The new map.

Tilted Towers, as the name suggests, will have vertical bases and taller buildings. Shifty Shafts, meanwhile, is an underground mine with tight, claustrophobic spaces. Beyond being new points of interests, these areas will challenge players in ways that the rest of the map don't.

The wider island is getting a makeover, too. Epic is adding "biomes" that will make areas more visually distinct from one another depending on where you spawn. Where before there was only "grasslands", there will now also be mountain areas, swamplands and farmlands. Each zone type will have a different visual tone, terrain, vegetation and trees that players will have to take into account when trying to survive.

Another key pillar of Fortnite's explosion is Epic Games' attentiveness. Where in most games the idea of "games as service" evokes an impersonal image of being sold content you might not even want, with Fortnite, Epic has developed a more reciprocal relationship. Many updates seem as if they are responding to player wishlists.

Whenever there's an issue, Epic Games hops onto forums and social media to talk to players about what's happening or to inform them that things have been fixed. They also love to joke around with players, giving them winks and nods that reference player antics, such as rocket riding, on official game trailers. It's the sort of transparency and warmth that is rare for a game of this size.

"We've got analytics systems, we watch streamers, we participate in forums, we gather feedback through Reddit…[but] we don't make all of our decisions based on cold, hard data," said David Spalinski, lead level designer. "Sometimes the data might say one thing, and then the community might feel a different way."

Last month, for example, Epic added a "Boogie Bomb" to Fortnite: Battle Royale that makes people dance upon impact. It was a funny idea, and players were excited to use it, but the problem was that it also made people harder to hit. And yet, according to internal data, the weapon wasn't unbalanced. Even so, players still felt frustrated by the item.

"Data doesn't give you emotion, doesn't give you the way a player feels about something," Spalinski said. So, Epic changed length of the dancing effect.

Perhaps the biggest force behind Fortnite: Battle Royale's popularity is its welcoming tone. If Battlegrounds is more Counter-Strike, Fortnite leans closer to Overwatch. Fortnite does follow the brutal formula of Battle Royale games, and it has realistic weapons such as assault rifles and shotguns, but the overall tone of the game isn't very serious at all.

Fortnite is a wacky game where you can dress as a knight and shoot a pumpkin rocket. When developing new features, Epic Games looks to how much an idea makes them laugh or giggle as a barometer for whether or not something might make the game more fun.

"It's really important to us ... we are a ruthless game in that there is only one winner, but that also means there's 99 people who are dying," said Williamson. "We still want those people to have fun. It shouldn't be so punishing that you want to walk away from the game. And I think we've seen a lot of ... our community being, I don't want to say happy to die, but like - death is not so punishing in our game. It's not a frustrating experience. You laugh about it, and then you play the next match. Or you stick around and be entertained by the person who killed you."


Comments

    It's free...

      This is literally the only reason.

        If that's the only reason, then why don't all free-to-play games have massive playerbases? Why aren't all free-to-play games shared by their playerbases on social media constantly?

        The free to play may get people through the door, but it's Epic's masterclass in player interaction and support that keeps them there.

          Pretty much nailed it. I don't care for either Battle Royale games, but on the odd occasion that I end up watching a streamer I like play either of the two, I'd pick Fortnite any day of the (two) week(s). It just has more visual flair.

    Fortnite was originally billed as a co-op base-building base-defence PVE zombie game, IIRC.

    So it changed direction pretty markedly. Maybe EPIC had plans in place before PUBG took off, but it's pretty suspicious-looking! The players falling onto an island from a flying vehicle is beyond suspicious, and I haven't even looked at the game in detail yet.

      Eh they're both similar in the sense that they are battle royale games, but if you've played both you'd know that they are very, very different. Now that PUBG is pretty much unplayable on Oceanic servers I've started playing Fortnite a lot more, its a nice change.

        When is PUBG unplayable on OC servers? i play daily and there are no issues.
        Sure at official launch there was 2-3 days of lag, but that was fixed ages ago.

          Play daily with no issues? Come on. Unless you only play FPP or you're getting killed in the first 30 seconds how can you not notice the blatant aimbots, ESP and wallhacks going on? Last week I was getting shot through walls and terrain from someone hip firing 200-400m away in nearly every single game I played on TPP servers. Cheating is out of control like I've never seen in any game before.

          I'm PUBG's biggest fan but right now the game is utter shite.

          Last edited 17/01/18 2:35 pm

            I DO only play FPP, its the only way to play as the game is much better suited for FPP.
            with TPP you don't need hacks every person has walls and esp because you can see over and around things which gives you that cheaters peak advantage.

      Pubg can trace its own ancestry back to plenty of older Epic game. Circle of life right? It’s like the producers of Friends saying nobody else can make a situational comedy show about a group of 30 something’s. Daft.

      To add insult to the Fortnite fans, people like myself who bought the actual game for the PVE game that was promised have been screwed out of there worth by the focus on the PVP F2P version.
      The co-op tower defence was great fun, and its just had no significant updates since they launched the BR mode, its had many "grind for incremental gear" copy/paste events which have been at best boring and at worst just plain stupid.

        I enjoy the PvE, and have put plenty more hours into it than the BR. BR got me in the game, buying the PvE kept me around.

        That said - I can kind of agree that the expanded player base of BR is affecting the PvE. And mission progression gets pretty hard by around pg 3 of the Plankerton objectives. It's been a week since I've had to complete the Shelter Repair lvl23 quest - and when I can find players to co op this quest with (I had to jump to NA servers last night) - it's incredibly hard and drawn out, unforgiving, and virtually impossible to complete solo (esp. as I'm at lvl 20, and it's making me complete a lvl23 quest).

      You choose between the PvE defense mode and the PvP battle Royale mode on boot up. Gotta pay for the PvE mode though.

    It's popular because it's riding on the coattails of pubg. Both games are great but it's no mistaking that it would not be as popular as it is if not for pubg. the fact it's free also another factor. People who want to play pubg but can't afford it will obviously see this as a viable alternative.

      I assume you'd make the same argument about any smartphone that's not the iPhone as well?

        No.

          Then don't make it here. Technology and creativity are constantly iterative and each things scratches a different itch for different people. If you were to criticise Fortnite for "copying" PUBG then you'd need to criticise Samsung for "copying" Apple and PUBG for "copying" The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games for "copying" Battle Royale.

          It's self-centred and the opposite of insightful to assume that anyone who likes Fortnite is someone who just can't play PUBG. There's a venn diagram of people who want both and the overlap is very small. The PC community is not as important or influential as they think they are.

            You seem to be taking huge offense here. His comments seem reasonable.

            For example:
            >Both games are great but it's no mistaking that it would not be as popular as it is if not for pubg.

            Yeah that seems pretty accurate.

            Now you:
            >The PC community is not as important or influential as they think they are.

            Oh cool, tribalism. This is going well!

              Sorry, perhaps I am being overly sensitive. When I see comments here of people flat-out dismissing Fortnite's quality (admittedly, not the comment above, because like you said, it mentioned both are great) I assume that they're disgruntled PUBG players / the vitriolic PC community. I've seen it enough times that maybe i'm seeing it where it's not. But people saying "it's popular because it's free and that's the only reason" are being absurd.

              I'm the last person to embrace tribalism (and that's actually what i'm trying to push back against here, maybe not completely successfully). In my opinion, if you don't have all the consoles or PC you're missing out, there's awesome stuff on everything. Currently, i'm missing out on the PC experience but the barrier of entry is just too high for me personally.

              I'm one of the people who heard a lot about PUBG and jumped at the chance to play a similarly styled experience on PS4 with Fortnite. But I'm part of a small group. My girlfriend normally never plays games unless it's with me and she's now considering getting a PS4 just for Fortnite. She's also convinced many of her friends, ones you'd never pick as "gamers", to jump on the Fortnite train as well. There are so many people who would never touch a game like PUBG but love the casual and fun vibes that Fortnite offers.

              I think both games are good, definitely, and PUBG did a lot of the hard work getting the "Battle Royale" format into a state that's commercially viable. But I think that Fortnite deserves to be able to be talked about without talking about PUBG. Especially for Epic's sadly refreshing take on customer respect and interaction.

                I fail to see where im being vitrolic?

                I like both games and play both regularly. I am simply pointing out why it is successful. You need to remove your fanboyism so you dont jump down peoples throats over a video game.

                Grow up. Its just a video game.

                  I'm not saying you are being vitriolic i'm saying the PC community as a rule, is vitriolic and elitist.

                  I really feel like maybe we're both reading into each other's comments a lot more than we should and seeing things that aren't there. I'm sorry for doing that to you, and I hope you'll believe me when I say that I loathe fanboy behaviour in all its forms. Nothing worse than blind faith and unconditional love.

                  I just feel compelled to highlight Fortnite's successes though in a year that brought us Battlefront II lootboxes and the Destiny franchise's wholesale destruction for the sake of exploiting whales and initial Metacritic reviews. I think we need to loudly praise the companies who don't seem obsessed with the bottom line over the enjoyment of their playerbase. We need to let the industry know when they've done good.

                  My overall point is, Fortnite isn't just PUBG's understudy, it's had numerous achievements on its own terms.

                Last time I checked and played actually PUBG is on the xbox console as well and if you want unchecked fanboyism you dont have to go far with the ps4 elitism on this site for starters I hate all gamer elitism.

        Any free smart phones on the market at the moment? If not it's an odd comparison to make, given that they highlighted Fortnite being free as "another factor".

    I thought pubg was just a placeholder until someone did it properly anyway.. isn’t that all arma mods? ????

    Or it could be due to the exodus of the D2 player base flooding into games like Fortnite and The Division

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