Fortnite is the latest video game craze to sweep the nation.
The battle-royale third-person shooter is one of the most popular and fastest growing games on the planet. It's the most played game on Xbox. It's the most downloaded free game on PlayStation. The mobile version debuted at number 1 on the iTunes charts in 13 countries when it dropped in March. It's still at number 4 on the iTunes charts, ahead of apps like Gmail, Facebook, Snapchat, Spotify, and Netflix.
It made an eye-popping $296 million in April alone—and that's without charging any money to actually play the game.
So, what is it that makes Fortnite so appealing to so so so so so many people?
Well, I recently downloaded it and poked around to find out. The basic gameplay mode is a 100-player small-team death match. After being dropped into the map from a flying bus, you scavenge the area for weapons and resources with your teammates.
The maps are pretty big, so once you conquer the area you landed in (or get conquered by a team of 13-year-olds with 500 hours of playtime and $150 worth of upgrades the game makes its money off of), you could end up being pretty far away from the next closest opponent. The solution to this problem is that the play area literally begins to shrink after a while. You either make it inside the new play area in time or you die. It's simple but effective.
This all may sound familiar.
For one, it's basically the exciting part of The Hunger Games. For another, it's already been done before by another former BIGGEST GAME EVER (which is still pretty big in its own right): Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, otherwise known as PUBG.
Pretty much everything I just said about Fortnite is also true for PUBG. So, why was Fortnite able to steal its thunder and that of pretty much every other game out there?
Well, it took what PUBG was doing and did it a little more reliably, made it look a lot better, and added a component from another mega-popular game—Minecraft. In addition to the battle-royal format, the game also features a crafting function. You can build all sorts of things as you struggle to survive.
It adds up to a pretty good gaming experience. Not the best I've ever played but far from the worst. It's competent and fun. Worth playing.
It doesn't have to be the best playing experience to be the most popular game on earth for a reason, though. Since it's free and available on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and iOS, it provides the lowest possible barrier for people to play with their friends. They don't have to worry about whether they're all on the same system or if they're all willing to pay $60 for the game. Everybody can play it on whatever platform they have at no cost.
This is especially appealing to teenagers who generally all like to play video games with their friends and generally all have time—at the same time—to do so.
It's less appealing to olds like me. Once you get past the age of 25 it becomes harder and harder to find time to get together with friends online to game. Life just gets in the way.
Playing Fortnite by yourself is just not as good. You don't know any of the people on your team and the voice chat is usually obnoxious instead of useful so, frankly, I just keep it muted all the time.
The game is still well-done and the matchmaking lets you jump out of the game as soon as you die and immediately into a new one, unlike more traditional multiplayer games. That's pretty fantastic. No wasted time waiting for the other 99 people to kill each other while you sit by and watch.
Even though Fortnite was released almost a year ago at this point, it isn't likely to fade away anytime soon. An Android version of the game is expected to be released sometime in the second half of this year. More importantly, it's using a strategy perfected by GTA 5, which debuted nearly five years ago but is still releasing updates and maintaining a massive network of gamers. Fortnite will likely become available on more devices in more places with more content and make more money for many years to come.
I'll probably continue playing for a time. You should probably try it out too. But if you don't, at least you'll understand why your kids or younger siblings are so into it.