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The Road to Victory: The Making of Fortnite

After a rocky start, Epic's Fortnite is taking the gaming world by storm.

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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.

Ex-Gears of War man Cliff Bleszinski first announced Fortnite, but left Epic Games before it released.

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.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was a smash hit of 2017, and helped popularise Battle Royale games.

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.

Fortnite's formula seems to work in 2018 more than others like Call of Duty.