October 13th, 2019 will never be forgotten by gamers around the world. Whether you’ve played Fortnite before, have friends who play it, or have tried to stay away from it as much as possible, chances are you’ve heard about what happened to it. Social media was set ablaze when an in-game event triggered a black hole engulfing everything within Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode. Not even the lobby was active. Booting up the game during this time, resulted in the lobby loading and an error message stating that the game is having “technical difficulties” before the entire screen gets sucked into a black hole. Even the menu options and button prompts are sucked into the void, leaving you nothing but a black screen to stare at. The only way out of it is to press the home button on your controller and play something else.
When the event happened Fortnite live-streamed the whole thing on social media, first streaming the sequence that brought us to this point, but then just showing a black hole with some sci-fi background music. At the start of the event, Fortnite had over four million people watching. Throughout the “downtime”, if we can even call it that, Twitter kept the world posted with a live feed at the top of most timelines. Over the next 32 hours I never saw less than 5,000 individuals tuning in to see what the black hole would do, if anything.
Now say what you will about Fortnite, but the things they do when it comes to seasons and the way they introduce new content is brilliant. This is by far their most ambitious venture yet, mainly because they’ve effectively lost out on almost two days of revenue from the game. But the folks marketing Fortnite are no strangers to connecting seasons with storytelling in between, and this was no exception. Since season three each season has had a theme and a plot of somewhat tied to it that was slowly unraveled throughout that particular season through unlocks. Each season bringing new themes, weapons, skins, and locations.
Fortnite has also held other events within seasons, most notably the concert with popular DJ Marshmallow where over ten million players were reported to have attended. It’s clear that Fortnite has a formula where it creates buzz around certain events or objects within the world, the question is why aren’t other games doing this?
More world events, not necessarily apocalyptic, are what live service games are missing. Fortnite has even proved that events do not have to be enemy based. None of Fortnite’s events or changes in season required players to band together to battle some sort of huge or overpowering foe. All Fortnite has used is simple storytelling tactics in order to draw in it’s huge audiences, starting with something as small as a shooting star in the sky, evolving into a meteor that takes out Dusty Depot and completely reshapes the entire map. It’s odd but maybe the driving factor behind Fortnite being able to draw an audience for events so large is because of the storytelling aspects, something a lot of games are leaving behind for live service and monetization.
Fortnite is also Free-to-play, something uncommon in today’s age of gaming. Yes, Free-to-play titles are emerging more and more everyday but we haven’t seen any big franchises make that daring leap yet. Imagine if Fallout 76, a struggling live service game, had started to drop hints months ago in its open world about human NPC’s returning to the game. Whether that is by opening up houses or leaving more notes or computer terminal recordings or even radio tower messages that someone may be returning. Instead Bethesda announced that the Wastelanders DLC would be coming in fall of 2019 and truthfully since it was announced we haven’t heard much. The black hole was an exciting event for Fortnite and that’s because it was handled correctly. The marketing for the event labeled it only as “the end”, the season was up and everyone assumed season 11 was right around the corner no one in their sane mind would have thought that Fortnite was actually going to go dark for almost two whole days.
What the rest of this gaming industry needs to realize is that Fortnite’s business model and practices are incredibly effective, it may even be the immediate future of this industry. In no way am I saying that every game should build hype for a specific event and then shut down for two days. That’s not feasible for every studio, Fortnite makes billions, for good reason. They’ve built a reputation of delivering game changing stories and events every two or three months, constantly giving it’s players new and exciting content to entertain themselves with. I fully expect to see other studios and companies start to lean this direction within the next few years. A big reason for that is it hasn’t let Fortnite down yet, it’s been on top of the Streaming world and in the ever tightening gaming industry Fortnite is consistently getting Victory Royales.