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Credit: Epic Games

‘Fortnite Battle Royale.’

If you know anything about video games&nbsp; — or maybe just if you know some teenagers — you know about Epic Games’&nbsp;Fortnite Battle Royale. The multiplayer shooter is the big thing right now, like Pokémon GO and countless others before it. From the outside, this might just look like a craze, and it definitely is that — Epic has been mum about numbers for a few months, but there are nearly 300,000 people watching other people play it at the moment I’m typing this sentence, and that’s just on a single service&nbsp; At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything to learn here — either your business revolves around hunting trends or it doesn’t, and crazes are hard to spot either way. But that’s not actually what happened with Fortnite: it may have blown up bigger than anyone involved could have predicted, but there’s a lot more in this craze that’s been engineered than is immediately obvious. And there are some interesting lessons to be had in that story.

To back up a second, Fortnite is a battle royale game — like you might guess from the title — but it didn’t start the battle royale craze. The concept, at its core, is a multiplayer shooter where everyone only has one life and the last player standing wins. It’s something that’s bubbled in the game industry for a long time&nbsp;but started to evolve in a more serious way in recent years. The modern story of the genre probably begins with&nbsp;Battle Royale, a mod for&nbsp;Arma 2 made by a developer named Brendan Greene, better known as PlayerUnknown. Greene tinkered with the concept as a consultant&nbsp;H1Z1: King of the Hill, but it was his own game made with developer Bluehole that would eventually strike gold: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, better known as PUBG.&nbsp;

If we’re talking about crazes, PUBG is the one that fits the bill in the classical sense. It was an indie hit that found wild success, for whatever reason it did: something about this moment in video games, maybe a need for an experience that revolves around high stakes and true consequences or maybe a streaming culture that celebrates top-tier players, made the whole thing work. It’s here, however, where the story gets a little more interesting.

PUBG was clearly vulnerable: it had taken over the video game world but it was still far from finished: as an early access game it had all kinds of technical problems. The idea was great, and the execution lagged: that meant that a competitor with stronger technical chops might be able to cause PUBG a huge headache — which is exactly what Epic Games ended up doing. Epic Games is a developer best known for its Unreal Engine software: middleware that helps other developers make games. Unreal and&nbsp;other engines smooth out some of the rough edges of game development, allowing fewer people to do more in less time. Which is convenient, because speed was going to be important here. Other developers were clearly interested in battle royale games, and there was bound to be a race to release. Nobody knows how to use Unreal quite as well as Epic itself.

Credit: Epic Games

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Epic had recently released Fortnite, a zombie survival game with a building element that wasn’t doing great. Fortnite was built to be flexible, however, and so Epic decided to use that game to chase down the battle royale genre rather than build a new one. Epic was in a good position for two reasons: one, it allowed itself to be flexible enough with Fortnite to make it a totally different game. Two, it had the development tools to do so quickly. It built out a remarkably stable Fornite Battle Royalein about two months, releasing on PS4 and Xbox One while PUBG was only on PC — it’s now on Xbox One, but likely won’t hit PS4 for a long time. And because Epic had a little more financial flexibility than Bluehole, it was able to deploy something that made this an unfair fight in the extreme: Fortnite Battle Royale was free. Things took off from there.

Once Epic saw that it had a hit it put its collective foot on the gas, pulling developers off of other projects to pursue an ambitious content and update schedule that quickly turned the battle royale mode from an interesting experiment into a full-fledged service, with new weapons, modes and outfits hitting the game with alarming speed. It caught some flack in the process — like it had when it made the mode in the first place, especially since PUBG was an Unreal licensee. It shut down an underperforming title that it may not have shut down otherwise, and&nbsp;Fortnite’s original mode, Save the World, didn’t see nearly that same level of commitment — fans aren’t happy about that. But there are far more fans of Battle Royale at this point, and that increased development muscle — along with the groundwork laid by Unreal Engine — allowed Epic to make a crucial leap to mobile devices quicker than anyone had thought possible.

Epic didn’t make a trend here. PUBG made a trend, and Epic followed. But Epic spent the past few decades building a business and a technology that allowed it to move quickly to take advantage of the trend when it spotted it. It wasn’t the first time the company had tried to do something similar, but when it became clear that it had struck gold, it committed whole-hog. Had it not worked with&nbsp;Fortnite, it may have worked with something else, but whenever it happened it was clear that Epic was ready to move. And now not only does Epic have a massive hit on its hands, it also has a bright, glowing advertisement for its core business — the Unreal Engine. The lesson here is not only to keep an eye out for opportunity, but also to build out the tools you need to take advantage of that opportunity. Entertainment is a hit-based industry, and there’s always going to be a degree of luck involved. But it’s hard to imagine a craze that relied less on luck than Fortnite Battle Royale.

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Credit: Epic Games

‘Fortnite Battle Royale.’

If you know anything about video games  — or maybe just if you know some teenagers — you know about Epic Games’ Fortnite Battle Royale. The multiplayer shooter is the big thing right now, like Pokémon GO and countless others before it. From the outside, this might just look like a craze, and it definitely is that — Epic has been mum about numbers for a few months, but there are nearly 300,000 people watching other people play it at the moment I’m typing this sentence, and that’s just on a single service  At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything to learn here — either your business revolves around hunting trends or it doesn’t, and crazes are hard to spot either way. But that’s not actually what happened with Fortnite: it may have blown up bigger than anyone involved could have predicted, but there’s a lot more in this craze that’s been engineered than is immediately obvious. And there are some interesting lessons to be had in that story.

To back up a second, Fortnite is a battle royale game — like you might guess from the title — but it didn’t start the battle royale craze. The concept, at its core, is a multiplayer shooter where everyone only has one life and the last player standing wins. It’s something that’s bubbled in the game industry for a long time but started to evolve in a more serious way in recent years. The modern story of the genre probably begins with Battle Royale, a mod for Arma 2 made by a developer named Brendan Greene, better known as PlayerUnknown. Greene tinkered with the concept as a consultant H1Z1: King of the Hill, but it was his own game made with developer Bluehole that would eventually strike gold: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, better known as PUBG. 

If we’re talking about crazes, PUBG is the one that fits the bill in the classical sense. It was an indie hit that found wild success, for whatever reason it did: something about this moment in video games, maybe a need for an experience that revolves around high stakes and true consequences or maybe a streaming culture that celebrates top-tier players, made the whole thing work. It’s here, however, where the story gets a little more interesting.

PUBG was clearly vulnerable: it had taken over the video game world but it was still far from finished: as an early access game it had all kinds of technical problems. The idea was great, and the execution lagged: that meant that a competitor with stronger technical chops might be able to cause PUBG a huge headache — which is exactly what Epic Games ended up doing. Epic Games is a developer best known for its Unreal Engine software: middleware that helps other developers make games. Unreal and other engines smooth out some of the rough edges of game development, allowing fewer people to do more in less time. Which is convenient, because speed was going to be important here. Other developers were clearly interested in battle royale games, and there was bound to be a race to release. Nobody knows how to use Unreal quite as well as Epic itself.

Credit: Epic Games

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Epic had recently released Fortnite, a zombie survival game with a building element that wasn’t doing great. Fortnite was built to be flexible, however, and so Epic decided to use that game to chase down the battle royale genre rather than build a new one. Epic was in a good position for two reasons: one, it allowed itself to be flexible enough with Fortnite to make it a totally different game. Two, it had the development tools to do so quickly. It built out a remarkably stable Fornite Battle Royalein about two months, releasing on PS4 and Xbox One while PUBG was only on PC — it’s now on Xbox One, but likely won’t hit PS4 for a long time. And because Epic had a little more financial flexibility than Bluehole, it was able to deploy something that made this an unfair fight in the extreme: Fortnite Battle Royale was free. Things took off from there.

Once Epic saw that it had a hit it put its collective foot on the gas, pulling developers off of other projects to pursue an ambitious content and update schedule that quickly turned the battle royale mode from an interesting experiment into a full-fledged service, with new weapons, modes and outfits hitting the game with alarming speed. It caught some flack in the process — like it had when it made the mode in the first place, especially since PUBG was an Unreal licensee. It shut down an underperforming title that it may not have shut down otherwise, and Fortnite’s original mode, Save the World, didn’t see nearly that same level of commitment — fans aren’t happy about that. But there are far more fans of Battle Royale at this point, and that increased development muscle — along with the groundwork laid by Unreal Engine — allowed Epic to make a crucial leap to mobile devices quicker than anyone had thought possible.

Epic didn’t make a trend here. PUBG made a trend, and Epic followed. But Epic spent the past few decades building a business and a technology that allowed it to move quickly to take advantage of the trend when it spotted it. It wasn’t the first time the company had tried to do something similar, but when it became clear that it had struck gold, it committed whole-hog. Had it not worked with Fortnite, it may have worked with something else, but whenever it happened it was clear that Epic was ready to move. And now not only does Epic have a massive hit on its hands, it also has a bright, glowing advertisement for its core business — the Unreal Engine. The lesson here is not only to keep an eye out for opportunity, but also to build out the tools you need to take advantage of that opportunity. Entertainment is a hit-based industry, and there’s always going to be a degree of luck involved. But it’s hard to imagine a craze that relied less on luck than Fortnite Battle Royale.

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