After a rocky start, Epic's Fortnite is taking the gaming world by storm.
Fortnite was announced all the way back at the Spike Video Game Awards in 2011, where Cliff Bleszinski (Epic's design director at the time) got up on stage and introduced a trailer for his new game. Epic Games had only worked on the game for about three weeks, and it was supposed to be a kind of creative project, or a playhouse without restrictions. Bleszinski went in with the goal that Fortnite would be a powerful alternative from Gears of War, with a colourful and inviting world that was in stark contrast to his previous game. No "dudebros", as he himself said. Time passed and we didn't hear much about the game until 2012 when, at San Diego Comic-Con, Epic Games and Cliff agreed that Fortnite would be a PC-exclusive game and that it would be developed using the Unreal 4 engine. However, this was a statement that the developers regretted when they said they could think of several formats a few months later.
The development of Fortnite was spread between several studios, including the Polish developer People Can Fly (Bulletstorm), who later changed their name to Epic Games Poland so as to fall in line with their parent company. However, the development was slow and far too costly. The gaming industry had begun to move more towards a corporate model, where the big companies that fund the games would have a more beneficial source of income in the form of expansions and cosmetic items that you pay for. Tencent bought large shares in Epic Games, which ultimately resulted in the split with some of the big names within the company, including Cliff Bleszinski. Now that Tencent owned large portions of Epic Games, the development went even slower, as they wanted to focus on creating games aimed at pulling large sums of cash. Fortnite didn't really fit into that picture, and so started to play around with various formats that went more in line with Tencent's thoughts on game development and financial sustainability.
Fortnite was fully playable in 2014, where the basics were there, but it would take three more years till it saw the light of day. Epic Games launched a run of beta tests to make sure that the concept created with Tencent worked, and it's worth mentioning that it was developed at the same time as Paragon (which is now being closed down), announced in the autumn of 2015. Epic Games chose to focus its attention on the latter though, and Fortnite ended up on hold again. In 2017, a statement was made saying that Fortnite will be premiered in 2018 on all major platforms, and while the game went into early access in the spring of 2017, it wasn't particularly well-received. Communication wasn't very clear when it came to the game's foundation, and it also had an unnecessarily complicated interface that scared away a large part of the player base. In other words, it wasn't the success the developers had counted on in early access.
In early 2017, a small game called PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was released. You may have heard of it? A so-called Battle Royale game from Korean developer Bluehole, with clear influences from the Japanese film of the same name. A bunch of players drop onto a large island, with the only goal being to get out alive. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was certainly not the first game in this genre, but it was the game that made it as big as it has become today. It sold like you wouldn't believe last year, and it was difficult to grasp how big this game was actually going to be. It was talked about just about everywhere and garnered millions upon millions of players.
As an answer to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Epic Games began to look more closely at Bluehole's title and how to develop a similar concept with its own title and all its assets. In late September 2017, then, Battle Royale was released for Fortnite, but unlike PUBG this was launched on PC, PS4, and Xbox One... and it was free. Yes, for this mode and this mode only you didn't need to spend a penny to enter Fortnite's exhilarating world, whereas for its competitor you needed to fork out £26.99 for the Steam version.
It became big news when Epic Games chose to move their game from survival straight into the last man standing genre. Bluehole's CEO, Changhan Kim, was very concerned and angry at how much Fortnite resembled their own game, however, it wasn't just about the genre. It had more to do with Bluehole using Epic's Unreal 4 game engine in PUBG, thus paying a large amount of money to them each month. It didn't end here though, as promotional material that emerged online last year had Epic using Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (and H1Z1) as a comparison to its own game. This was entirely their own initiative, and the studios hadn't discussed the matter. This made Changhan Kim even more upset, and in an interview with PC Gamer he said that Epic Games had made a fool out of themselves. During this period, there was also an open threat of a lawsuit from Bluehole, but nothing came of it. Today, it seems to have calmed down between the developers, although if there is going to be a future lawsuit, we don't know for sure.
It's easy to call Fortnite opportunistic given that the game rides on the wave popularised by PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. But one must also keep in mind that the entire project started as a creative playhouse, where the ambition was to test new ideas, and we can count on seeing more and more games in this genre in the future. The rigid Call of Duty formula is no longer a sustainable concept for developers. It worked great eight years ago, but today it takes so much more to create a fun multiplayer title.
Last week hip-hop artist Drake made his debut on the streaming service Twitch, and he was playing Fortnite. With 600,000 people flocking to the platform to watch, he helped set a new record for the number of viewers. Even if this was a one-off event for Drake, it's still good to see, but considering the popularity of the broadcast it's probably most likely that he will return to the game in the future. What was special about the Drake broadcast was that it appeared from nowhere, and sucked in large numbers of visitors to Twitch that night. More and more celebrities are trying to attract a new audience from the gaming world, including YouTubers Jake and Logan Paul, so people who might otherwise not be visiting Twitch are getting involved, all because of the phenomenon that is Fortnite.
Today Fortnite has 40 million players, including both survival mode and their Battle Royale component. It's a game that's on everyone's lips right now, meaning Fortnite hysteria is in full effect, and it resembles World of Warcraft's glamorous days in the early '00s. With the help of streamers and influencers on social media, the game has been adopted by every young gamer who owns a game console or PC and has done an extremely good job of enticing a player base that wouldn't normally be associated with this kind of game. Where Playerunknown's Battlegrounds is more challenging with bullet drop and tactical elements, Fortnite is more easily accessible, where the only prerequisite is that you can handle a controller. The interface in Battle Royale mode is easy to understand, the shooting mechanism forgiving, and by marketing itself as a little more simplified take on the formula, Fortnite now has a real head start in the genre. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has sold 30 million copies on Steam, but continues to lose players, and that's because many of them have transitioned to Fortnite.
It is clear that the guys at Bluehole Studio are beginning to sweat now. They're currently in the process of developing a Fortnite-inspired map that will focus on more close-quarters combat, and what's more is that the game has also had huge problems with cheating, which has led to many players looking to Fortnite as it seems to have better filters and protections in place to handle this sort of thing. We don't know what exactly the future holds for PUBG, but expect to see a series of changes to try and keep its place up there among the big Battle Royale games. It's just a matter of time before the next major game developer comes with their own version of the genre, after all.
Mere weeks ago it was announced that Fortnite would receive a mobile version, and invitations to the beta version have already been sent out. The game should obviously communicate with the other platforms as well, which means you can meet players who sit with a mouse and keyboard at home on a PC while you're using your fingers to tap the screen. How this will work in the long run is unclear, and at the moment feels very unbalanced, but it's a huge step to taking the game experience from the couch into the wild. In the west, almost every person over the age of 10 owns a smartphone, and in theory, many of them can accommodate the mobile version of Fortnite. Given the enormous popularity of the game, we may even see an explosion in the future like we saw with Pokémon Go, although for now you can only play the mobile version of iOS. If everything goes as planned you can count on an Android version in the future. Of course, Playerunknown's Battleground's has its own mobile version too (two, actually), however, that's not online in all territories yet either. While we've not played it extensively it's not hard to imagine that this version will be a little harder to navigate than Fornite's simplistic interface. The mobile variant is capable of rendering battles up to 100 players (or are some of them bots?), just like on PC and Xbox One, which in itself is very impressive on a mobile platform.
But all the talk about comparing these two games might start to get a bit tiresome (especially if you listen to both fanbases online). Fortnite certainly capitalised on the success of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, but it has still become its own game with a smaller map and a greater focus on construction over realistic fighting. Each month more games begin to look at the growing Battle Royale market, and it's just a matter of time before the next big game in the genre pops up. Fortnite will probably continue to do well, especially considering the mobile version, but it'd be naive to think that none of the big studios have plans for their games that could branch out into the Battle Royale genre. Blizzard, who is adept at taking already-existing concepts and putting their own mark on it, has probably thought about it once or twice, but who knows, in two years or so maybe something else will be hotter than hot and we'll be able to look back and laugh at the time when we were taken down from an aircraft on an island filled with 99 angry teenagers whose only goal is to take you down. One thing is for sure, and it's the fact that with Fortnite Epic has managed to create one of today's biggest gaming phenomena. It was a long and slippery road to get to where we are today, but today Fortnite is developing into one of the biggest games in the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down.