Backpack Kid’s viral fame arrived in a deceptively simple package. On August 18, 2016, he slipped his arms through the straps on his backpack and started swaying his arms side-to-side across his body, moving his hips back-and-forth. He posted the video of his new dance move to Instagram, which soon became a viral sensation. It was so popular and prevalent that less than a year later, in May 2017, Backpack Kid found himself performing the dance he claims he created and popularized with pop star Katy Perry on “Saturday Night Live.”
Backpack Kid’s dance is now commonly known as “The Floss,” which, since its debut in “Fortnite” in December 2017 as part of the Season 2 Battle Pass ($9.50), has been one of the game’s most popular emotes.
Here’s the problem, according to Backpack Kid: Epic Games hasn’t paid him a penny for what he believes is his property.
Backpack Kid isn’t the only one feeling ripped off by “Fortnite” and Epic Games. Alfonso Ribeiro, creator of “The Carlton” dance during his time on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and rapper 2 Milly, creator of the “Milly Rock” dance, also have seen what they claim are their creations used in “Fortnite” without payment. Each of these artists has sued Epic Games for exploiting and appropriating their work.
The suits are currently in a holding pattern. Pierce Bainbridge, the law firm representing the artists, recently withdrew the suits, pending a ruling from the Copyright Office. In a press release, Pierce Bainbridge stated it plans to refile the suits in the future, and to “vigorously fight for our clients' rights against those who wrongly take their creations without permission and without compensation.”
Some say the law is on Epic Games’s side, because individual dance moves, unlike choreography, are not protected by copyright laws. But the company may be losing in the court of public opinion. Why shouldn’t these artists get paid? We’ll see how it turns out, but Epic has already shown its willingness to throw its weight around, not just against dance sensations. They’ve even done so against a fellow global powerhouse, Google.
Because of the widespread popularity of “Fortnite,” when Epic Games decided in August 2018 to release a mobile version for Android, it didn’t do so through the Google Play store; it released it directly to consumers without the app-store middleman, cutting Google out of the 30 percent revenue sharing. Epic’s keeping that money for itself. “This sets a precedent,” said Slight. “‘Fortnite’ is the biggest game in the mobile space and it can do as it pleases.”
Other industries are paying attention to Epic’s power moves. . For instance, Netflix believes “Fortnite” is among its top competitors. Netflix’s 2019 letter to shareholders included this line: “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO.” Polygon broke it down like so: “In its quarterly report, Netflix made clear that ‘consumer screen time’ is its most valuable metric, and that ‘Fortnite’ — just one of endless options for plugged-in audiences — offers the stiffest competition.'' Says Telfer of mobilefreetoplay.com, “Fortnite is a phenomenon. There are very few games in our lifetime that will reach this level.”
So where does “Fortnite” go from here? Superdata research reports “Fortnite” posted year-over-year growth of 7 percent in March 2019, but projects the game “will face tough comparisons going forward as it’s unlikely to replicate last year’s meteoric rise during Spring and Summer 2018.”
Telfer elaborates: “It's unlikely that the success of ‘Fortnite’ will continue at the level it is at now, but … it's highly likely they will retain a large amount of their core audience for years to come,” he said. “If they continue to keep the game [as] fresh as they are, they will be able to retain [players] for a long time. The players that have just come to play just because it’s the ‘new hot thing’ will most likely fade, but ‘Fortnite’ will likely retain a massive DAU [daily active users] for years to come.”