Fortnite was the most popular video game of 2018.
No doubt about it.
The game experienced explosive user growth and still shows no sign of slowing down.
If you’re not familiar with the game, take two minutes to watch this trailer for the game, which in itself should provide a glimpse of how genius the game creators are.
Back in November, I decided to take notes of every little technique that Fortnite uses to make players addicted to the game.
After having played the game for a while, I thought it would be fun to share the things that I think makes it addictive. I work in Marketing and Analytics, so analyzing these techniques was pretty exciting for me.
The post covers the 4 things that (I think) caused Fortnite’s massive success:
- Onboarding of new players
- Use of variable rewards
- Monetization strategy
- Influencer marketing
Let’s dive right in!
Whenever you, as a marketer, have to get new people to start using your product, this is called onboarding.
A discipline that few businesses master even though it is one of the most significant factors of growth, which is something I learned myself when I joined a SaaS startup back in September.
Fortnite masters onboarding through a variety of factors which I’ll quickly go through.
Very low barriers to entry
All you need to start playing Fortnite is an Epic Games account. I played the game on a PlayStation which meant that all I had to do was download the game, quickly set up an account and I was good to go.
As you may know, the game is completely free to play, so as long as you’ve got one of the compatible devices, you can play Fortnite without paying a dime.
One of the things Epic Games did very well, was to make their game cross-platform. We’ve all experienced the hassle of friends having different devices, operating systems etc. and not being able to play with each other because of it.
Fortnite fixed that. Not from the beginning, but comparing their launch date to when the game was accessible on PlayStation, Xbox, iOS and Android, they acted quick.
Friends began playing across platforms and kids who didn’t have a console could simply launch the game on their iPad or iPhone.
One thing that helps people get started with the game, is the well-instructed gameplay throughout each game of Fortnite.
Throughout the entire game, players are continuously instructed on how to play the game.
In a world of social media, where we can always go to Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat and get our dopamine, instant gratification is an important factor in keeping people in the loop.
So in gameplay, even opening up chests or increasing health and shield from apples and mushrooms gives small achievements that players’ minds are triggered by.
Which leads us to the winning factor of retaining users…
Fortnite has proven itself a master in keeping users using the product and returning day after day. But how?
Let’s take a closer look at something called the variable reward.
What is a variable reward?
If you’re not yet familiar with the term, I guarantee that you’ve been exposed to the power of a variable reward, probably earlier today.
How? Two words.
Notifications and Feeds.
The variable reward is a term coined by Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked” as one of four stages that each product must have in order to achieve continuous usage from its users.
The basic explanation of why this is so powerful is that we’re more likely to perform an action if we’re not completely sure what the outcome is.
We’re insanely curious by nature.
Just take Facebook as a prime example. Sure, the social network is great for keeping in touch with friends and family. But once you’ve done that, why do you keep checking your phone to see if something has happened on Facebook?
The truth is that you’re insanely curious. You fear that you’ll be missing out, also known as FOMO.
The little notification could be a friend request from someone you met over the weekend. It could be a friend who tagged you in a hilarious video that you just gotta see. It could be your girlfriend saying she’s frisky. The point is, you don’t know what it is until you’ve checked the notification.
Imagine that Facebook only offered a single notification. That would mean we’d know what Facebook was about to tell us an thus, not be nearly as interested. The staggering use of Facebook would shatter immediately.
The same goes for their News Feed. The Facebook Feed never ends. Every next post could be something you shouldn’t miss out on, which therefore forces you to keep scrolling.
In other words, if you’re a tech company not utilizing variable rewards, you’re missing out. But keep in mind before you implement crazy gamification techniques and endless notifications: your product has to provide real value first.
How Fortnite uses variable rewards
I truly believe the single most important factor of Fortnite’s insane growth is caused by the variable reward. The game uses it in a number of cases — some you can copy, some you can’t.
Chest spawns are like slot machines
Every time a player opens a chest, the mechanics are identical with those of a slot machine.
The sound, the small wait to see what comes out of it, and the iconic sound that triggers our subconscious.
The addictive part isn’t opening the chest itself, but the time leading up to it, and when one or several items pop out of it. Players’ dopamine levels increase and when the chest doesn’t contain what we hoped it would, we move on to the next.
Game mechanics are updated on the daily
Besides being the masters of variable rewards, one of the key drivers for Fortnite’s growth has been its daily updates of the game.
Imagine showing up for work and each day your boss had bought a new entertaining item for you and your coworkers to use during lunch break; tennis table, massage chairs etc.
This is how Fortnite players have it. Each day going home from school (or work), players know that something new happened in-game.
A great example is the in-game item shop, where new items and discounts are introduced on a daily basis. This creates extreme FOMO for engaged players and forces them to check in on game updates at least once a day.
You might think that is just cheap marketing-tricks from Epic Games, but when they say that discounts and items are limited, they mean it. Recent reports showed that Fortnite accounts back from the first season of gameplay are worth up to $2.000 today due to their rarity.
The Battle Royale game mode is best explained as the concept of “the last man standing”.
Even though Fortnite wasn’t the first game to introduce a game mode where the map behaves differently in every game, it has shown to be a brilliant feature.
The key feature of Fortnite’s Battle Royale gameplay is the storm. As players land on the map, a circle slowly surrounds the map and shrinks until it has forced players to fight each other or die from so-called storm damage.
The storm is so effective because its position and direction of shrinking are new in each game. One thing is that it encourages players to keep playing because they’ll be given new adventures each time. Another is that it heightens the quality of gameplay for those watching it.
Unlike Counter-Strike, where most maps are being played in a specific way, the Battle Royale feature makes it increasingly difficult to stick to just one strategy.
And as competitive gaming has become more and more popular over the past few years, I have no doubt that a Battle Royale format will attract a lot of viewers.
More on this later in this post.
Battle Pass and Challenges
The Fortnite gameplay is made up of Seasons. A season lasts 10 weeks and for each week a new set of challenges is presented. When completing the challenges, players receive rewards in form of skins, dances, emotes and in-game coins called V-bucks. The rewards vary depending on whether you’ve purchased the Battle Pass for the current season or if you’re just enjoying the free version.
Each season was kicked off with a teaser video, briefly showing a glance of what players could look forward to.
Besides using the challenges, new skins, and exciting items to keep players coming back, they also played another essential role.
At least one of the challenges always included visiting or doing something at a specific place on the map, which helped Fortnite launch new updates in the game.
Players quickly favored certain sections of the map, which lowered the variable reward for themselves and people watching the gameplay. But by rewarding players to visit other places on the map, they re-discovered or found a new interest in a place on the map which then increased the variance of the gameplay.
Fortnite made $2.4b in 2018.
On a free-to-play game.
They embraced the so-called freemium business model where players are able to use a certain amount of the game for free. Also well-known from software businesses where customers can use a product for free until they need extra features or capacity.
But how did they then manage to convince so many players to pay for the game? Let’s look at the tactics.
The Battle Pass allowed players to unlock new challenges, skins, dances and emotes. That’s basically it. No improved gameplay, no unfair advantage to non-paying players. Just cosmetic improvements.
Each Season a new Battle Pass would come out which gave Fortnite an extra chance to promote the upgrade.
Fortnite then used a well-known trick called bundling where they put together the Battle Pass and “tiers” for a discounted price. A tier is a measure of well you play the game, so a lot of players saw the opportunity to jumpstart each season by paying a little extra.
New daily items in the shop
As I mentioned before, Fortnite did a really good job with the variable reward, constantly updating the game mechanics and in-game items.
This gave them a new chance each day to earn more money from already paying users, which proved to be extremely effective.
I often compare this to the way software businesses launch new big features. Instead of just giving them to existing customers (who pay a fixed monthly fee), they package the feature so that it stands out as a whole new thing, that is definitely worth paying more for.
Intercom, a customer messaging platform that we heavily use, recently launched their “Custom Bots” feature. And although the mechanics of the feature is still held within the core of their product, the Messenger, Intercom charges heavily if customers want to upgrade to it.
In addition to Fortnite’s release of new items to increase earnings, the constant updates also brought intrigued players back to the game.
Every player has his or her own style and Fortnite realized this. So by constantly introducing new items, they knew that all players would eventually find their own favorite.
Another key driver for Fortnite’s growth has been its use of influencer marketing. And what is a perfect use case for introducing influencers to boost your awareness and drive user growth?
A game where no match is the same.
Tyler Blevins, also known as Ninja, is the prime example of a regular gamer who became an overnight influencer and celebrity because of Fortnite.
Together with another Fortnite Hall-of-Famer, Myth, they managed to attract millions and millions of viewers to their entertaining duo gameplay, one of them shown below.
Other than allowing streamers to produce entertaining gameplay, the Fortnite dances alone went viral.
One of the most popular videos is this one of a family doing a Fortnite Dance Challenge. The video currently has over 80 million views on YouTube and is the 2nd most watched Fortnite-related one out there.
Although YouTube holds a significant share of the total Fortnite viewership, a lot of the new talent in Fortnite found their way through Twitch, the popular streaming platform.
Because of the game mechanics that heightened the entertainment level of watching other people plays Fortnite, it quickly became the most streamed game on Twitch, passing its competitor PubG.
One of the things that truly made Fortnite on Twitch a more mainstream thing was when Drake and Ninja played duos.
Take gamers and combine them with the followers of Drake. The result is an audience that wasn’t on twitch before and now they are.
Their duo gameplay also went viral when Drake promised Ninja $5.000 if he “clutched” and won the game for him.
Personal coupon codes
To create truly engaged influencers, simply handing them a check is not always the most effective strategy.
Epic Games wanted to empower its influencers while maintaining profitable relationships, which is why they introduced their “support a creator” program.
This allowed creators to get their own personal coupon code that their viewers could use in the item shop when purchasing either the Battle Pass or in-game items such as skins and dances.
Constantly being reminded of the game
Fortnite does a great job at creating in-game mechanics that encourage players to return to the game. But what if players don’t? How will Fortnite then get their attention and remind them of the massive fun they had playing?
One of the things I thought a lot about, is that there is a whole ecosystem being built around gaming. You leave the game, grab your phone, open up Instagram (or Facebook) and what do you see?
Fortnite videos. Because the game provides a high level of entertainment, in-game videos are spread on social media like nothing else.
This means that players are constantly reminded of the game, wherever they go.
All this happened because:
- The game was easy to get started with
- The mechanics in the game are constantly changing which means the value of the content created from the game is held up by its freshness
- Fortnite allowed influencers a way to make a living by playing the game
So what’s next?
Will we be seeing more businesses implementing gamification techniques? Or will ethical issues keep creators of games and apps from making more people addicted?
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✌️ Feel free to give your perspective on the game in the comments.