Epic was on the verge of its next and its biggest success.
This strategy of giving the software away for free, like with shareware back in the day, let the Unreal Engine spread far and fast. It became the industry standard. It was easy to hire programmers who knew how to use it. And the royalty policy let the big successful games made with the Unreal Engine subsidize all the projects that didn’t make money. Profits from the Unreal Engine powered Epic Games’ balance sheet for a couple of years. But by 2017, Epic was on the verge of its next and its biggest success.
As Parkin remembers it, the initial version of Fortnite was not a smash hit. It was a game where you basically roam around on an island and shoot stuff. But then Epic tweaked it: It came up with a mode of play where instead of it being you against the computer, it’s you against 99 other real human beings out there on the internet, all of you engaging in a brutal fight to the death. This new mode of play was called “battle royal.” Fortnite wasn’t the first video game with a battle royal mode, but it perfected it with fluid and intuitive gameplay powered by the Unreal Engine.
The graphics were fun and lively, not dark and scary like in most fighting games. Fortnite was violent, but the violence was just cartoony enough that parents could stomach their kids playing the game. Once the battle royal mode was introduced, Fortnite v bucks generator took off at an absurd pace. Epic Games is a privately held company, so hard numbers can be difficult to come by, but estimates suggest that as of the end of last year, Fortnite had amassed 250 million players worldwide and was collecting as much as $370 million a month, with Epic clearing a profit of bout $3 billion a year. The company as a whole has been valued at $15 billion, and its investors include Disney and the Chinese megaconglomerate Tencent.
So what in particular explains the absolutely phenomenal success of his video game Fortnite? There’s that idea of iteration, of constantly tweaking your products and trying out new ideas. Simon Parkin gives an example: “Fortnite for a little while had spy planes, so players could team up and get in an airplane and fly around. They’ll try it out for a few weeks, they’ll see how it affects the balance of the game, and then they’ll take it out again if it’s not working. And there are hundreds of examples of things that they’ve put into Fortnite, tried for a bit, and taken out. So the game is being constantly refined at very regular, well-organized intervals.”
And then there’s the idea of offering the goods gratis, the freemium model. Just like his early hit, ZZT, Fortnite is free to play. You give people a taste, but once they start playing and they love the game, Epic will start selling them things. You can buy special costumes for your character to wear inside the game, or you can buy the ability for your character to do special dances. To be clear, these don’t have anything to do with winning the game. They don’t make your character any stronger, but people will still pay real money for this imaginary stuff.
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In terms of sheer cultural ubiquity, Fortnite might have peaked a year or two ago, but the game is still a powerhouse. And during the quarantine that’s happened due to the coronavirus, Fortnite has once again become a favorite place for people to hang out together, virtually. Fortnite even recently added a “Party Royale” mode, where there’s no shooting of guns, just shooting the breeze in various nonviolent contexts, which aligns with some of Sweeney’s grander ambitions. Even before the pandemic that shut down real-world gatherings, Sweeney spoke a lot about virtual reality and how he believes that in the near future, we’ll be spending a ton of our time in the virtual realm, conducting business, making friends, and doing everything else we do in real life, but doing it in a constantly updating, beautifully rendered 3D world, the kind of world the Unreal Engine is designed to create. The onset of social distancing is only accelerating our shift to virtual spaces like Fortnite.
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