Recently, the makers of Fortnite took a wild chance, pulling their massively-popular game offline for 48 hours. Users spent lots of time staring at a “black hole,” and Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, didn’t provide much information about what was happening.
The lack of info only drummed up excitement, leading to countless streams, tweets, and articles. The New York Times covered the “black hole.” Variety hailed Fortnite’s “masterful stroke.” The general consensus was: by doing nothing, Epic had generated the sort of buzz that you couldn’t buy no matter how big your marketing budget is.
Following the emergence of the “black hole,” the game relaunched with a new map and new wrinkles in its gameplay. It was the latest example of Fortnite being able to use a massive campfire event to get people talking and to keep its product fresh.
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As of March 2019, there were 250 million total Fortnite players, and the median weekly playing time for the app ranged from 6 to 10 hours. This game is available on iOS, PC, PlayStation, and Xbox and generated $223 million in March 2019 alone.
Regardless of what happens in the future, Fortnite has changed the mobile and cross-platform landscape for good. Developers and marketers of all stripes can look at Fortnite as a case study, and use it to inspire engagement in their own apps and products.
Live events that reward users
The “black hole” and map relaunch wasn’t the first time Fortnite utilized a live event to drum up excitement.
In July, they staged a live battle between a sea monster and a giant robot. It’s, uh, difficult to explain, but basically, a giant monster came out of the sea and then started fighting with a robot, then the sea monster ripped the robot’s arm off and then, well… you might need to watch the video to get the gist of it.
The battle was a one-time event that rewarded users for following cryptic clues that Epic left in the game map, and for being in the game at a set time. Similarly, if you can reward power users for using your app, they’ll love you for it. Rewarding them with discounts on products or in-app purchases is nice, but witness the tender love and care that Epic put into this monster battle. It was one-time content that felt special. As a result, Fortnite’s users felt special. Make your users feel special!
“Mobile gaming is as successful as it is because it is something that can be done in interstitial moments,” says Shira Chess, an assistant professor in entertainment and media studies at the University of Georgia. “It’s a way to integrate play into your life if you don’t typically have a lot of time for play.”
For those who don’t want to sit down and rev up an XBOX or Playstation, mobile gaming offers a smaller investment of time and money (Fortnite is free to play, and offers in-app purchases). By getting users in the door by offering them LOTS of utility upfront at no cost, the developers invested in themselves — they knew the game was good, and the revenue would follow.
For similarly-confident app developers, an upfront tier of free use gets users in the door. Once the app shows its utility, users make purchases or subscribe. Think of an app like Headspace, which hosts certain meditations for free, and then offers a subscription service to unlock its whole library.
“If you are a novice, then that free-to-play structure is going to be a more attractive one,” says Chess. “It’s no longer necessary to have a $300 console system — or even a $150 portable system.”
Fortnite offers a cross-play experience with PCs, Macs, and game consoles. This means that gamers can have one account for the game, then play it on all of the devices they have. As 5G becomes more prevalent and digital experiences begin to blend in with one another, it’s vital for marketers of all stripes to employ a process called identity resolution. This means that you can effectively market to real humans across all the devices they use, whether you’re an app developer, an agency, or a shoe brand.
Despite the cross-platform functionality, there are very few tradeoffs in Fortnite’s. Gamers can have similar experiences, regardless of platform.
The bottom line: Fortnite provides utility. That utility is “fun.”
You can have a technically flawless app, but if it doesn’t solve a problem or offer utility, it won’t gain traction. That’s the ultimate lesson of Fortnite: it provides a generation of users a fun, creative sandbox to play in, and it keeps that sandbox fresh and rewards its most hardcore fans.