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The Fortenite-ification of Everything

The online battle royale video game Fortnite has become a smash hit that is changing the industry. But what makes it so popular are the same elements that are behind Dungeons & Dragons' recent surge.

The Formula for Fortnite's Success

Fortnite features up to 100 players parachuting onto an island, where they battle it out in a timed challenge, collecting shields and weapons, building fortifications, and eliminating other players on one large map. The game's popularity is on par with World of Warcraft and Minecraft in changing the video game landscape. It currently has over 200 million registered accounts across all platforms, averaging 37 terabytes per second on most networks -- the largest recorded amount Akamai Technologies has ever observed. Fortnite's Battle Royale made parent company Epic Games $2.4 billion in revenue in 2018, raising Epic Game's valuation from $825 million to $8.5 billion. It's a big deal, and other online shooters are hoping to mimic its success by copying the battle royale format.

Fortnite's success rests on three pillars, as outlined by Fortune: accessibility, sociability, and spectacle.

Accessibility

It has long been a concern for any popular game that players can play it easily and, for multiplayer games, play easily with each other. This requires easy access to the game and a gameplay experience that's the same no matter who is playing it.

We've outlined in the past how Dungeons & Dragons suffered from this as it grew. Basic and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons separated rather than united the player base, and the various game worlds with their unique rules made for many different campaign settings that further splintered gaming groups. D&D eventually phased out the Basic/Advanced dichotomy and narrowed the many worlds to the Forgotten Realms. D&D has also slowly evolved its beginner sets with free-to-play versions like the online "Basic" set of rules, making it more accessible than ever.

On video game platforms, different gaming consoles created different experiences. A player on a laptop could not play with another play on a mobile device, or a Playstation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch. Fortnite cracked that code. Now all players are playing in the same world -- a world that is easy to play immediately -- and play in the same game. The effects of this are huge, creating a gaming community that is agnostic of which device you play on.

More important, like the Basic rules of D&D, Fortnite is free to play. It's all the accessories that cost more, and Epic Games wisely focused its efforts on providing compelling, optional content than on game-breaking rules to entice players to spend their hard-earned money. Converting players is challenging -- a 2% conversion rate is common -- but Fortnite averages an astounding 68.8% conversion rate, spending on average $85!

Sociability

D&D has always been built on the underpinnings of social engagement. The game encourages groups of four or more players coming together along with a game master. It also requires a time commitment of a few hours or more, something that high school and college students often have more of (and a stable pool of players to choose from). That model has expanded to include working adults who are willing to carve out leisure time for "game night" with their friends.

Fortnite mimics this aspect too. Players can join games in squads of up to four, although there's no classes or specialization to speak of. Fortnite's map is static, but it changes with each season, providing new goals and new equipment that alters the game in significant ways. In this regard, Fortnite has a lot in common with D&D hexcrawls, in which deep exploration of a map unearths new and exciting adventures.

Spectacle

If D&D had a weakness in the past, it was spectacle. The game was largely confined to small groups playing in mostly non-public areas. Tournaments alleviated some of this, but to the casual observer, seeing actual gameplay was difficult to come by. That all changed thanks to video, livestreaming, and podcasts.

This also affected how D&D was perceived and played. D&D's playerbase has expanded tremendously to encompass people from all walks of life, and the Fifth Edition art has changed to reflect that. More women are playing D&D than ever before, and by making it accessible on channels like Twitch and YouTube, D&D is finding audiences who might not normally have encountered it.

D&D is also never the same game twice. Because game masters control the flow of the game, even the same adventure played by two different game masters will likely be quite different. This makes it fun to play repeatedly and at length; the tropes may be familiar, but the gameplay is always innovative.

Fortnite replicates this feature in a few ways. In some games, death is permanent until the match ends, but players can immediately "snoop" the camera of their surviving comrades (or just other surviving players) to see how the game concludes. Players can take snapshots or record videos of their games and upload them. Some streamers are making $500,000/month in this fashion. It also regularly releases "skins" (changing the PC's appearance) in a wide variety of ethnicities and genders, so that players can represent themselves however they choose. And with each new season's release, the map and the available skins change, ensuring gameplay varies even on the same island map. Paul Tassi in Forbes summed it up:

Fortnite is so big it’s expanded beyond simply being a game. It has created its own footprint in pop culture through memes and shared icons. It has become essentially a social network for a generation of kids who meet up in game mostly to hang out as they just happen to kill things, though you can now also just chill in Playground and Creative mode without even doing that. I’ve never really seen this since maybe Minecraft, and this is even bigger than that.

Fortnite's
impact is enormous, and it's no coincidence that D&D is experiencing a similar surge in popularity. What makes a good multiplayer game extends across platforms and genres; Fortnite's just capturing what made D&D so special in the first place.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Aaron L

Registered User
I still don't buy the idea that having different settings "fractured" the D&D player base: no one I ever knew refused to buy Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft books because they "only played Dark Sun." Yes, people may have had favorite settings that they focused on, but everyone always bought everything they could in my experience, and ran multiple games in different worlds, including homebrew which they would fill with ideas cribbed material from all the books. Just because Greyhawk was my favorite didn't mean I didn't also buy up Drow of the Underdark and Dragon Kings the moment I saw them, or consider The Code of the Harpers to be one of the best and most interesting D&D books I've ever owned and still crack open to read through today.

Producing more books than they could sell is what killed TSR, not having multiple settings.
 

Morrus

Administrator
Staff member
Yes, people may have had favorite settings that they focused on, but everyone always bought everything they could in my experience, and ran multiple games in different worlds, including homebrew which they would fill with ideas cribbed material from all the books.
Your anecdote doesn't match mine.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
I still don't buy the idea that having different settings "fractured" the D&D player base: no one I ever knew refused to buy Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft books because they "only played Dark Sun." Yes, people may have had favorite settings that they focused on, but everyone always bought everything they could in my experience, and ran multiple games in different worlds, including homebrew which they would fill with ideas cribbed material from all the books. Just because Greyhawk was my favorite didn't mean I didn't also buy up Drow of the Underdark and Dragon Kings the moment I saw them, or consider The Code of the Harpers to be one of the best and most interesting D&D books I've ever owned and still crack open to read through today.

Producing more books than they could sell is what killed TSR, not having multiple settings.
I almost never buy published settings. I'll play in them, but I won't run them. This includes 3PP published settings too. I just don't feel like I can ever really "get into" them like a setting I made up myself. That's probably a "me" problem, but still, it means I'm not buying those books.

There are a lot of books I don't buy from older editions, mostly because I don't feel the pressing need to have them because I don't feel like there's anything they really present that's new or interesting to me.

So yeah.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
The article really reads more like "The D&D-ification of Fortnite" rather than the other way around.

But for the record, I never purchased setting-specific material. The DM's first job is to create the world, and setting material gets in the way of that.
 

MarkB

Adventurer
Is it worth mentioning that Fortnite's Battle Royale mode was originally a spin-off of a quite different game, and that it took someone else's original concept and simply refined and polished it in order to become the market leader? I'm no historian, but we could probably find some parallels for that in the RPG market.
 

theworstdm

Villager
I still don't buy the idea that having different settings "fractured" the D&D player base: no one I ever knew refused to buy Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft books because they "only played Dark Sun." Yes, people may have had favorite settings that they focused on, but everyone always bought everything they could in my experience, and ran multiple games in different worlds, including homebrew which they would fill with ideas cribbed material from all the books. Just because Greyhawk was my favorite didn't mean I didn't also buy up Drow of the Underdark and Dragon Kings the moment I saw them, or consider The Code of the Harpers to be one of the best and most interesting D&D books I've ever owned and still crack open to read through today.

Producing more books than they could sell is what killed TSR, not having multiple settings.
I agree that TSR probably hurt themselves by saturating a niche market with books, but too many settings definitely didn't help. Not everyone (including me) had the money to buy every single book produced for D&D so they had to make choices about which ones to buy. Setting was a determining factor for me in this decision. It remains so even with 5e today. WotC has put out some books in settings like Ravnica or Eberron that don't appeal to me. So, I didn't buy those books.
 

trancejeremy

Villager
Probably the most annoying thing (at least in video game) is that now characters in games always have to dance after winning. It drives me crazy in the two recent Forza games.
 
If TSR put out the same number of books but set them all in a single setting it would not have helped them. The number of products published each year at that time was enormous. Only a very financially invested collector could buy them all. If you bought every setting book in your setting of choice, plus all the setting-neutral books, you were still investing a good chunk of change.

5e hasn’t abandoned its settings, and the official setting officially encompasses all of them. Diversifying settings is actually a profitable endeavor (in my opinion), if done right. There are people who have bought some of the 5e non Forgotten Realms stuff while passing on the Forgotten Realms stuff. There are also some people who will only buy Forgotten Realms (though I doubt there are a lot in that category because of how the Forgotten Realms is presented). The difference between now and then is that they are paying better attention to the market so as to avoid too much of this or too little of that.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
TSR was just poorly managed. At first, you had gamers who knew very little about business. Then, you had business people who knew very little about gaming. Neither worked well.
 
The article really reads more like "The D&D-ification of Fortnite" rather than the other way around.

But for the record, I never purchased setting-specific material. The DM's first job is to create the world, and setting material gets in the way of that.
I used to play with a group that only ran DM-written (this is multiple people) campaigns, and I can say confidently, homebrew is not as good as the published material. We were the first and only beta-testers for merely-OK and always overlong "modules" (I was going to say 'wankery').

When I was a kid with no experience, lots of time, and no money, running homebrew games was great. In my old age, I appreciate professional editors.
 

jasper

Explorer
It always nice to see a fan of a hobby try to tie their hobby to the current money making idea. It is amazing. Yes compared to Fortnite’s Epic Revenue of $2.4 Billion. That 2,400,000,000.00 to Hasbro’s 4,580,000,000.00 revenue. Um never mind. But I think the author is reaching in his some of his arguments.
Accessibility. In my XP, people either played a mixture of both basic and advanced. Or just stole certain things from basic and adapted it to their Advanced. It wasn’t till I read posters here, they people were doing it wrong in choosing basic. Um um, I mean some people preferred basic over Advance. Insert evil grin.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Funny that the title of the post suggests D&D is emulating Fortnite, but the conclusion of the post is that Fortnite is emulating D&D.

Maybe it's more fair/logical to say that the Internet has created new avenues for formerly niche hobbies to become mainstream, and across industries the companies that leverage that strategy are more likely to succeed.
 
I used to play with a group that only ran DM-written (this is multiple people) campaigns, and I can say confidently, homebrew is not as good as the published material. We were the first and only beta-testers for merely-OK and always overlong "modules" (I was going to say 'wankery').

When I was a kid with no experience, lots of time, and no money, running homebrew games was great. In my old age, I appreciate professional editors.
YMMV. In my experience the worst games I have ever been in have always, consistently been with GMs running published modules, though admittedly because the GMs rarely had enough confidence/experience to go outside the scope of what the module offered. You could always tell when you hit an invisible wall in these cases, where the GM hadn't prepped or considered something because the module did not cover it....a very immersion damaging moment. My least favorite moments were when the game would abruptly end early due to the GM not having read/prepped past a certain point. Understandable but....well, as GM myself I made it a rule to always be "two sessions ahead" in the prep when using a prepublished module to avoid that risk.

That said....the quality of most modules these days is pretty good. And the same experience above sometimes happened with GMs who had brilliant homebrew concepts but still didn't know how to execute them. The problem as I see it is with the GMs, not whether the content is published or not.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Registered User
Don't forget the last years of TSR was for the boom of internet and the videoconsoles.

I haven't played Fortnite: Battle Royal, but the cooperative mode "Save the world". It is a totally different gameplay, but missions, and improving traps, heroes, weapons and survivors, with a different leveling up. You don't know what are you missing with the fun Ray's phrases. Ray is a robot who talks commander (player).

There is an agreement between Hasbro and Epic Games, and this means we could see a Fortnite RPG d20.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
We played basic rules mostly and adapted the AD&D rules to it, the Holmes box basic said to do that. We encountered the idea of different worlds, and setting in Q1, that was cool. What AD&D did have was rules for making your stronghold, and there was the social aspect that seems to be what the Fortnite players are playing (I don't play that). There wasn't a dichotomy between AD&D and basic in the beginning, we just called it all D&D.
 

Crimson Fist

Villager
I still don't buy the idea that having different settings "fractured" the D&D player base: no one I ever knew refused to buy Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft books because they "only played Dark Sun." Yes, people may have had favorite settings that they focused on, but everyone always bought everything they could in my experience, and ran multiple games in different worlds, including homebrew which they would fill with ideas cribbed material from all the books. Just because Greyhawk was my favorite didn't mean I didn't also buy up Drow of the Underdark and Dragon Kings the moment I saw them, or consider The Code of the Harpers to be one of the best and most interesting D&D books I've ever owned and still crack open to read through today.

Producing more books than they could sell is what killed TSR, not having multiple settings.
I don't buy this either. If anything, I think having additional setting material expands your audience. I purchased and still own every iteration of D&D rule book made and I have purchased the setting material I liked to go along with them. Not every setting, just the ones I liked or the books I wanted to steal material from. With 5th I haven't bought much of Forgotten Realms because I don't care for that setting or the specific modules produced for them. Thus, I think the force to one setting is contrary to what Fortnite is doing and is more limiting to purchases. Fortnite regularly changes boards and skins allowing new ways to use the underlying game. For D&D to be like that would mean more setting books as opposed to adventure paths. I think that is the reason Curse of Strahd did better than the mash ups of stuff set in the Realms. Most DM's create their own campaigns anyway, setting books support that-modules don't necessarily. I think in this case Fortnite has figured it out ahead of WOTC.
 

Aaron L

Registered User
Your anecdote doesn't match mine.
Not trying to dispute your personal experience, but really? Your friends would only buy books for one setting, and refuse to buy any books from any other setting?

That just seems truly bizarre to me. Among my friends each of us had a preferred setting that we would focus on (and use when that person DM'd a campaign if they didn't want to use their own homebrew world) but all of us would happily buy any book from any setting that caught our interest (we had 8 people in our core D&D group of friends and out of those 8, 1 was our primary Dungeon Master who ran our primary campaign, but 4 others also routinely ran our own long-term campaigns as well, and 1 other who also ran a short-term campaign and the occasional one-shot games when the feeling struck him. At the time I just thought that was normal for D&D groups, but from what I've heard online since then I guess it is highly unusual?) The only reason we didn't all buy up every book TSR released was simply because there were just too dang many for us to afford, and absolutely not because we didn't want books from different settings.

I suppose we could have just been a very weird group of people, but all of us had collections of books from just about every setting released; one friend focused on Dark Sun but also had plenty of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books, and while I focused on Greyhawk as my favorite setting I also had as many 'Realms, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Birthright, and Planescape books as I found interesting and could afford (I even had the Tales of the Lance Dragonlance boxed set despite disliked the setting; even though I had no interest in the world itself there was still plenty enough good material and interesting ideas that I could mine from the boxed set that it was worth having.) Our primary DM focused his book collection on the 'Realms, but almost exclusively used his own world for his games and had an extensive smattering of every other published setting, including Mystara and Birthright. Also, this was despite the fact that our group used 1st Edition (aside from when we played our Dark Sun campaign simply because Dark Sun was custom made for the 2E rules and so many basic rules of the setting were based on the 2E rules, especially psionics, that modifying things for 1E just seemed pointless.) And it wasn't just our lone gaming group that did this, either; every D&D player I ever personally knew did the same, owning books from multiple settings, and I seriously never heard of a player refusing to buy a D&D book just because they were labelled with a certain setting's logo. If a book caught their attention and seemed interesting they would buy it, regardless of the setting logo underneath the AD&D label.

But maybe Central Pennsylvania is just a weird outlier in D&D buying habits... it certainly is in many other areas of activity. But if you hung out in Comic Swap and Nittany Line Hobby across the street from Penn State Main Campus in the early '90s, you would routinely see people buying up piles of Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and Planescape books all in the same batch as a matter of course.
 

Morrus

Administrator
Staff member
Not trying to dispute your personal experience, but really? Your friends would only buy books for one setting, and refuse to buy any books from any other setting?
No; I said “your anecdote doesn’t match mine”, not “my friends would only buy books for one setting, and refuse to buy any books from any other setting.”
I’d say we bought about a third of TSR’s stuff. Most was Dragonlance, least (as in none) was Dark Sun.
 

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