“Fortnite: Battle Royale” — that’s the game’s full name, but almost everyone shortens it to “Fortnite” — debuted Sept. 26, 2017, with little initial indication it’d become a money-minting sensation. Its core game play isn’t innovative. It’s a battle royale, a genre that had been established for several years before “Fortnite” arrived on the scene.
Here’s the core “Fortnite” approach to the genre: One hundred players (either playing solo, in duos or in squads of four, depending on the mode) jump from a flying bus and soar in their gliders onto an abandoned island, where they land in places with names like Tilted Towers and Salty Springs and Pleasant Park. Once players hit the ground, they use their pickaxes to mine for wood, metal and brick, which are used to build shelters and other structures. Players also scour the land for caches of weapons, which they use to destroy others’ structures and, of course, other players (it’s bloodless, cartoon-like carnage, at least compared to a lot of other video game violence).
Another critical element: A deadly storm with a hole at its center rages on the island, a hole that gets smaller every few minutes, forcing players closer and closer together to battle. The last surviving player wins. The common description of “The Hunger Games” meets “Minecraft” is apt. So, yes, it’s well-worn virtual ground.
“They strapped themselves to an evolving trend in game mechanics that was proven to sustain players for a long time,” said Adam Telfer, writer of mobilefreetoplay.com, a mobile game design consultancy. “They took this game play and applied it to an audience that hadn’t been exposed to it before. The ‘Fortnite’ audience is younger and broader than the predecessors in battle royale, such as ‘Playerunknown: Battlegrounds.’”
The game launched for free on Windows, Mac, Xbox and PlayStation that summer and, unlike some other battle royale games, players could play against each other on almost any platform. Free video games also weren’t unheard of in 2017. “Fortnite,” like many other video games, planned to make its money via in-game purchases. However, Epic Games didn’t sell ways for players to be better at “Fortnite” or ways for them to advance in the game; it stocked its shop with cosmetic items. “Their monetization is very light and doesn’t impede in the gameplay whatsoever,” said Telfer. “It’s fully optional.”
For instance, players’ avatars in “Fortnite” wear skins, outfits that have no performance value. They just look great. To have your avatar wear a skin beyond the one you’re given to begin the game, you generally have to buy it (in some cases, you can earn skins through game play). The basic unit of currency within the game is a “V-Buck,” which trades at approximately $1 for 100 V-Bucks, with a minimum purchase of 1,000 V-Bucks for $9.99. A common skin costs around 800 V-Bucks, or $8, while the “legendary” skins go for up to 2,000 V-Bucks, or $20.
The signature items in the item shop, however, are emotes, dance moves you can make your avatar perform when you’re bounding across the island, or after you’ve taken someone out with a high-skill no-scope shot. One emote, dance moves, aka the default dance, is given to all players. Common emotes cost 200 V-Bucks, or $2. More prized emotes cost 800 V-Bucks, or $8.