Fortnite: Explosive Formula For a Popular Game

By Brian Huebner and Zooey Nguyen

Senior Shirley Cheng’s eyes are locked onto the laptop screen, right hand on a mouse, left hand tapping at the keyboard. The bright and vibrant colors of Tilted Towers radiate off the screen — and another player appears! Immediately, she springs into action, building walls, stairs, and platforms in an attempt to defend herself. But just as she’s done building, the enemy, shotgun in hand, jumps off floating platforms others in the game had created earlier and shoots at Shirley, killing her. This is Fortnite.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of it by now. The online battle-royale third-person shooter has exploded in popularity in recent months. In less than a year, Fortnite has broken numerous records, from the most concurrent viewers on a video game live stream — 1.1 million people — to the most-viewed game on YouTube ever. References to Fortnite have showed up in Instagram meme pages, college basketball games and promposals. How did Fortnite break out from the pack to become a cultural phenomenon and a hit among people who otherwise don’t game?

When Fortnite was released in July last year, it distinguished itself from its competitors — like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) — with a mix of characteristics appealing to new players: bright, vibrant visuals, rewarding gunplay mechanics, good optimization, and perhaps most importantly, a price tag of $0. For casual players or non-gamers, games that are pay-to-play or have a steep learning curve are often too inaccessible to pick up.

“I like the idea of a 100-person battle royale kind of situation,” senior Jason Chan said. “The problem I think with PUBG is that it’s expensive, and so I feel like [it lets you] get a taste of this kind of genre of a game.”

Fortnite’s graphics also contribute to its popularity with a two-part appeal. First, whereas other battle-royale games have often focused on realistic mechanics and a gritty, survivalist feel, Fortnite’s art style creates a cartoonish world with a variety of colors and firework-like explosions.

“I think it goes along with a sort of more casual, not super-intense feeling,” Shirley said. “When you kill people… when they die, you don’t see the blood, their loot just explodes out in a pile of light. It’s like you’re a piñata.”

Second, more simplistic, easy-to-see visuals make for a well-optimized game. Many games with intensive detail on the screen may have drops in framerate when the player doesn’t have a good graphics card or higher-end gaming computer. However, due to its graphical simplicity, Fortnite can be played on a variety of platforms, meaning almost anyone can have a smooth visual experience while playing.

“I think it’s extremely accessible in that… most people can run it on their computers,” Shirley said. “It’s very different from other types of battle royale games, PUBG for example is very poorly optimized so it’s not very accessible in that respect.”

Another possible factor contributing to Fortnite’s widespread success may simply be the light time investment. For other popular competitive multiplayer games like League of Legends or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, matches can sometimes take more than an hour to complete. In Fortnite, games often take about 20 to 25 minutes for players who can survive to the end.

“The expectation isn’t that you’re going to win a match,” Shirley said. “The expectation is that when you’re against hundred of players you’re probably going to lose, so even if you lose it doesn’t feel bad. You can just get right into a match again and keep playing.”

Although a game can be appealing from the outside, becoming invested in the gameplay is another story. Fortunately, Fortnite excels at creating addicting gameplay, achieving this through pairing accessible mechanics with constantly-changing game environments. One mechanic that sets Fortnite apart from its competitors is its “bloom” feature, where any bullet shot will land in the circle at random within a small circle around the cursor.

“Bloom helps make it more accessible to people who aren’t that into competitive shooter games,” Shirley said. “It actually encourages people to build more. Because there’s a lot of randomness, the only way in which people can actually make sure they kill the other person and not die is by gaining a positional advantage.”

Because the shooting mechanics gives new players some chance to succeed against skilled ones, almost anyone can have a rewarding experience in Fortnite, encouraging people to play even more.

Fortnite has taken popular culture by storm over the past months. With its accessible mechanics, its bright and vibrant graphics, and its addicting fast-paced gameplay, Fortnite has succeeded in capturing the hearts of millions, and has found itself a place in the popular culture of 2018.