Victory Royale

How “Fortnite” has taken the industry by storm


Artwork by Epic Games

In the world of video games, military shooters used to be king. While some still are, the desire for a different kind of multiplayer experience has lately led gamers to look outside the latest installment of “Call of Duty.”

Games like “Fortnite” appear to be fitting the bill.

“Fortnite” has been a massive success since it released last year, with 40 million players flocking to the game by January 2018. The game is one of the most streamed games on Twitch, with over four and half million people following the game on the platform, and YouTube currently lists 14 million results for Fortnite-related videos.

The third-person sandbox survival game was created by Cary, N.C.-based studio Epic Games, who were previously best known for creating the popular “Gears of War” series.

It features two modes, “Save the World” and “Battle Royale.”

In “Save the World,” players band together in one of four unique worlds to scavenge for resources and survive amid ominous weather and an influx of zombies.

“The teamwork is bigger in ‘Fortnite’ than in other games,” said Cyrus Herbert, a 12-year-old gamer from Oak Park, Ill. “In ‘Fortnite,’ when you play with other people and work together as a team it’s a lot more fun.”

While “Save the World” covers the base game, it is “Battle Royale” that has proven to be the game’s runaway success. This mode, which was released as a standalone free-to-play download separate from the main game in September 2017, features 100 players fighting it out on an island to be the last man or woman standing.

It recently reached a peak 3.4 million concurrent players across all platforms on Super Bowl Sunday, and Chicago native Chance the Rapper even tweeted on Feb. 6 that he’d like to see a Nintendo Switch release for the title.

“Fortnite” isn’t the first battle royale game to take the industry by storm. That honor goes to “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” a game developed by Korean studio Bluehole. Since March of last year, “PUBG” has sold over 24 million copies and racked up concurrent player numbers that “Fortnite” is only just now starting to achieve.

Still, battle royale games follow some established precedents in the world of multiplayer video games, according to to Samantha Close, an assistant professor in the DePaul College of Communications who specializes in fandom and digital media.

“The battle royale game is one of the founding genres of online multiplayer video games,” she said.

“You can look all the way back to id Software’s ‘Doom’ in 1993—the single-player mission was great, but what gave the game longevity was its co-op and deathmatch battle royale modes where people could play against their friends. This in turn was preceded by multiplayer deathmatch modes in console games, from ‘GoldenEye 007’ to ‘Mario Kart.’”

And the genre may even have influences from the world of film, according to Vincent Cicchirillo, an assistant public relations and advertising professor at DePaul University.

“The popularity may, although not necessarily, be tied to various movies from the ‘Hunger Games,’ the ‘Purge and Death Race,’ to even a movie titled ‘Battle Royale’ where Japanese students are trapped on an island and forced to fight to death until only one person remains,” he said.

According to Herbert, the colorful, casual style of “Fortnite” makes it a game other kids his age are more likely to gravitate to.

“For kids my age, ‘Fortnite’ is a lot simpler and faster paced,” he said, adding that “Fortnite” is also free when compared with “PUBG’s” $29.99 asking price.

Streaming and sharing videos of the game on Twitch, YouTube, and similar platforms has also contributed to the game’s popularity among young people.

“Especially on YouTube, these games shine,” said Jef Burnham, an adjunct professor in the DePaul College of Communications and College of Computing and Digital Media.

He says long stretches of gameplay can be edited down to show just the high-reward moments, like when a player gets a rare piece of loot or scores a challenging kill against another player. But even during longer stretches, which are unedited during live streams, the suspense keeps spectators watching.

And streaming “Fortnite” has other benefits, too—sometimes as much for the players as for the developers of the game.

Close says players who demonstrate the most skills and entertaining commentary might be showing off, but they’re also adding to the fabric of the game’s community. Through watching others play, newcomers can learn how to play better and “veterans learn about new weapons, unique exploits, and different battle strategies.”

“Many of these streams are hilarious; you can think about many Twitch streamers, like Dakotaz for ‘Fortnite,’ as the video game’s answer to ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000,’” she said.

And while there may be bumps in the road ahead, for it appears for now that “Fortnite” is keeping its player base satisfied.

“I think ‘Fortnite’ will last if they keep putting effort into it and adding new levels to the game,” Herbert said. “I know that Epic Games really listens to their players. It won’t die if they keep on putting effort into their work.”