Is Fortnite more than a game?

By William Smith
Epic Games’ 2017 free-to-play video game Fortnite took on the nascent battle royale genre and turned it into a phenomenon. So successful has Fortnite...

Epic Games’ 2017 free-to-play video game Fortnite took on the nascent battle royale genre and turned it into a phenomenon. So successful has Fortnite been that an argument can be made for it having achieved a status of its own.

The first argument for its unique position would likely rely on the astronomical success of Fortnite as an esport, with the winner of the recent Fortnite World Cup receiving a $3mn prize. There is another argument to be made, however, that the success of Fortnite lies in it having become a social platform, a viewpoint bolstered by today’s announcement of the launch of a so called “Party Hub” for the mobile version of the game.

The Party Hub replicates social features built into the other platforms on which Fortnite is available – namely the ability to voice chat with friends and form parties, allowing groups to join games together. In keeping with the multi-platform nature of the game, which is available on essentially anything one cares to mention, mobile users can join parties with those on any other system, ensuring social circles are not divided along lines of console ownership.

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These social features are far from the first of their kind, with communities having grown up around video games since the inception of the medium. From people competing for high scores in arcades to communities of like-minded individuals building up around specific servers in multiplayer games, the social element has always been inseparable from the rest of the experience. What it does represent is an expansion of such features from their typical home on consoles and PCs to the more casual and ubiquitous platform of mobile phones.

It’s not the first time Epic has foregrounded the shared experience the game has to offer. Back in February, a virtual concert by American DJ Marshmello attracted millions to the game. A special mode was specifically created for the occasion wherein the usual objectives of the game were disabled and players were greeted by a stage and a digital representation of the musician. As the event progressed, players were invited to “dance” using emotes, special animations which can be unlocked for real money, and events mirrored the content of the songs.

Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney said in March that there are 250mn registered players of the game, representing a huge market for the V-Bucks digital currency that is used to purchase cosmetic items such as costumes and the aforementioned emotes. By harnessing the potential of Fortnite as a social experience, as the concert undoubtedly did, that figure only seems likely to keep climbing.

(image: Epic Games)

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