What Fortnite is doing goes beyond that, though — it’s not just that they’re altering the map or changing weapon balance to keep things fresh. You could pop a player of the original World of Warcraft release down in front of the most recent expansion pack and it would all make sense as a logical evolution of the game. Drop a Fortnite player from 2017 in front of the Travis Scott concert event or this week’s The Device story event, though, and they’d start questioning you about your history with illicit medications.
This is Epic’s remarkable strength and achievement — a level of flexibility not just in updating its game, but in being willing to rethink the most basic notions of what the game is and what its players want. Epic vbuck generator recognised early on that players were treating it as a space for social and creative expression, not just as an arena for gun battles, and it leaned into that hard. That recognition has allowed it to play with the fundamental notions of the game and do distinctly un-game-like things with it.
“There are other excellent battle royale games, but their shared weakness is that they all insist on being battle royale games”
The storyline events, the Travis Scott concert, the Christopher Nolan movie trailer release — on the face of it, none of these things make the slightest lick of sense in the context of Fortnite’s core battle royale gameplay, but all of fit perfectly with Fortnite as a broadly defined space for social expression.
Moreover, Epic has recognised that Fortnite isn’t a game that exists in a vacuum; it’s a game that exists online at a time when we have all never been quite so online. Fortnite is a game of the now precisely because it recognises the ecosystem — Twitch, YouTube, social media, news sites, and all the rest of it — in which it exists. The game does enormous, one-off events which undoubtedly aren’t cheap to create. It alters its game-world irrevocably and treats the whole experience as a fluid and transient thing.
It’s a game archivist’s worst nightmare, incidentally, but it’s rendered possible by the fact that every key moment will be saved forever, frozen in time as countless YouTube videos and Twitch streams. For the players who were there to see it live, the event feels all the more special because it will never be repeated. That too serves to reinforce the sense of society around Fortnite, the sense that the whole game is a shared experience.
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I’m not sure that this notion of the game as a social space or the game as a shared experience is one that any other companies operating in this genre fully, truly understand. There are other excellent battle royale games out there, but their shared weakness is that they all insist on being battle royale games. They miss the fact that Fortnite — both through the actions of its players and its creators — has quietly adapted itself into something more than that, something that’s often at a bit of a tangent from gaming concepts generally.
The only comparable game in terms of the broad social appeal is probably Minecraft — a very different game, but one with similar underlying ideas about social behaviour and shared experiences. It seems safe to say that whatever ultimately challenges Fortnite will probably not be another battle royale game, but another left-field experience that’s as different from Fortnite as Fortnite is from Minecraft.
It’s going to be a tough game to dethrone, though, because Epic’s approach to evolving Fortnite is one that lives up to the studio’s name. The sweeping scale of the changes it’s willing to make turns Fortnite into a moving target for any rival, a constant source of delight for its players, and a never-ending source of confusion for everyone else.