A Year Later, Cultural Icon Fortnite Remains On Top

Few games achieve the level of cultural impact that Fortnite did in the summer of 2018. A year later, that frenzy appears to have died down, but it’s not yet game over.

No longer in its growth stage, Fortnite, published by Epic Games, is focused on keeping the nearly 250 million it already has. The challenge is to prevent the game’s young players from wandering to the next big thing.

The stakes are huge for Epic Games, which has been able to ride the rise of Fortnite to become a global phenomenon. A decline in the hugely successful franchise could put the publisher’s future in jeopardy, as Fortnite has increasingly become a consistent money-maker for the company.

To keep the game fresh, Fortnite regularly gets minor updates. These include skins that change the characters’ in-game appearances, dances the characters can perform in the game, or the ability for players to gain points more quickly so that they can progress more quickly.

Game publishers often offer new content that players can download for a fee shortly after their games are released, to keep players engaged. But Fortnite has a social aspect—special events held within the game, for example—that many other titles lack.

In February, the game hosted a concert with DJ Marshmello that reportedly attracted 10.7 million concurrent viewers through streaming and 7.6 million concurrent players in the game. Fortnite also features events related to playing like challenges that require players to complete a certain task in order to obtain a special item.

Epic also recently acquired Houseparty, a video group chat app, further flexing its newfound power as a social hub. So far, Epic Games hasn’t said whether it plans to integrate Houseparty with Fortnite or if it will remain an independent app.

“The focus is to keep the game front of mind, keep the big streamers streaming it, and keep making it something that people have to get in and check in on or else they’re missing out with their friends,” says NPD Group analyst Mat Piscatella.

Even with the events and new items for sale, it’s unlikely Fortnite will return to the level of success it had a year ago. The number of users dipped a bit after its height last summer, according to Piscatella, but now remains stable.

Because of its popularity with school-age children, the summer is a critical time for Fortnite. Last year, Fortnite’s growth hit its stride from second week of June through mid-to-late August. And while Piscatella says it’s still too early to tell what the June numbers look like for Fortnite, he says a repeat performance is unlikely. 

Epic Games, which declined comment for this article, still hit gold with Fortnite’s rise. It made the battle royale video game genre a juggernaut in the industry, spawning numerous clones such as Apex Legends or Fallout 76’s new battle royale mode.

None of these rivals have nearly as many players or the same amount of revenue.

“It went from being something, early last year, that very few people heard about to being the biggest thing in the world,” Piscatella said. “If anyone really knew the answer [to its success] specifically, they’d be out making a game that would do the same thing. It’s one of those times when everything just happens to land right.”