Regardless of how you personally feel about Fortnite, Epic Games should be commended because they created a product that is both flexible and sustainable. Epic dove right into the battle royale genre and stole the thunder from PUBG, which at the time was the leader in that particular market. While it could be considered a knock-off, which happens from time to time in any industry, Fortnite took off with their own ideas and mechanics and quickly overlapped its biggest competitor.
Looking past the free-to-play aspect of Fortnite, which is a large contributor for its popularity, the consistency put on display by Epic Games is the reason why this game is thriving. Weekly updates, patches, and limited time modes keeps the game fresh and the fact that every season brings something new to the table has kept Fortnite from becoming stale. If you took where Fortnite was a year ago to where it is now, it’s practically unrecognizable.
Building was the major feature that separated Fortnite from its competitors. You could create simple structures to help gain the advantage in a firefight and while it was simple in its design, this was a requirement for victory. The map was simple and didn’t feature many structures, players would have to build to create cover or hide in a bush to prevent exposure. In a year, Epic Games has completely overhauled the map and will regularly add new areas and make significant changes to existing ones. It’s brilliant.
What’s important to remember is that Epic Games is completely transparent with their activities. There is constant interaction with the community and even thought a number of their tweets regarding the future act as subtle hints, this contributes to the excitement. Whether it’s the introduction of a new weapon, feature, vehicle, or location, Epic works diligently to make sure the community remains involved.
This type of attention is a requirement for a live service. When Fortnite was gaining in popularity and introduced the Battle Pass, which would provide more content such as emotes, sprays, and costumes, Epic was upfront in detailing that it would not affect the gameplay and that they were completely cosmetic. Microtransactions may be a point of contention, but being a free-to-play title makes their presence less egregious than when they are available in full-priced titles. Plus, these microtransactions would help contribute in Epic Games continuously improving their product.
Now, it would be unfair to say that all studios can follow in Fortnite’s footsteps. PUBG had no real competition as other titles were similar in structure and mechanics. Fortnite was the perfect antithesis as it is light-hearted and cartoony. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and would appeal to a younger audience. This is a title for the casual and hardcore and while it still required considerable skill to win, you could have fun experimenting with the games physics and weapons, creating an experience that other titles couldn’t provide. Fortnite had arrived at the right time.
As more and more live service titles are introduced, it would be beneficial to take a look at how Epic Games has sustained their success. Anthem is Bioware’s answer to Destiny, but honestly this is a title that may determine the future of their studio with the disastrous launch of Mass Effect Andromeda. The Division 2 looks to be an improvement on the first title as their announcement at E3 2018 included their roadmap moving forward, but with The Division taking two years to become a title worth owning, it wouldn’t be surprising if fans remain skeptical. Live services are practically hit and miss at the moment with Fortnite and PUBG currently being the titles that are generally worth checking out.
Sustainability regardless of the industry is difficult if the company lacks commitment. What you generally see is a studio hype a title and then fail to commit to what they marketed. To maintain momentum can feel impossible, but if you remain committed and transparent, it can be done even in the constant face of change. Epic Games strives to meet the expectations of their consumers regardless of how people nitpick. You can’t satisfy everyone but it helps build trust and confidence when a company puts the consumer first. Look at their financial gains in the past year, that’s what fostering a positive environment does.
While it wouldn’t surprise me if Fortnite eventually wanes in popularity, what Epic Games has done this past year has been remarkable. They have set the standard for how a live service should be handled and other studios would be wise to follow suit. Constant contact with the community will help build trust even if there are concerns over the quality of the content provided. Don’t be Bethesda and remain silent while your product gets absolutely skewered by the product. Acknowledge the product’s shortcomings and provide solutions to overcome problems.