When Fortnite first appeared in online game stores last July, no one could have predicted the impact it would have. In the 12 months since the free-to-download game has raked in over $1.2 billion and become a cultural phenomenon, even topping cable viewership numbers for blockbuster shows like The Walking Dead.
It all started when the game was originally released as Fortnite: Save the World, a $40 download in which players fend off incoming zombies, collect resources, rescue fellow players, and fight off an overwhelming storm. The game started getting moderate traction, but everything changed a few months later when Epic Games released Fortnight: Battle Royale. The 100-player online, last-man-standing battle which takes place on a shrinking island map skyrocketed the game to new heights thanks to one novel fact: it was free.
This free downloadable game has now been played by more than 125 million people on Xbox, PlayStation, Windows, Mac, Nintendo Switch, and Apple iOS with an Android version coming soon. Since there are no ways to improve your character’s ability beyond developing your own skills as a gamer, players can only differentiate themselves through their customizable characters, which they can purchase elements for using “V-bucks”.
These “V-Bucks” have been the secret to Fortnite’s success. Players are spending real money to add new accessories, skins, and even dance moves to their player, all without adding any real value to the game playing experience beyond aesthetics. In a study of 1,000 Fortnite players, financial education company LendEDU found 68.8% had spent at least some money on in-game purchases, with the average player spending over $80. Because it’s more or less impossible to improve your character’s abilities without improving your own, the easy-to-play game has created an ecosystem for gamers that’s both tremendously fair while remaining incredibly challenging.
Playing the game is only half of the appeal of Fortnite, with millions of people paying just to watch others play. Viewership numbers for video game streaming have started topping major cable network show ratings, which has given rise to true stars. The site, for which users can pay $5 a month to “subscribe” to their favorite streamers, is now used by 140 million people a month. Streamer Tyler Blevins, or “Ninja” as he’s known by his 16 million YouTube subscribers, has risen to the forefront of the Fortnite universe. The 26-year-old is raking in over $560,000 a month from his Twitch subscribers alone. That’s before any additional revenue he earns from donations, YouTube, or ad partners.
This status has helped usher in a whole new age for e-sports. Friday Fortnite, a weekly invite-only celebrity competition hosted by YouTube streamer Keemstar brought in 8.8 million unique viewers across all channels. For comparison, the “Walking Dead” finale garnered only 7.9 million viewers. And with creator Epic Games pledging $100 million to Fornite esports prizes this year, you can expect the game to only grow in popularity.