Sometimes, a weapon is only as strong as we believe it to be. Fortnite recently saw a game-wide shift in how people use a weapon type, and it's all because people are thinking about those firearms in a different way. The developers didn't actually change anything under the hood, but everyone is approaching the game differently now.
In Fortnite, colours are used to denote the rarity and power of a weapon or item. Grey items are common, whereas orange weapons are legendary and scarce. Last month, Epic Games, the developers, adjusted the rarity colours on Tactical Shotguns and Pump Shotguns as follows:
Tactical Shotguns are now Common/Uncommon/Rare (was Uncommon/Rare/Epic).
Pump Shotguns are now Uncommon/Rare (was Common/Uncommon).
Mechanically, nothing about these weapons changed. They stayed the same, power-wise. Epic wanted the colours to "more closely represent their effectiveness," that's all.
While the efficacy and rarity of the weapons was not altered, the way players approached these same weapons completely changed since late March. On Twitter, Fortnite design lead Eric Williamson shared a surprising graph that detailed how players were now using the very same weapons:
Simply adjusting shotgun rarity colors in Fortnite v3.4 had a fascinating effect on player behavior. Pump Shotgun colors shifted up and kills increased 36%; Tactical Shotgun colors shifted down and kills decreased 23%. There was no change in actual rarity or power. pic.twitter.com/JUauiZNVGY
— Eric Williamson (@erwil9) April 18, 2018
The weapon that is considered "better" in terms of colour started getting more kills from players, even though it didn't actually become better. The more common weapon, meanwhile, saw fewer kills despite also staying exactly the same.
"I'd say we expected a slight change, but not that dramatic," Williamson told Kotaku in an email. "There's an association with rarity colours that's clearly very strong, and if you only have a split second to make a decision about what weapon to grab, colour is one of the simplest things to compare."
While this makes sense, the situation still feels shocking in that changing the colours had a more pronounced effect than any change that Epic has made before. "No balance change (where actual numbers were affected) even comes close to the shift we saw here," Williamson added.
Anecdotally, I saw a variety of players who, following the announcement of the colour change, became confused over the meaning of the tweak. Some players genuinely believed that because the Pump Shotgun had a better colour, it was now a better weapon.
"I don't know why, but I feel really weak and uncomfortable with the grey [tactical shotgun]," one Fortnite fan told Williamson on Twitter.
"I tried to tell ppl the shotguns power did not change," another said. "Just the colour. They insisted I was wrong."
"I always see the grey tactical shotgun as much worse than it use to be for some reason," said another player.