You’ve probably heard of this game, Fortnite. Your roommate plays it, you hear your boyfriend talk about it with his buddies or maybe you played it once at a friends’ house. You’ve seen it on Twitter or in your suggested videos on YouTube. You have seen the memes. The many, many memes.
The 5-month-old battle royale mode has taken the internet by storm, bridging the gap between hardcore gamers and those who might just pick up one or two games a year. The game has blown up since its release late last year, but where did it come from and why is it such a big deal?
At first glance it resembles a cartoon a younger sibling might watch — ignoring the assault rifles and rocket launchers — because of its bright pallet, “rounded-out” look and models that look straight out of a budget Pixar film.
Delving deeper into the mechanics and objectives of the game, however, reveal why it has become so popular.
It all started when “Save the World” came out in July of last year as an entirely different game. While it was met with fairly positive critical reception (and was actually quite fun), it failed to gain a solid player base and, besides a niche audience, was generally forgotten in a year of so many fantastic games.
Developer Epic Games took note of its waning player base and looked to another game for inspiration.
Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, was a juggernaut hit in 2017. Although it didn’t get a full release, including an Xbox One port, until December, the “early access” game topped Twitch streaming charts and was constantly in headlines around the gaming world.
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PUBG was not the first game in the battle royale genre but it was the one that, for lack of a better word, perfected the formula. One hundred players drop onto a massive map, scavenge for weapons and gear, and try to survive until they are the last man standing. Other games had been attempting to win over the genre for the last couple of years, but none got it as right as PUBG.
Following that gravy train, Epic Games took that formula and injected it into their existing game, creating Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Fortnite’s take still had one hundred players but the map was smaller, there were fewer weapons to choose from, shooting required less accuracy and, most importantly, the simple-yet-hard-to-master building mechanic from the main game was included.
At first, this mode was laughed off by players and critics alike for being a last-ditch attempt to salvage a dying game, damage control Epic Games had done similarly on previous titles. It wasn’t taken seriously for a month after its release, but nearing the end of October, after several patches and the announcement of a Halloween-themed cosmetic expansion pack, Fortnite started gaining traction.
Twitch.tv streamers were the first to popularize it, the website even seeing some of the biggest PUBG streamers move over to the new game in favor of its quicker gameplay and shorter matches.
The new surge in popularity brought new players in droves, expedited by the fact that “Fortnite: Battle Royale” is a free-to-play game. Since the barrier to enter was simply a small game download, players would download it, if only to try it out, and would get hooked by the fact that they could easily partner up with friends along with the curiosity of the building/destruction mechanic and the allure of the sweet, sweet “Victory Royale.”The game is such a hit because of its simpler take on the battle royale genre. It takes the best of PUBG and refines it into a more accessible package.
The map is smaller, making for several encounters a match as opposed to the one or two players might see in PUBG, and the building mechanics paired with the bizarre weapons allow for experimentation not found in the more serious counterpart. Also, Fortnite runs perfectly on console, allowing access to a much wider audience than PUBG.
Now, five months after the mode’s release, the game has passed 3.4 million concurrent players and doubled PUBG’s viewer count on Twitch, some days even passing League of Legends.
It is mentioned on social media by celebrities, referenced on professional sports fields and joked about by group chats around the world. It is capturing the attention of players like no game has since the days of “Modern Warfare 2” or “Halo 3” because of its simple gameplay and not-so-simple endgame. Fortnite is making such a splash because it’s plain fun, and with its almost weekly updates, appears to be staying that way for a long time.
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