Fortnite Battle Royale is on top of the world. Not only is Epic’s battle royale game the most-watched game on Twitch, but it displaced 2017’s big ticket game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a game that spent the better part of last year dominating the video game industry. How did Fortnite go from an also-ran battle royale game to top dog on Twitch?
Nothing highlights Fortnite’s incredible Twitch success than last week when Fortnite Battle Royale streamer and Twitch star “Ninja” played a game of Battle Royale with hip-hop superstar Drake. The two broke Twitch’s viewing records in the process. That kind of organic-feeling, mainstream exposure is hard to come by in gaming when celebrity endorsements often feel like marketing stunts.
So how did Fortnite do it? How did Fortnite beat PUBG, 2017’s hottest game and dominate 2018 when everyone expected PUBG to continue bulldozing the games industry? Well, it might actually boil down to just a few factors, but key among them is the fact that Fortnite Battle Royale is simply more accessible. And that accessibility is great fodder for Twitch streamers.
Fortnite Battle Royale launched in September 2017 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC as part of an early-access release. Oh, and it was released for free. Just like that, Fortnite Battle Royale had obvious advantages to PUBG, but the ramifications of it ran deeper than just cheaper (free) and more accessible (console launch).
Imagine for a moment you’re a console gamer in 2017. You’ve been hearing about a game called PUBG from all your friends and you’ve been watching big personalities on Twitch streaming it on a regular basis. But let’s say you don’t have a gaming PC capable of handling PUBG, or just 30 bucks lying around to buy an Early Access copy. Then along comes Fortnite Battle Royale, which promises the same kind of gameplay as the biggest game of 2017, only on a console you own and for the low, low price of nothing.
It might even be safe to say that at the onset, the popularity of PUBG helped grow Fortnite Battle Royale, only because it gave players who couldn’t overcome PUBG’s barrier of entry an alternative. But getting into the hands of battle royale starved gamers is one thing, how did Fortnite overtake PUBG in sheer interest, at least from people who watch Twitch?
I spoke to Amanda “Curvyllama” DeFrance, a partnered streamer with Twitch. DeFrance has close to 2 million views on her channel, almost 100,000 subscribers, and she now primarily streams Fortnite Battle Royale after streaming games like H1Z1 and PUBG in the past. She first noticed Fortnite Battle Royale coming up on Twitch about six months ago, and her community latched onto Epic’s entry into the battle royale genre fairly quickly.
“I used to play H1Z1, which is another battle royale game, and that’s the whole reason why I turned to Fortnite. It’s very arcade-y. It’s fast-paced and it’s not very serious. I dabbled with [PUBG] for a little bit and I liked it, but it was just too slow.”
DeFrance says that Fortnite’s advantages over PUBG comes down to just how fast the game actually works. “I think people just really like it because it’s fast-paced… You can land, you can get looted in five minutes, not even, and be right in the action. While in PUBG you land, you loot for 20 minutes, and you see one person and die from a sniper you don’t even see.”
That high-intensity, fast-pace is good for streamers since it keeps the action rolling, and the audience engaged. And now that Drake is tweeting about playing Fortnite Battle Royale, DeFrance sees the game on the cusp of an even bigger blow-up.
“It was probably like two months into me streaming [Fortnite Battle Royale], it was me and a handful of other people—like a lot of people were [streaming] it—but not like how it is now. It wasn’t overnight, but this Drake thing blew it up tenfold,” notes DeFrance. “It was already big but now that Drake tweeted it out to his millions of followers it’s bringing people who didn’t know about Twitch or the platform.”
Towards the end of our conversation, DeFrance said something that highlighted another huge difference between PUBG and Fortnite Battle Royale, and it had to do with just the content and variety that Fortnite Battle Royale offers on a more regular basis. “The devs are really good at pushing new things out and fixing things quickly that’s really important to us,” says Amanda. “Especially the new patches, they’re just coming up with new ideas left and right.”
In the past few months Fortnite Battle Royale offered several limited events like 50 vs. 50 modes, 20 vs. 20 vs. 20 vs. 20 vs. 20 modes, and so on. It feels like each week there’s always something new to win or play or unlock in Fortnite Battle Royale. It keeps the same game fresh, and gives veteran Fortnite streamers a reason to keep tuning into Battle Royale, and streaming the latest updates for their viewers.
PUBG Corp. doesn’t have to introduce outlandish modes every few weeks or things like jetpacks as that would run counter to the game’s identity as a hardcore, simulation game. But the devs appear to admit that there is a benefit to regular content updates, especially against a dev team that seemingly adds new content at random.
It’s why PUBG Corp. promised a two month development cycle for new updates moving forward. But thanks to Epic’s rapid update cycle of its own, the viewers invested in Fortnite know that there’s only a few weeks until something new shakes up the Battle Royale scene.
I asked DeFrance if Fortnite is her main priority right now, at least when it comes to the games she streams. “I’m pretty addicted to it, I’m addicted to shooters, but I don’t see myself changing anytime soon unless there’s something that really grabs my attention,” says Amanda. “Right now I just don’t see that. [Fortnite is] everything that I want in a game.”
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