How “Fortnite” Conquered Twitch, and the Entire Gaming World

Matthew Loffhagen
Epic Games
(Photo: Epic Games)

A brand new record has been set. Last week, professional streamer Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins broke new ground as over 635,000 people tuned into Twitch at once to watch him play Fortnite alongside rapper Drake.

This achievement is nothing short of incredible – over half a million people all watched a couple of guys playing a video game together. This kind of entertainment is indicative of the modern era of internet culture, and it’s likely that Ninja’s new record will, sooner or later, get beaten by someone else. Welcome to the future of gaming.

So here’s the big question: why “Fortnite”? Just a few short months ago, Twitch was instead dominated by another game, “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds”. This game is almost identical to “Fortnite”, and the murky circumstances through which Epic Games borrowed ideas from the creator of “PUBG” has led to a pending lawsuit.

The story is a fun one, even if it is an example of bad behavior. “PUBG” went big last year thanks to the work of developer Bluehole Studio. The game was built on the Unreal engine, and the creators of this engine, Epic Games, decided to copy the “PUBG” gameplay experience for a new mode in their home grown game, “Fortnite”, a forgettable zombie defense title.

Now, “Fortnite” has all but eclipsed “PUBG”, as big business wins by, let’s face it, screwing over the little guy. Video game clones are not uncommon, but audiences are rarely persuaded to jump ship to a copycat video game.

Why are gamers going nuts for “Fortnite”, when it’s essentially the same game as “PUBG”? Why would anyone want to embrace a big name AAA game that’s an awkward clone of an indie hit?

In practice, there are a lot of things that “Fortnite” can provide that “PUBG” struggles with.

For one thing, as anyone who’s played both games can attest, “Fortnite” is simply a far smoother experience. “PUBG” was made by a small team on a tiny budget, and the game shows this. Even when it finally made its way to a full release on Xbox One at the end of last year, it was clear that this was hardly a polished experience.

Player Unknown's Battleground
Source: Bluehole Studio

By contrast, “Fortnite” looks and feels like a more complete game. The artstyle is distinct and unique, making the experience feel more enjoyable. There are also additional gameplay elements, such as defense building, which come from the game’s previous incarnation as a defend-the-tower zombie game. Epic Games very quickly built a Battle Royale mode into an existing game, and this has given them the ability to create an experience that feels more satisfying than “PUBG”.

This, though, is of secondary importance to the true reason why Fortnite has managed to garner so much attention.

The game has two big selling points: firstly, it is free-to-play, and second, it’s available for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. With so many potential players and no upfront cost, word-of-mouth has made this game a hit.

Fortnite Zombies
Source: Epic Games

It’s hard to beat a game that’s both free and everywhere. Thus, “PUBG” has been abandoned, and “Fortnite” has won the internet.

This is hardly good news for innovators and smaller creators on the internet, but the good news is that this won’t last forever.

Before too long, some new fad will rise up, and “Fortnite” will fall out of favor. Then, the game will have to rely on its hardcore fans in order to keep going, while the rest of the internet embraces whatever big game comes next.

The wheel never stops turning. “Fortnite” might be the undisputed king of Twitch right now, but pretty soon, it’ll be just another forgotten video game.