In 2017, there were over 500 large-scale video game releases. A number of them achieved success and notoriety from either introducing a new experience or updating/improving an existing gaming experience – and then there’s Fortnite. Within the first weeks of its release, over 10 million gamers have played Fortnite, and within a year, after being released on numerous platforms, that number had reached staggering 125 million gamers. Literally, thanks to social media buzz and traditional media coverage, Fortnite has transcended the bounds of an “addictive video game” and become a cultural phenomenon, with YouTube Rewind 2018 to be designed as a Fortnite-themed mashup of the last years’ trends. On the other hand, if you’re not totally familiar with it or have only heard it mentioned in passing, it’s probably still a bit of a mystery, so let’s take a look at what makes Fortnite different.
First, let’s start with the name. Using a bit of homophonic word play, the word itself is, in a way, related to the more familiar British English term fortnight, meaning a 2-week period. You see, in the original player-versus-environment game, Fortnite: Save the World, one of the toughest objectives is to survive for 14 days/night, i.e. a fortnight. Additionally, many have speculated that the name is also related to the fact that a large aspect of the game involves building forts, and, due to the fact that you have to defend your position from zombie and monster attacks at night, the name is a combination of these 2 words. Considering either or both explanations as being plausible, the creators simply took the term and spelled it creatively in order to make the product, in advertising terms, different and recognisable.
As for the game itself, it is the product of a game jam, which is a gathering to plan, design, and create games rapidly in a 1-3 day span of time, at Epic Games following the release of Gears of War 3 (around 2011). Though the game wasn’t initially made during this game jam, this was when the idea of creating a game which could unify the popularity of a construction-type game, such as Minecraft, with the classic (and always popular) shooter game. Along the way, development also included updating the game’s engine (leading to a higher quality, more visually fluid, and more realistic gaming experience), adding a more in-depth role-playing functionality (which would also extend the game’s life), and switching the style from darker to more cartoonish (which would also broaden appeal).
Though the settings for all 3 games is the same – a fluke storm appears across Earth, causing 98% of the population to disappear, and the survivors to be attacked by monsters/zombies – there are 3 different modes for playing the game. The first- and original- concept, Save the World, involves 4 players cooperating to complete various missions to collect resources, collect data, save survivors, build/defend fortifications, and improve player skills/attributes. The second game, Battle Royale, released only 2 months after the original, pits up to 100 players (individually or duos or teams of 4) against each other in an attempt to be the last remaining individual/team on a map where the “storm” is continually creating a smaller playable area. Finally, the most recent instalment, Creative, released just several weeks ago, allows players access to an island where they can construct and manipulate objects – essentially a blank creative canvas within the game where they can also invite their friends and stage their own unofficial games.
Needless to say, the game has become immensely popular, with Epic Games also looking into developing eSports competitions using Fortnite: Battle Royale, as well as a Fortnite World Cup tournament in 2019; however, even the most popular games receive their fair share of blowback. Aside from issues like the real-world cost of the in-game currency, V-Bucks, much of the criticism has centred around the appeal that the game has for children: along with issues surrounding gun violence (even in cartoon form), some parents and teachers are concerned that the game is too distracting, causing a disregard for school work. Whether or not this is true or just an overblown concern based on the game’s popularity is not yet known, but there’s no denying that, just by raising the issue, the game is and will continue to be immensely popular.