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The Future of Fortnite: After a Barn-Burner Year, It Will Only Get Bigger and Weirder

40 million players log in each month; here's how the phenomenon can attract new players and keep old ones happy

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Fortnite/Epic Games

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By: Peter Clark
September 5, 2018

Born out of a wild development cycle that spiraled for years without a concrete identity, Fortnite Battle Royale came hot off the heels of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds last summer. At the time, it seemed like a quick capitalization on PUBG's 100-players-fight-to-the-death gaming style. But it didn't take long before the approachable, free-to-play option overtook Battlegrounds, taking its place atop the throne of competitive gameplay.

 

As Fortnite smartly expanded to almost every playable platform, its user base has exponentially grown in the year since its inception. At last official tally, more than 40 million people log in each month to play. Hell, it's transcended the console and entered the culture as a veritable phenomenon. When World Cup players celebrate a goal with a Fortnite dance, you know that this game is something unique.

 

But how does Fortnite continue to flourish? Gamers are an exceptionally fickle bunch. They can quickly turn on a game, a studio or even a whole genre very quickly. Just look at PUBG as an example of a deflated juggernaut—at any time, Fortnite is only a fortnight away from obscurity.

 

Developer Epic Games is far from upfront about what the future of Fortnite will hold. Multiple attempts to contact them went unanswered. Still, there are tea leaves that can be read, crystal balls to gaze into, and an extremely vocal fan base that might provide hints at where the game is going. And all signs point to Fortnite’s continual growth.

Definitely bigger, and definitely weirder

 

Obviously, there will be more seasons. Epic has launched five in the first year, so there's no reason to suspect it will swerve from this strategy soon. The evolving narrative that has been set up provides not only water cooler moments ("Where were you when the rocket launched?" players asked one another following the game’s first real-time live event), but also a rolling call to action for players to return and see what has changed.

 

In the future, you can expect a lot more experimentation in game modes. The open, consequence-free Playground Mode that launched this summer was so popular it shut down Epic's servers. The recent addition of the Steady Storm mode made headlines as well. Epic has always added and removed play modes like 50v50, all explosives, all silenced, etc. But the developer's recent flair for hyping them, and the media's interest in covering them, shows that this experimentation will certainly play a part in the path forward.

 

Over the past few months, Epic has rolled out their Summer Skirmish series, a weekly competition with top players and prize money, which found exceptional engagement, and a lot of room for growth. Developers admitted as much when they posted a mea culpa postmortem after the first week. The message was apologetic, but also openly dedicated to fine-tuning the experience so that there could be many more to come.

 

Fortnite has demonstrated its own specific type of weird over the past year. Dancing contests, adding an Infinity Gauntlet to the game and leaving a large plastic burger out in the middle of the desert are just a few of the many examples where they've kept their demographic guessing. This weirdness has become a part of the game's identity and its charm to many players. To diminish that in the future would be a poor strategy. And if their booth at LA’s E3 Expo was any example, ostentation seems to be the name of the game.

 

And the weirdness has worked. The Infinity Gauntlet as a tie-in to the Avengers movie cleverly tapped into the cultural consciousness. It was also well-received as being a fun inclusion rather than a cheap promotional gimmick.

 

Aside from limited time modes and possible permanent modes, there will likely be changes to how the game plays. A common complaint is that most matches end the same way: two players building complex towers and spamming rockets or shotguns.

 

"It’s important to support a variety of late game strategies, that don’t boil down to 'just build lol,'” developers wrote in a June blog post. "We strongly believe that the evolution of Fortnite supports a wide range of play styles and counterplay. Currently, the superiority of shotguns, rockets, and uncapped building are such a dominant play style in the final circle that most other strategies are being drowned out."

 

The main theme suggested more people should have a variety of ways to win, not just those good with buildings and shotguns.

 

"You should be able to find Victory Royales through multiple strategies," the blog post read. "Shotguns should be strong, but other weapons have room to grow. Not every encounter should have to end in a build-off. We want to empower you to showcase your skill, strategy, and tactics in all variety of ways."

But what do players want?

 

Fortnite's community, both on Epic's own forums and on the extremely popular subreddit, are extremely vocal. They constantly offer suggestions for improving the game (like weapon balancing and play mode ideas) and wild theories for what comes next (like season six's theme being old people).

 

And what they want is a difficult question to answer. Hundreds, if not thousands, of posts exist with a plethora of ideas for balances, game modes and cosmetics. Since the ones who take the time to be involved with the online community are generally more passionate about Fortnite, the only real consensus is split between people who believe changes are ruining the game and people who celebrate Epic's dedication to improving it.

 

Though it may not be the complete secret to the game's success, Fortnite's developer Epic Games has maintained a very close relationship with the community. Epic regularly posts on Reddit and Twitter, and actively responds to suggestions or complaints.

 

This level of closeness with a community is certainly not a guarantee of continued success. Bungie (developer of Destiny and Destiny 2) has had a very active engagement with its hardcore players, and that has at times been both a blessing and a curse. Many members of Fortnite's community have even grown frustrated with the entitlement felt by the community since Epic remains so communicative. They feel that Epic's quick acceptance of community complaints should be tempered and better vetted.

 

Fortnite changes a lot. Epic pushes content updates or patches every week. As a service-based, free-to-play game, it is expected to add a continuous flow of new stuff. But that perpetual motion machine has a dark side as well. And for the future of Fortnite, it could be a very dark side indeed.

Fortnite in article
Fortnite/Epic Games

Fortnite's biggest challenge

 

Possibly the most acute challenge that Epic faces with how to maintain Fortnite's momentum is one that many popular games have met: how to attract new players while keeping the existing base happy.

 

If Epic wants to further cultivate the game’s fan base then it might have an uphill climb. The developer announced in June that the player base had grown to 125 million players (if it were a country, it'd be the 12th largest in the world). After all the hype and the free price tag, the game is probably close to a saturation point for growth. In order to attract new players to an already pretty approachable and available game, Epic could include new modes, new features, new tutorials, etc. And that's precisely what many longtime adherents to the game don't want.

 

One of the most popular recent posts on the Fortnite Battle Royale subreddit is a rallying cry to not let Epic ruin the game by nerfing it down for newbies.

 

"Are we really still having a blast playing this game?" Reddit user Sora26 wrote. "Are you playing this game like you were in Season 3-4? I know I’m not. I know my friends aren’t. This game use to be the jello, now it’s just sugar and water."

 

There are many, many posts like this on forums, all saying that Epic's desire to appeal to more casual fans continues to dumb down the game to an unplayable state.

 

"When I first started this game, I couldn’t build a wall," Sora26 continued. "I didn’t ask for devs to change the whole FREAKIN game so that I could get a couple of cheeky kills at the expense of more experienced players. This is seriously such a dumb route to take."

 

Players often threaten to quit over any change or stagnation, but it does say something that this is one of the forum’s more popular posts in recent weeks.

 

Epic might be trying to have its slurp juice and drink it, too.

 

While it continues to move away from a playing style that many favor, including the previously mentioned scourge of "just build, lol," it has sunk a lot of money to support and promote its high-level play. In June, Epic announced the launch of a 2018-2019 competitive season, providing $100,000,000 to fund prize pools, which will all culminate in a "Fortnite World Cup" in late 2019.

 

And that's not the only weight it's put behind competitive play. The Summer Skirmish, an E3 event and Solo Showdowns are all examples of how Epic wants Fortnite to be a dominant eSport. It clearly sees a lot of benefit in keeping attention on the game, even when people aren't playing it. And in order to do that, you need dedicated expert players who aren't turned off by hat tipping to newcomers.

 

Whether Epic can successfully walk this line remains to be seen, but the future of Fortnite will likely include more discussions around how possible it is.

 

Epic doesn't want to lose the particular lightning that it bottled, but it has to continually shift and add to it to maintain interest. The Fortnite of the future will likely continue to change while trying very hard to stay on the same course. The question that remains is whether players will flock to the next Battle Royale boon or be willing to take one more jump off the Battle Bus.