The Fortnite guide to building a billion dollar brand
Approximately 14 months ago, Epic Games released a quirky little game featuring 100 over-the-top colorful cartoon characters dropping onto an island to try and eliminate each other in a fast-paced Battle Royale. This free game, Fortnite, has gone on to generate over $1 Billion for Epic Games with over 40 million players playing each month and 2 million players concurrently playing at any given time of day.
Wait, how does a FREE game generate a billion dollars and become the number one game in the world in less than a year? More importantly, how can we apply the same concepts that have catapulted Fortnite into international phenomenon status in just over a year to our respective businesses? If success leaves clues, Fortnite has left us the blueprint to follow with our own business ventures.
Fortnite is available anywhere and at anytime. Computers, cell phones, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch users all have access to the game. It’s free to download and play. No “free trials” or strings attached, it’s simply free for all to play. Unlike most games, Fortnite allows individuals the opportunity to play against competitors on other gaming systems, a feature that gamers have been requesting of games for decades.
When you think about your business model, how accessible are your services? Do potential customers come to seek you out or do you make your product or services easily accessible? The quicker and easier you can get your offering in front of customers, the higher your likelihood of success.
In an age where realism is the norm, Fortnite took a different approach. Most battle games, such as juggernaut franchise Call of Duty, feature realistic soldiers in past and futuristic war scenarios killing enemies with ultra-realistic blood, gore, and adult language. The levels change each match and competitors work in teams to amass the most kills. Each time your character dies, he merely respawns and plays again. As your character improves, you get better weapons to start each match with. This method rewards players for “leveling up” by granting them advantages in each match via improved weaponry and skills. This gameplay method is used by the vast majority of “shooters,” the genre of shooting/fighting games.
Fortnite went the opposite direction of the gaming norm. They created one level, an island, with several little communities on the island with funny names such as Greasy Groves, Tilted Towers, and Snobby Shores. All 100 competitors are dropped out of a flying bus to start each match and have the option of parachuting down to an area of their choice. The characters are wacky cartoon characters with different dance moves to celebrate victories, (or simply to have dance battles)
Unlike other games, no one starts with any weapons. You have to land, find treasure chests and get weapons from them or eliminate an enemy and take their weapons. As a result of not starting with firearms, the game becomes a combination of luck and skill each time you land. Perhaps you land in a spot with no enemies around, and you pick up great weapons, or perhaps you land in an area that everyone else falls on, and mayhem follows. Also, differently than other games, once you die, you’re dead. This single elimination game is a last man standing battle royale. However unlike any other elimination game, once you die, you aren’t forced to shamefully watch others finish the game, you can jump right into a new game.
By changing the dynamic, Fortnite delivered a game that is fair, no more getting massacred by gamers who’ve played forever merely because they have better weapons to start the match. Though skill does play a significant factor in the game, by leaving the weapon locations up to chance creates an even playing field to begin. Whereas other games feature adult themes, Fortnite has no blood, guts, gore or even remotely offensive language. This allowed Fortnite to become a family-friendly game and allowed them to capitalize on the enormous youth gaming market.
With your business, can you look at industry standards and ask yourself, “what could we do differently?” If everyone else selling, how can you give your product away? If everyone is going bigger and faster, how can you create a product that pushes smaller and more relaxed? Find a way to go against the grain of the standards in your genre.
People like to buy. They don’t like to be sold. Fortnite understood this better than anyone. As mentioned, Fortnite is a free game. You can play it free, with all the features forever. But Fortnite also knew people wanted to differentiate their characters from everyone else, and so they created a virtual currency, V-bucks, that you can use in the store to buy different characters, backpacks, parachutes, and most importantly, dances. The currency is loaded into the game via micro-transactions of real money. These uniforms offer no tactical advantage, merely allow players to look different than the other players. These micro-transactions are the driver behind Fortnite’s billion-dollar brand.
When you create a system of inclusion where everyone feels comfortable and safe, people will pay to differentiate themselves. Your job as a company is to create a culture that people want to belong to or a world that people want to live in. If you can create an addictive culture, you can then increase your profits by selling uniqueness inside your culture. If you’re selling phones to customers, how can you create custom phone cases to help them set themselves apart? If you offer a service, how can you add a feature that allows each customer to feel special and not “just” another client? Don’t aggressively pursue upsells in your business, but create an environment that drives people to want to spend more money with you to stand out inside your community. Give your customers the engine, let them pay for the customization.
BUILD ON WHAT WORKS
On the outside, Fortnite seems like a completely innovative game. While creative in some regards, the core of its success lies in building on the success of other addictive games and filling the void left by the shortfalls in those games. Fortnite didn’t reinvent the wheel, they just found a good wheel and made tweaks to it.
The 2011 game, Minecraft, quickly rose to prominence in the gaming world. The simple-graphic game focuses on players finding materials such as wood, wool, and tools to create houses, aka forts, to defend against monsters. Finding materials and building solid bases in a free-roaming world without many direct initiatives created a culture of creativity where gamers online would boast of their beautiful creations. Minecraft has sold over 144 million copies and remains one of the most played games in the world.
Fortnite borrowed this “fort building” concept and implemented it directly into the dna of its game. Users gather materials three materials, wood, stone, and metal to create forts to defend themselves against other players. Toward the end of the 100 player Battle Royale, your ability to build unique forts to protect yourself and get a tactical advantage over your enemy is often the difference in winning and losing.
Another breakout hit, PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds, (aka PUBG) introduced the world to the Battle Royale (elimination game) concept. The game features a single elimination battle royale with realistic guns and players. Originally, Fortnite was a single player game that forced users to build forts and defend it against monsters in objective based games. Seeing the success of Battle Royale in PUBG, Fortnite added that concept to its game. As a result, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite was sued by PUBG for a copyright violation of the game mode.
Much like Legos, Fortnite was built on existing successful COGS, joined together to create a masterpiece. The free-roaming, material collecting, build aspect of Minecraft paired with the Battle Royale feature of PUBG spawned the most addictive game in pop culture. In your business, you have to realize that innovation isn’t always about creating something new, often, it’s about putting the pieces together. The conductor of an orchestra’s job is to create harmony between the various instruments, not play them his or herself. Find what works in your industry and build a harmonious relationship that grows your business.
Accessibility, differentiation, innovation in the upselling process and building upon what works is a surefire way to expand your business. Apply these proven concepts to your company and build the next great Fort, errrr, I mean business.