Fortnite’s Change of Focus

Fortnite’s Change of Focus

Posted by on Sep 14, 2017 in Editorial, Fortnite

Fortnite’s Change of Focus

I’ve sat on these thoughts for a few days now, regarding Fortnite‘s new “battle royale” mode. What’s that, you ask? What’s Fortnite, you ask? Well, Fortnite was a co-op game about collecting resources to build a fortress that you had to defend from waves of monsters. You could fend them off yourself, but the purpose was to create a defensible structure complete with traps and obstacles that would at least slow down the hordes while you sliced, shot, and blew them up. I found this game fun, although the title is still in early access and needs a lot of work.

Some of that work, according to the folks at developer Epic, apparently includes adding a whole new game mode out of the blue. The battle royale mode is best known for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, which is one of the hottest titles in videogamedom right now, especially for streamers and folks who watch them.

Here’s my armchair calculus.

Fortnite kind of came out of nowhere and didn’t have the AAA fanfare that even a lot of indie titles receive these days. Being in EA is also a load of kryptonite for many people. This meant that Fortnite wasn’t exactly blasting out of the gate, although a lot of folks who have played it liked it well enough. Mindful folks agreed that it needed work, but that would come with time. EA means that nothing is final and that things that are broken will be fixed, things that are missing will be added, and things that are rough will get polished.

Instead, Epic has decided to tack on an entirely new game mode to an unfinished game, making the game twice as unfinished. I suppose this is their purview as the owners and operators of the game. To say it came out of left field is an understatement: it just kind of showed up one day and was patched in on the next. If social media is to believed, people are loving it — but of course I’m only seeing the word of mouth promoted by the official game account, and they’re not going to publish Tweets like these:

The account assures folks that the BR portion of the game was actually developed (somewhat in parallel, I guess) by another group, which gives the impression that it’s a skunkworks project that the internal teams thought was cool and polished enough to offer to the customers. In short, work on the original PvE portion continues, and I think it’s safe to assume that this PvP mode will also continue to be developed.

So if another unaffiliated Epic group made the BR version without sanction, and if the vibe I have that people are enjoying it more than they enjoyed the base game turns out to be true, then what does that mean in the long run? Will the rogue developers merge into the official Fortnite dev team? Will development take longer now that the original team has to maintain two totally different game modes? Or…something else?

The fear I have is that if the BR mode proves to be more successful and has greater “engagement” than the original PvE mode, then Fortnite is going to assume the BR mode as the primary while the PvE mode atrophies. I’m sure a talking head from Epic would engage his marketing engine and assure me that I am wrong and that they are committed to [some vague words about making the game the best it can be, which is boilerplate non-assuring assurance]. To be frank, even if they said “we are not dropping the PvE, nor will we allow it to flag, ever”, I’d still shake my head. We’ve all been around long enough to know that what’s present one day isn’t guaranteed to be the case tomorrow and what people say means absolutely nothing. Exhibit A: FireFall, the game that was everything and then nothing until it became literally nothing ever again. I mean, the freakin’ BR mode literally came out of nowhere. As far as intent goes, Epic has already added mechanics to reward people who stream Fortnite, which shows that they place stock in that avenue of promotion; As I am writing this, 10 of the top 12 Fortnite streams on Twitch are playing the BR mode. It’s what people are going to see, and what is going to garner people’s attention. They’ll be attracted to it because of its PUBG-ness, and then maybe they’ll find there’s a PvE mode, which they may ignore or they might create YouTube videos about as if they are revealing something undiscovered.

If BR mode is what makes Epic money, BR mode is what Fortnite will become. Of course, that’s not the game I paid for. Had it been or even included a BR mode from day one, I would have given it a hard pass for the same reasons I’m miffed today. Why not RTS? Tower defense? MOBA? Epic chose to go after the latest hotness because it’s the latest hotness on the street and on Twitch, and because, as they state in their reveal video, they’re “big fans” of PUBG and BR games which pretty much doubles-down on the whole “we did it because we thought it was cool, not because we planned or even really thought about it much” vibe. Meanwhile, the original game still needs love (and is no doubt getting it…for now). I have no faith that Epic isn’t going to favor the new child over the firstborn, and that does make me angry (because this is not what I paid for), but it really just makes me sad. I mean, I can’t be super angry when I have other games to play, really, where the developers actually stuck to what they aimed to do and didn’t simply get distracted by the latest fad.