In 2017, video game developer studio Epic Games released Fortnite, a unique game that draws its influence from many different genres and styles of games. Though Fortnite saw moderate success with its Save the World mode, it wasn’t until Epic Games released the Battle Royale mode that the game saw a rise in popularity that dwarfed even the most optimistic of predictions. Seemingly overnight, Fortnite became a household name, beloved by individuals of all ages. Its presence ripples through pop culture, in films, TV, and music. But the question remains, what exactly is Fortnite?
At its core, Fortnite is a third-person over-the-shoulder style shooter. Third-person and over-the-shoulder refer to the player perspective of the camera. Rather than playing from the viewpoint of the character they’re controlling, Fortnite players observe the action through a camera that floats just behind and over their character’s shoulder. Shooters are games that many people are familiar with and the name is accurately descriptive. In shooters, players shoot at other players or AI creatures.
When Epic Games first released Fortnite, they began with the Save the World mode. Players team up to defend against hordes of zombie-like creatures by collecting materials, building shelters, and trying to survive. By chopping down trees and mining rocks, players can gather materials for use in their buildings, traps, and weaponry. This is where one of Fortnite’s most original concepts began: the building. In most games, the walls, floors, and the environment are set and static. In Fortnite, players can build everything from simple shacks to elaborate mansions. As game development continued, Epic Games added in more modes, challenges, and options to the Save the World mode.
Most people who speak about Fortnite are referring exclusively to its Battle Royale mode. Though it's a relatively recent genre in game development, the Battle Royale genre has made huge waves in gaming communities. The Battle Royale name refers to Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel and the 2000 film of the same name. In the Battle Royale story, a large group of teenagers arrive on an island and are forced to fight to survive. Many modern stories have adapted this concept, including the incredibly popular Hunger Games series. In Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode, 100 players begin in a bus, soaring over the landscape. Players drop from the bus and compete to be the last surviving squad. At the start of the game, each player is essentially helpless. They have a melee weapon but must hunt for better weapons and traps to defeat the other players.
Though the concept may seem gruesome in theory, Fortnite’s bright and vibrant visual style in combination with the game’s innate humor allows it to be appropriate for even young children. Many who see Fortnite describe it as “cartoony.” The game harnesses many bright colors, cartoonish proportions, and bold lines to provide a unique visual style. This is partially why the game may have seen so much success. Because it is visually distinct, Fortnite stands out from the likes of other popular Battle Royale games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds which aimed for realism, both from gameplay and visual perspectives. Additionally, the game contains no blood or gore.
One of the biggest reasons that Fortnite has seen widespread success is the fact that it is interesting for viewers. Though it may seem weird to older individuals, live streaming sites such as Twitch have risen in popularity in recent years. On these sites, visitors can look on as professional players and web-personalities alike play games like Fortnite. Because many of the elements in the Battle Royale genre are random, each session is a different experience. This makes it interesting for viewers. Add in the many popular streamers who began to play the game, and it’s easy to see why Fortnite is consistently on the top of Twitch’s viewership charts.
Just as great football players play their sport professionally, high-level video game players can compete in leagues or tournaments to show off their skills. A variety of different companies have hosted and continue to host esports events for Fortnite, pulling audience counts in the hundreds of thousands. Additionally, this isn’t just players at home streaming to audiences through Twitch. Some of these tournaments have filled arenas just as well as any professional sport. Many casual Fortnite players dream of being able to compete for the surprisingly large prize pools. Though most tournaments offer a few thousand dollars, some events have had prize pools in the millions.
There is a history of stigma for video games. Notably, many people once viewed gaming as a subset of nerd or tech culture, but this isn’t true for the current gaming culture. People of all ages, sexes, and cultures game in their free time. In addition, games like Fortnite are a social experience. Fortnite allows players across the world to join squads of up to four people. Players can socialize and interact with their friends or complete strangers if they wish. Because the game allows for cross-platform play, people can come together regardless of what gaming system they own.
Fortnite: Battle Royale is entirely free-to-play. Rather than a large upfront cost, Epic Games makes its money through microtransactions. These are small, optional purchases that allow players to get special cosmetics for their in-game characters. Cosmetics range from different skins to a variety of dances, and other emotes. Additionally, Epic Games offers Battle Passes. These are passes which offer rewards to players for playing the game and completing challenges. Most challenges involve some sort of combat, though some are simply to explore the map or build certain objects.
When discussing Fortnite, it’s hard to ignore what is probably its biggest cultural impact: the dances. Like a touchdown celebration dance, many games have emotes that allow players to taunt others or express themselves, and a significant number of these emotes are dances. However, few emotes have seen the levels of popularity that the Fortnite dances have. Most of the dances in the game are references to popular dances in real life or specific people. For example, Flossing is a reference to a backpack-wearing child on Saturday Night Live. One of the default dances, “Dance Moves,” is a reference to the TV show Scrubs.
Unlike many games, it doesn’t look like Fortnite is a flash-in-the-pan trend. There is no current record of players for 2019, but in November of 2018, the game had 200 million registered accounts and over 80 million monthly players. The game often breaks viewership numbers of 100,000 people on Twitch, making it one of the most popular games to watch. Additionally, with the rising esports scene, there are potential job opportunities in journalism, game casting, streaming, and professional play.