How Fortnite Became the Game of a Generation

How Fortnite Became The Game Of A Generation
Yale Buchwald

After a long day of classes at NYU this past February, I came home exhausted and hungry. As I cooked dinner in my apartment, I thought about perusing Netflix on my computer for some light entertainment. With my plate in hand, I entered the living room and sat down at the table, to find my roommate playing an unfamiliar video game on the TV. I was transfixed. It seemed to be a “shooting game,” but the colors were so bright and inviting. “What is this?” I asked him. “It’s called Fortnite,” replied my roommate.

“It’s the new big game. Chance The Rapper is even playing it.”

After watching him play, I was hooked. The game is like Call of Duty mixed with the survival of the fittest aspect of “The Hunger Games,” and you play against real people. In the most popular mode of the game, “Battle Royale,” 100 players air-drop out of a moving plane and parachute down to a vast world. With a huge map containing cities, rivers, and forests, the goal is to find weapons quickly and try to stay alive: the last man standing wins.

Aside from being the best video game I’ve ever played, one thing’s for sure: Fortnite is the defining video game of Gen Z. It earned $2.4 billion in 2018, setting a record for the highest annual revenue of any game in history. Epic Games’ master- piece of a game is as influential to Gen Z as Super Smash Bros was to ‘90s kids, and Pong to the generation before. Here’s why Fortnite resonates so well with Gen Z, and why marketers should take note of the phenomenon:

1. Fortnite Understands its Audience

When you play the classic “Battle Royale”, there’s a waiting room before the actual game begins. In it, all 100 players are free to test their aim, break trees and buildings, or dance. The dances are remarkable because they’re all culturally relevant. So much so that Gen Zers love to perform the dances IRL. BuzzFeed even made video of professional dancers trying some Fortnite dances and garnered 14 million plays. Now take the popular Instagrammer Roy Purdy for instance. With over 3 million followers, Roy became well known for a certain dance move. This past March, Fortnite launched the #BoogieDown competition, which encouraged fans to submit videos of themselves creating new dance moves. The best submissions would be added to the game. Roy Purdy, of course, submitted his dance, and Fortnite added his winning dance to the game.

Fortnite was able to understand its users and co-created a cultural phenomenon with them. The takeaway: Creating culture is better than trying to catch up to trends.

2. Everyone Loves to Play, Including Celebs

Fortnite isn’t just played by teens and college students. Celebrities of all ages are just as easily hooked. In March 2018, the Internet blew up when pop superstar Drake decided to stream himself playing. Drake teamed up with pro-gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, NFL rookie- turned-gamer JuJu Smith-Schuster, and fellow rapper Travis Scott. Their stream garnering 628,000 viewers. The takeaway: Once a celebrity organically interacts with your brand or product, find ways to maintain the relationship.

3. It's Fun to be a Spectator

As I mentioned earlier, I was a deer caught in the headlights when I first watched my room- mate play Fortnite. I never thought I could be so entertained watching someone else play a video game. But as a viewer, I learn new strategies for gameplay, and can even help my roommate by being his “eyes and ears.” I’m not the only one that doesn’t mind being a Fortnite spectator: hundreds of thousands of viewers tune into Ninja’s streams. There are even in-person Fortnite tournaments, like “Fortnite Pro-Am,” where hundreds of fans gather in stadiums to watch others play the game.

The takeaway: Look at your product from all angles. Fortnite isn’t just a video game; it’s stealing share from video streaming services while offering a source of community.

Whether it’s creating buzz through dance moves, taking advantage of star power, or looking at their product from all angles, Fortnite knows that the best way to capitalize on culture—especially with Gen Z—is to create it.