It's a little-known fact that Fortnite - a cultural phenomenon with over 200 million registered players - began as a failure. The original idea of the game was a player vs. environment game, which described by Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, like a cross between Minecraft and Left 4 Dead in 2015. However, everything changes when the game co-opting the last-man-standing mechanics of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and becoming the biggest game on the planet.
The success of Fortnite comes from the perfecting of PUBG's formula, by making it less technical and more accessible. Due to that reason, the game won the fight for battle royale’s soul by being more prominent, wackier, and just more fun than PUBG’s sterile, militaristic experience. Fortnite "won the war" by leaning into goofiness.
Along with the fact that Epic Games managed to produce a hit, the genius of it is how they rewrote the idea of what hanging out online can be. Fortnite is a game, but it’s also a global living room for millions of people, and a kind of codex for where culture has gone this year — it’s a cultural omnibus that’s absorbed everything from Blocboy JB’s shoot dance to John Wick. It got Ted Danson to learn how to floss. The game is here to stay, as a new kind of social network.
Fortnite has achieved such a massive scale partially because of those network effects — if all of your friends are hanging out there, you will be too. The game is both free to play and available on every device - consoles, computers, even phones. That’s created a kind of "lingua franca" - a base level of understanding among a large group of people about the experience of playing the game. And even though it’s hugely popular, the experience of playing is "particular" - so not many people outside your peer group are going to know what you mean if you reference a “chug jug” in casual conversation. So even though the game is popular, there’s still a specific in-group thing for players to enjoy.
Best of all, the game itself continues to stay fun and accessible enough to draw in newcomers. It’s focused on casual players; the whole thing is self-consciously silly. Fortnite is the first-person shooter reinvented as a place to stomp around, as a place for friends to chill and talk about whatever’s on their minds.
And for some people, Fortnite is an excuse to talk on the phone. It’s an excuse to stay connected.
Maybe that's enough to bring even more success to the game, as a social tool.