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'
[h=3]The Formula for Fortnite's Success
[/h]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
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.
success rests on three pillars, as outlined by Fortune: accessibility, sociability, and spectacle
[h=3]Accessibility[/h]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
[/h]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.
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.
[/h]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
, 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.
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.
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.