Fortnite. The wildly popular online video game has quietly become one of the planet’s biggest social networks. Not in a traditional sense, of course. Fortnite Battle Royale is, first and foremost, a last-man-standing, shooter-style game, especially popular among teens and twentysomethings. (Disclaimer here: I’m not a hardcore Fortnite player, though I know plenty of people who are.) In the game, 100 players at a time jump out of a flying bus and onto an island. Combatants are left to duke it out, Hunger Games-style, with a variety of weapons, armor, “healables,” and other tools at their disposal. Though the premise is violent, the game itself really isn’t, with none of the gore or blood of more graphic offerings. Eventually, the final combatant claims the coveted “Victory Royale.” All told, each match lasts around 20 minutes.
But while players are waiting to be airlifted to the next battle–and even while all this slaying is going on–they’re also chatting. A lot. Built-in voice chat encourages a running dialogue between players, who can go it solo or join up with friends. And conversation isn’t all about “chug jugs” and “shield potions.” Friends talk about their day at school. New relationships form as players interact. In this respect, Fortnite has evolved into the classic “third space”–a place that’s not home and not school, where kids can get together free v bucks generator and socialize on their own terms. It’s essentially the new mall (and 1 in 4 players is female, a gender ratio rare in online gaming).
The game is also a massive money maker, boasting a $3 billion profit in 2018. While it’s free to play across platforms (something unique for a AAA game with a massive budget), Fortnite makes money from optional in-game purchases by players. Average annual revenue per user (ARPU) is reported to be nearly $100. For perspective, this is more than Google ($27), Facebook ($19), Twitter ($8) and Snapchat ($3), combined.
This got me thinking. In Fortnite, users have found a platform far more addictive–and far more social, for that matter–than many social networks. So what lessons can the traditional social networks out there take from all of this?
SOCIALIZING IS WAY MORE FUN WHEN YOU’RE DOING STUFF
This seems so obvious when you think about it. From the dawn of time, people have socialized while doing something else–over a meal, on the job, while shopping, at church, etc. Then social networks came along and introduced the idea of “being social” as something you do in isolation–indeed, at the expense of anything else. The main thing to do on Facebook is scroll through your feed alone. Ditto for Instagram and Twitter. In some ways, it’s an eerie suspension of real life, rather than an extension of it.
But on Fortnite, socializing is a natural corollary to something else. You’re waiting for the battle bus to pick you up for the next game and busting dance moves. Or you’re frantically trying to build a fort or ramp or tower. And the conversation just flows. “One minute I’ll be talking about my day, some coding problem, or something else, then it’s interrupted by me screaming, ‘WATCH OUT FOR THE SNIPER AT 250,’ and everyone scrambling to stay alive,” Charged blogger and tech writer Owen Williams explains.
This same notion of “social” as a complement to something else rather than the primary focus is also evident in the success of Twitch, where 15 million daily active users spend an average of 90 minutes every day tuning in to chat while watching other people play video games. Not that this idea is altogether lost on traditional social networks: Facebook Live and other live-streaming platforms, where users are able to watch and comment, come closest to replicating this dynamic. It’s just that we need a lot more of it.