Up For Debate - Fortnite is a Pioneering Example of Games as a Service Done Right

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, May 6, 2018 4:00 PM
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Fortnite: Battle Royale is many things. It’s a monstrous success, first and foremost, with upwards of 60 million active players worldwide. It’s been suggested that it may be the single biggest game on the planet, referenced by sports stars, musicians and actors, while being the scourge of worried parents, teachers, and precious free time. But its success is no happy accident. It’s been a carefully orchestrated plan for world domination from a studio that most had assumed were fresh out of ideas.

For the few, not the many, Fortnite began life as an unassuming horde survival type game that seemed to be in development in perpetuity. It was announced back in 2011, and during the course of several preview runs and its eventual launch into early access, the reaction was, like a Chug Jug left in the sun, consistently tepid. At times Fortnite had the whiff of vaporware, yet by hook or by crook, Epic got its game over the line. On July 25th, 2017, Fortnite entered the world as a paid early access product that huffed, puffed, and ultimately didn’t generate the success Epic was likely hoping for.

While all of this was happening though, a game from a modder turned professional developer had lit the world of PC gaming on fire. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was a familiar refrain, riffing on the Battle Royale ideas that had been kicked about by DayZ, Arma 2, and Minecraft, inspired by the novel and movie of the same name. While Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene was fundamental to the popularisation of this game type, PUBG nevertheless was a commercial packaging for a mod game type that had already been an underground hit. PUBG did what had been done before, but better, and proceeded to monetise the heck out of it. 20 million players later, Epic was busy sitting up and taking notice.

In September, Epic announced and release Fortnite: Battle Royale, a free-to-play 100-player multiplayer spin-off based on its co-op horde game. There was much eye-rolling at what was, at the time, seen as naked bandwagon jumping. And, to some extent, it was. Only, anyone who’s played the two games know there’s only the very flimsiest connection between what they offer. Namely the rough ruleset with its constricting play zone that forces the 100 players gradually closer together. Beyond this, they’re worlds apart. That didn’t stop PUBG Corp rolling in with potential legal threats though, possibly only succeeding in highlighting Fortnite: Battle Royale’s existence rather than dampening its appeal.

Fast forward to launch on September 27th and Fortnite at 1 million players within a single day. This number had climbed to 7 million within a week. By December it was 30m, and fast approaching PUBG’s total sales. Two weeks later there were 40 million players. By February 2018, there were 3.4 million concurrent players, compared to 3.2 million in PUBG. Fortnite had toppled the Battle Royale champion.

Why is Fortnite: Battle Royale bigger than PUBG?

First and foremost, the decision to launch as free-to-play was a stroke of genius from Epic. In this scenario, Epic minimises the risk of pissing off its fans with a failed game by giving it away for nothing. It’s inherently a great financial risk, but the cost of developing Fortnite: Battle Royale was hugely offset by using its work on Fortnite as the base. The time and effort required to build a new game mode, rather than a new game, would have been minimal. At the time, practically anyone even remotely into games had heard of PUBG. Here was a game being mentioned in the same breath that was: free; on both consoles and PC, and comparatively child-friendly. There was literally nothing stopping anyone with a PC, PS4 or Xbox One from downloading Fortnite. Nothing is better advertising than word of mouth, and when someone asks a mate if they want to play Fortnite, there are zero barriers to getting them involved. It’s a self-perpetuating loop of success.

Being free means nothing if the game is bad though. There are hundreds upon hundreds of dead F2P games that couldn’t rely on their fanbase being so horrendously bored that they’d stoop to playing their terrible F2P game. The core of Fortnite is absolutely solid. The weak point is arguably the feel of the shooting, but the rush for loot, harvesting of resources, and the rapid building capabilities really help set it apart. The skill ceiling on fort builds is insanely high, allowing the best players to pull away from a pack of 100 and give themselves a damn good chance of winning, despite the odds stacked against them. In Fortnite there are few flukes, and the better players will almost inevitably have the better gear due to actively hunting other players and constructing the better defense for the end game.

Crucial to all of this, and counterpoint to many F2P games, is that Fortnite has no pay-to-win mechanics whatsoever. The only difference between a new player and someone who’s put in 1000 hours is learned experience and cosmetic skins. When all 100 players drop, they’re on a perfectly level playing field.

Then there’s the game as a service (Gaas) part that’s really helped establish Fortnite as more than a flash in the pan success. The techniques used by Epic to get players coming back again and again, for what is essentially the exact same game mode on repeat. This hinges on the use of seasons. It’s certainly not a new trick, but rarely have we seen it used so thoughtfully or capably. Each season brings with it a loose new theme, changes to the map, and literally hundreds of challenges for players to complete to unlock cosmetics, with more added each and every week. There’s a consistent reason for players to keep coming back, and of course, plenty of the cosmetics are locked behind the Battle Pass which must be paid for, unlocking yet further challenges for the keenest players.

As these seasons have evolved though, Epic has continued to get more outlandish and lavish with its plans. There’s now the loosest of story arcs connecting the seasons, and this bleeds into the map itself. Entire areas are dismantled at Epic’s whim, new objects are plonked down, and throughout it all, they’re creating a sense of goddamned history in a videogame map. It’s art imitating life, with tributes to fan favourite areas, layers of change and refinement, and a developing world that contributes to more than a simple map redesign and a ream of patch notes.

If we’re to take the recently release Season 4 as an example, the seeds were sown by Epic many weeks ago. A mysterious light was spotted in the sky following a weekly update. Then telescopes were added on hills so players could look through them and see this was, in fact, a meteor heading to Fortnite, prompting chaotic rumours about what it could all mean. Then, during the last week of Season 3, tiny chunks of meteorites were raining randomly down on the map, signalling the impending collision. Then the superhero-themed Season 4 happened. Dusty Depot had been obliterated by the meteor, leaving a savage crater in the ground filled with low-gravity pick-ups that allows players to bound around at great heights. Up top a new drive-through cinema location had opened up at Risky Reels, while Moisty Mire has been turned into a film set and the prison has been blown to smithereens, opening up a new tunnel network. It’s fascinating stuff to look at, even without playing the game, and a massively exciting example of how games can feel like living experiences rather than a rote list of changes.

It all contributes to a sense that Fortnite: Battle Royale is spearheading a new example for AAA multiplayer game development. The core is still about winning, but they’re making everything around it so much more. That all this can be free is totally bewildering, but selling exclusively cosmetics certainly isn’t doing Fortnite any harm. Last week it emerged that Fortnite generated $223 million in revenue during March alone; a staggering figure.

Naturally, all of this success comes with its fair share of detractors. Nothing is truly popular until it’s got an equally hefty hatewagon in tow, but it’s proof positive of how ubiquitous Fortnite: Battle Royale has become in such a short span of time.

Looking forward, Fortnite has surely set a benchmark for GaaS that many will attempt to endlessly replicate. It's the antithesis of Star Wars Battlefront 2’s premium model and pay-to-win loot crates, and it stands as proof positive that excessively monetising players isn’t necessary to fund a great game. The likes of EA could find it very helpful to take a long, hard look at Fortnite, and how its players are treated, when they consider their next multiplayer blockbuster.

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11:53 May-08-2018

Well.. I think this is not a 1v1 matchup for the Battle Royale peeps.. This is a triple threat match and the real winner of the "Games As A Service Done Right" is Warframe babyeeeeee
Also among the two, I defiantly prefer Fortnite (mostly because its free, but also because it actually runs :D)

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20:11 May-06-2018

In MY opinion both PBUG and Fortinte are popular for no GOOD reason at all. Both of the games are nether a new concept nor ground breaking mmo's in any way. I rely can't get why people idolize "unfinished"(in case of PUBG), nothing special games with not that much content(in case of Fortnite), skins are not content. Are they worth your time (and money again in case of PUBG)? Personally I think ARMA 3 and RUST are a much better alternative and much more fun to play with friends than both of these games despite being older. I know I will get smashed for disliking PUBG and Fortnite but I had to say it.

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20:52 May-06-2018

I'll add Arma 2 to the list :) Played Battle Royale mod a couple times and I find it better than in Fortnite & PUBG. Gameplay was risky, a lot more guns, tools and clothing and realistic weapon ballistics + all for FREE, if you had the game

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20:53 May-06-2018

I absolutely agree... no clue why they are so popular... probably because they are simple... though the gameplay of Fortnite is good, it's nothing new or impressive, PUBG is a log... and I personally think that the battle royale game mode is crap... And yes Arma is a much better alternative to both... :/

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20:57 May-06-2018

Battle Royale isn't crap, when it's done right. On the other hand, when it's done right, it's not so simple to play anymore. In other words too difficult for an average teen Fortnite player :)

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21:13 May-06-2018

first battle royale as a concept is crap... second what does age has to do with how easy it is to play a game... yeah sure a toddler can't do it, but if you are 7 years or older you have no excuse...

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21:22 May-06-2018

Because in my opinion people in certain age are not so eager to play difficult games ( I don't mean difficulty selection btw.).
Have you had the same opinion about Last Man Standing mode in older multiplayer games?

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21:34 May-06-2018

Yes, I dislike Last Man Standing/King of the hill type game modes as well, but last man standing at least does NOT force you to a certain part of the level, random at that...


Also, I beat dark souls 1 when I was 12 and the game is NOT hard, it's just timing, pattern memorization and stat management that require practice, IDK why people call it hard. I beat all god of war games(released at the time) at 10, I beat DMC3 and DMC4 on the highest difficulty in 3rd grade... I beat Golden Axe 1-3 without getting hit in 4th grade, I beat ninja gaiden 1-3 for the NES in 4th grade as well...


Games do NOT require age, they require time.

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21:36 May-06-2018

again above 7 years old age does NOT matter.

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22:43 May-06-2018

Oh you beat Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden as a kid?? Well, good for you, have a potato. Still doesn't prove me wrong. Age does matter. I didn't meant that young players can't handle difficult games. For todays young gamers competition is(1/2)

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22:51 May-06-2018

(2/2) the main factor in a game (mostly). If 2 games are similarly competitive but one is more difficult than another, younger players are less interested to play this game, because (among others) they're playing worse than older players.

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22:56 May-06-2018

teens are the best at games because they have the most free time.
For example, Fortnite is more popular than PUBG, first because it's free, second because the gameplay is more fun and third because it's NOT a complete campfest and complete games are much quicker... and then because it's more goofy which attracts more casual people, PUBG has a more serious tone to it.


Fortnite also works on toasters, while PUBG requires a good PC and runs like crap on consoles... many many factors that have nothing to do with difficulty, if anything Fortnite is harder than PUBG...

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22:59 May-06-2018

Otherwise, when it comes teens willing to play harder games... I would say again age does NOT matter, most people that play video games go for the easy, casual(yet with competitive game modes most of them), simple, repetitive, match based, low on depth, games... I mean those games are the ones who expanded gaming... MOBAs, Battle Royale, Mobile games, these are the games that brought in the most players and many other core gamers followed as well sadly.

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23:03 May-06-2018

Let's take CS:GO and StarCraft 2 as example. Majority of CS:GO players is 12-20 with average about 23. In SC2 is a little higher, but in CS young players are all over the ranks, from silver to global.

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23:04 May-06-2018

And in StarCraft 2:
plat and up: 20 to 25
gold and silver: 18 to 25
bronze: 10 to 25

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00:00 May-07-2018

Where do you get those statistics?

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23:15 May-06-2018

"MOBAs, Battle Royale, Mobile games are the games that brought in the most players and many other core gamers followed as well sadly" - 100% agree
Anyway. Thanks for the discussion and your opinion. GtG, less time than young ppl u know :D

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00:00 May-07-2018

I gave myself a break this weekend and I man I miss having so much free time, it's just wonderful :/

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00:49 May-07-2018

Well, I do have enough free time, I don't want to spend it mostly playing games like I did earlier :)
About the stats, got them from blizzard community

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09:23 May-07-2018

Some people might like battle royale games (including me) because you play alone,I prefer games where I can play alone and not play with garbage random team mates who drag me down,in battle royale games I have to carry myself.

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11:22 May-07-2018

If you want to play alone there are tons of singleplayer games that are fantastic. And I too hate team based games, but I have no choice as everything that I like is team based and happily, for most objective game modes I do NOT need to rely on my team... happily, they started introducing smaller team modes so I can play with friends in some of them.

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06:04 May-08-2018

Comming back to your earlier comments: all of this chaos-style shenanigans or "Battle-royale" as the kids are hyping it, is all just re-trending of the very first games (like GTA 3 ) that invented that ope-world-chaos-like style of just screwing around - and as Psychoman said, you could have fun without other people! But, ofc, back then games were cared for and had a lot of additional content from the very ALPHA version of the game...

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19:41 May-06-2018

Fornite is great,frequent updates,good netcode,stability, no hackers but I hate base building in this game and its arcade style of shooting(you don't need much skill for aiming). When I compare it with PUBG it just won,pubg is super broken after last update,it doesn't get so much updates and aiming gone to hell since last update. I'd love to play fortnite in some kind of mode where you can't build. I don't like that stuff.

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20:54 May-06-2018

I gave up on playing Fortnite mainly because of building.

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19:14 May-06-2018

I think Fortnite is great but I can't give them much praise when they have $20 skins. I don't care that it's cosmetic only, they shouldn't be charging that much. They pump them out pretty often and it's great that they listen to the fans for ideas but I think they can afford to be charging a lot less.

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17:58 May-06-2018

Haven't tried FN:BR yet. Sounds interesting, but one of the reasons why I tend to avoid MP games are hackers/cheaters. Is that problem as bad as in PUBGs?

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18:24 May-06-2018

I don' think I've come across any hackers yet, though I'm in Europe and maybe if you are in Asia things may be different, hear there are a lot of hackers there.

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19:46 May-06-2018

Out of the many, many matches I've played, I don't think I've come across a single cheater, or at least noticed any.

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17:16 May-06-2018

Am I the only one that still prefers PUBG?

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17:58 May-06-2018

Look, Fortnite is free and people who have played Fortnite doesn't necessarily played PUBG, so they can't compare it. Hence, Fortnite automatically wins.

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11:56 May-08-2018

What did i said to get downvotes ? It's true , FREE TO PLAY tag matters a lot sometimes.

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13:16 May-08-2018

Just because a game is free, that doesn't automatically make it better. I also never said PUBG was the better game, I just said that i enjoy it more.

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22:17 May-08-2018

The topic was about service done right. Moreoevr , when i said " . . . automatically wins . . " you don't know in what context. AND When you said , you still prefer PUBG, I couldn't relate beacause like me, there are vast number of gamers out there who didn't tried that game just because it looked uninteresting. But did tried FORTNITE not because it was cool , but it wasn't hurting our pockets, thus whole argument seems going weird and misinterpreted.

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16:56 May-06-2018

What about World of Warcraft?

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18:22 May-06-2018

what about it?

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20:11 May-06-2018

World of Warcraft as a "Pioneering Example of Games as a Service Done Right".
They did it right for almost 7 years and are still going strong.

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20:55 May-06-2018

You've got a point there.

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10:38 May-08-2018

It's a great game but the subscription-based nature doesn't really cut it in this day and age. It's relying on all of those millions who've been playing it for years, and I'd honestly be surprised if there are all that many brand new players coming in.

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10:53 May-08-2018

I'm not sure about retro-vs-new players, but they keep a constant 8 mil + subscribers. I'd say they are still doing fine, at least for now. Still, they should soon freshen up a bit, I'm honestly surprised that so many people have hung around for so long (what, 14 years now! Damn...). Usually, between big updates, most people stop playing and then come back for 2-3 months - but if there are people that are form the very beginning up till now, thats 15$ x 168 months... damn

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12:56 May-08-2018

Mmm, definitely a huge success still, just a very different style to what most are used to now. While I obviously don't think every game should be delivered as a service, I do think ones like Fortnite are nice in that if I don't play for 3 months I'm not going to come back and find myself behind a leveling or gear curve. It's just kind of neat because this isn't a game that I'm going to play day after day, I'd get bored, but when an interesting update like this arrives I can hop in and have a few games without committing any money. It's what puts me off FFXIV. I like it but I can't play it regularly enough to justify a subscription really, but if it was F2P with optional purchases I'd probably be more inclined to play it every so often.

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19:43 May-06-2018

World of Warcraft is no longer the most played game for few expasions and many years. World of Tanks surpassed it.

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