The meteoric rise of Fortnite

What is Fortnite? 

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past 18 months, it’s more than likely that you’ve seen or heard the word “Fortnite.” From news outlets, to bloggers, to YouTubers, to your aunt in small-town, middle-of-nowhere’s Facebook statuses, the word has completely infiltrated society and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

For anyone who might not be in the know, Fortnite is a video-game, and it’s also SO. MUCH. MORE.

Epic Games’ free-to-play, battle royale game is an experience which can be as social or as solitary as you want it to be, with big players like Netflix and Facebook seeing it as one of their biggest competitors of 2019.

Fortnite parachutes 100 players onto an island with nothing but the clothes on their back and a parachute, and players need to scavenge for weapons, equipment, and ammo in order to survive. In Fortnite, like all other battle royale games, only one player can be left standing, and the only way to victory is by taking out other players, surviving incoming attacks, and escaping the deadly storms which forces players closer, and closer together.

The PUBG of it all 

The barely two-year-old game started its life as an Early Access PvE (Player-versus-Environment) game where players worked together to fend off a zombie/monster invasion, Back then, PvP (player versus player) wasn’t featured in the game at all, with players needing to cooperate to survive waves of enemies. It received decent reviews but failed to generate very much interest from the public.

Another Early Access game released at around the same time and began to generate more than a little buzz across the web: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The game, commonly referred to as PUBG, was a battle royale title and reviewers, players and streamers alike were flocking to it in droves.

By September 2017, Epic were almost ready to release their own battle royale experience, a reimagining of their game Fortnite. While the original PvE mode of the game was a paid-for title, Epic made Fortnite: Battle Royale free-to-play. At the same time, PUBG was breaking the record for the most concurrent players on Steam, by reporting over 1.3 million concurrent players, a number which would more than double by January 2018.

The team behind PUBG weren’t ignorant of their competition, though, as Fortnite: Battle Royale was picking up steam even more quickly than PUBG had when it first released. The CEO of PUBG Corporation even went on record saying that Fortnite: Battle Royale was “replicatingPUBG’s gameplay, and even went on to open a lawsuit against Epic Games, though would eventually drop the suit.

By February 2018, Fortnite: Battle Royale had already eclipsed PUBG’s concurrent player record, reporting 3.4 million users at a time. What was especially shocking was the speed of this growth, as just two weeks earlier Fortnite’s concurrent player number was closer to 2 million. As Fortnite’s numbers rose, PUBG’s began to fall.

Nothing quite illustrates Fortnite’s victory over PUBG quite like the Google Trends data below:

The Epic Ninja 

Just like with most new products and services nowadays, influencers turned out to be the deciding factor in the Fortnite versus PUBG brawl.

Fortnite had a more cartoony aesthetic, a distinct lack of blood and gore, weekly updates, limited-time modes that changed up the gameplay, tons of purchasable skins that always seemed to keep up with the internet’s trends, and influencers loved it for its “shareability”.

Spring 2018 saw almost every single social media platform from YouTube, to Facebook, to Twitter, to Twitch go crazy over Fortnite. Social media influencers were uploading Fortnite fail videos, kill-streaks, funny moments, victories, commentaries, and live streams, and Fortnite became one of the most visible digital products in the world.

One influencer in particular, though, has been credited with being essential to Fortnite’s 2018 success: Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Primarily a Twitch streamer, Ninja spoke to Forbes in 2018 and loosely explained how he became the most popular Twitch streamer in the world:

I have realized for a long time I was missing out on millions of gamers from YouTube who do not really know about live streaming and are just “comfortable” watching videos. I knew that I had the ability to tap into that audience if I could just grow my YouTube scene and transition them to live entertainment on my Twitch page. Fortnite blew up on YouTube shortly after I had this plan, and everything just fell into place.

– Tyler “Ninja” Blevins

In March 14th 2018 Ninja streamed his Fortnite gaming on Twitch as usual, though this time he had a special guest: international superstar rapper Drake:

He went on to stream with rapper Travis Scott, NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Kim Dotcom, and Ninja broke every single record on Twitch at the time. At one point he had over 635,000 concurrent viewers.

What did this mean for Epic Games, though? It meant that millions of people each week had their eyes on Fortnite. Between that, the widespread availability of the game, and the fact that the game was free, player numbers continued to skyrocket to new heights.

The one to rule them all

A smart move on Epic’s part was how widely available they made Fortnite: Battle Royale, and this was one of the main factors that helped them capitalize on all the social media attention they were getting.

While PUBG was available on PC and XBox One, Epic added support for almost every single device imaginable. Desktop, XBox One, PS4, iPhone & iPad, Android, and the Nintendo Switch. The low graphical requirements (a benefit of their cartoonish aesthetic) meant that even low-end computers could run the game smoothly.

There was no barrier for entry. The game didn’t cost anything and players didn’t need to have any fancy equipment to play it. If you’re a working-class person in the Western World, it’s likely that you have two or even three devices capable of running Fortnite. This was an especially important factor in how Fortnite cornered the tween and teen market.

Tweens and teens didn’t need to worry about having to ask their parents to pay for a new game, or a new machine to play it on. Their parents, or even they themselves, already had everything they needed to get started, so all they needed to do was install the game and jump into a match. Curious newbies could go from deciding to try the game to actually playing it within ten minutes and at no cost.

How did Epic turn a profit on Fortnite?

It’s been mentioned a few times now: Fortnite is a free game. It doesn’t cost anything to install or to play. So how exactly did Epic Games keep the lights on and pay for all those developers pushing weekly game updates?

Microtransactions.

A word that’s taken on terrible associations in gaming, microtransactions are small purchases that players can make throughout their time with a game, as opposed to the traditional revenue model of gaming of charging one big price for access to the game.

The reason that microtransactions are regarded negatively by many gamers is that the vast majority of games that feature them do so on a “pay to win” model where gamers pay for things such as improved weapons or abilities for their characters. In “pay to win” games, players who don’t regularly spend money on the game are put at a severe disadvantage.

In Fortnite, however, microtransactions work differently. There isn’t a single item available for purchase that will give players any sort of advantage in the game over players who haven’t bought anything. Purchasing digital, in-game items from the Epic Store doesn’t make the game any easier to win. All the items available are purely cosmetic, and players are made very aware of this.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Fortnite must not be generating very much revenue. As their only revenue stream consists of things like funny dances for your character, skins to make your character look different, or wraps to make your weapons look slightly different, or Battle Passes that give you lists of tasks to complete in exchange for cosmetic items, it would be easy to imagine that this might be much less successful than more traditional revenue models.

In May 2019, according to Superdata, Fortnite earned 38% less than it did in May 2018. This might sound scary, until you discover that Fortnite still generated $203 million in May 2019, meaning its May 2018 earning had been close to $330 million.

Fortnite generated more revenue in 2018 than any other game in the history of the world. They pulled in a mind-blowing $2.4 billion. The next highest-grossing free-to-play game of that year generated $1.5 billion, meaning Fortnite created a gap of almost a billion dollars between it and it’s nearest competitor. Even if 2019’s revenue is half of that, that would still put Fortnite in the top 5 earners in the video-games industry.

So how many people are actually playing Fortnite?

In March 2019 Epic revealed that over 250 million Fortnite accounts had been registered. During a Marshmello concert in-game event where the famous DJ performed in Fortnite, the game saw 10.7 million concurrent players logged in.

A week later, Epic recorded that the number of concurrent players on February 16h 2019, when no special event was occurring, was at 7.6 million concurrent players, which is more than the entire population of Hong Kong.

The media frenzy may have calmed down a little since mid-2018, but the game is still the number 1 most-played game on the planet. And while the media is less obsessed with Fortnite than it once was, Fortnite still gets more mainstream media coverage than any other video game available on the market.

It also remains the number 1 most streamed game on Twitch, generating over 100 million watched hours a month.

Fortnite's stats from TwitchTracker.com, showing that Fortnite is Twitch's number 1 ranked game, generating over 100 million viewed hours per month.
Screenshot taken from https://twitchtracker.com/games/33214

Fortnite and the Future

As mentioned above, Fortnite receives an update every single week, so the game is constantly being refreshed with new content. Partnerships with huge media franchises such as Marvel’s The Avengers, the John Wick movie, and most recently Netflix’s Stranger Things help keep the game fresh and keep people coming back for more.

Fortnite also runs seasons, weeks-long periods of time in which a particular theme runs through many of the weekly updates, challenges, and the season’s Battle Pass. An impending Giant Robot versus Monster fight is gearing up, and will likely be here in the coming weeks to either end Fortnite’s Season 9, or kick off Season 10.

Epic Games are also pushing Fortnite as a competitive eSport, with the Fortnite World Cup Finals about to start on July 26th. There’s $30 million dollars up for grabs in their prize pool, and people are clamoring to see who the first crowned Kings and Queens of Fortnite are going to be.

As far as Gimbl goes, we can’t wait to see users challenging their favourite Fortnite streamers to wacky and wonderful things, and helping push the game to the next level. Take a look at the teaser trailer we released a few weeks ago for a sneak peek at what that might look like.

We wouldn’t be surprised if, like Counter Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends, we’re still talking about Fortnite well into 2025.

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