Fortnite is a global sensation that has managed to expand on its early success through insane marketing campaigns.
Their product, Fortnite: Battle Royale, keeps evolving and has the ability to keep its users engaged and on the platform by consistently generating new content and addictive features.
However, Fortnite is never short of controversy. Their publishers, Epic Games, have made some risky moves in the past that have caused them to lose customers.
Yet, Fortnite remains at the top of their game despite criticism, backlash, lawsuits, and more.
There are some excellent marketing lessons that we can take away from Fortnite’s wins and losses. Like how Fortnite’s “free-to-play” model allowed them to grow their platform to over 100-million users within a year!
So let’s take a closer look at the rise and fall of a marketing giant, FORTNITE.
- Eye on the Target! How Fortnite Took Over the Market
- RPG Ahead! How Fortnite Blew up into a Global Phenomenon
- Man Down! Fortnite’s Demise
- Respawn – Fortnite is Here To Stay!
- #FORTNITECOMBINE Giveaway Case Study
- Creating a Fortnite Giveaway with VYPER
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Eye on the Target! How Fortnite Took Over the Market
Fortnite was first released in 2017 (Fortnite: Save the World) as a shooter-survival game. The objective of the game is to defend places and objects from zombie-like creatures.
The graphics are cartoony, and the gameplay, cheesy.
Fortnite: Save the World is a decent game overall that was moderately successful for Epic Games (publisher).
However, it was nowhere near as successful as PUBG, an online multiplayer game based on the battle royale (last man standing) format.
Pivoting to a Different market
PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds) was released in 2016 and was an instant hit. The game grew exceptionally through to 2017.
Gamers loved the battle royale format that had 100 players go up against each other. Players must loot for weapons and fight until the last man standing (the winner of the match).
Epic Games saw the potential in the battle royale genre and decided to develop a similar game mode for Fortnite.
Fortnite: Battle Royale was then released towards the end of 2017 to compete with PUBG and other similar games. At that point, there were little to no competitors in that market. There was also a decent amount of interest in the battle royale genre.
Getting Ahead of the Competition
Fortnite entered the battle royale genre with a game that was very similar in concept to PUBG – 100 players fighting until only 1 player is left. Imagine PUBG, but with cartoony graphics!
However, Fortnite included a crucial game-changing (excuse the pun!) feature that would revolutionize the genre – The ability to build structures on the fly.
Being able to build a structure between you and an opponent instantly gives you a better fighting chance. You could also build stairs to approach your opponents from higher ground, giving you the advantage.
The build feature instantly improved Fortnite’s gameplay, which made the game more appealing than PUBG.
Another crucial feature that made Fortnite even more appealing was that it was completely FREE to play. (freemium model)
The Power of FREE
PUBG is available on multiple platforms, like Steam, PC, Xbox, Playstation, etc. You had to buy the game first before you can jump into the action.
With Fortnite, gamers can download the game for free on various supported platforms and play as much as they want without spending anything!
All options and features are available to free users.
So how did Fortnite manage to monetize their game?
Microtransactions allow players to purchase in-game skins, items, emotes, and access to Battle Pass. You can spend real cash to buy V-Bucks, Fortnite’s game currency, which can then be used in the item shop.
This free-to-play model allowed Fortnite to grow their userbase to more than 125 million players within a year.
A big part of those players spends money to gain access to the battle pass. So having paid features within the freemium is how they made millions!
Players also spend money to purchase rare and unique skins in the item shop so they can look cool on the battlefield.
This strategy worked so well for Fortnite, as they were able to generate $1.8 billion in 2019.
PUBG followed a similar strategy in 2018 by introducing their own versions of microtransactions and battle pass (Elite Royale Pass).
Key Takeaways – Fortnite’s Early Success
- Minimum Viable Product – Developed and released a product (Fortnite: Save the World) into a niche genre with low competition, only to achieve moderate success.
- Same product, different market – Adapted their existing product (Fortnite: Battle Royale) for a different market that already had a major competitor (PUBG) leading that space.
- Creating features like no other – Epic Games further tweaked their product (Fortnite: Battle Royale) by including additional features that instantly made their product more appealing than market leader PUBG.
- The power of FREE – Fortnite took over the market after acquiring more than a million players within a year because of the “free-to-play” business model.
- Charge for the right feature – It was smart allowing people to play for free and get hooked on the game but then charge the “nice to have”, “addictive” and “statement”, features.
- Many reasons to keep paying – Fortnite generated billions of dollars in revenue from the sales of their in-game currency (V-Bucks), which is used to access seasonal Battle Passes and purchase exclusive items from the store. V bucks also allowed them to generate revenue as instantly, even if the play does not spend their v bucks for months into the future.
RPG Ahead! How Fortnite Blew up into a Global Phenomenon
Fortnite developed a solid platform that attracted millions of players that spent money on rare skins and emotes in the item shop.
The next step would be to grow their brand and product even further. They accomplished this by doing the following:
- Consistently evolving their product
- Influencer marketing – A product that makes for exceptional content
- Major Esports tournaments
- In-game events and virtual concerts
Always Improving the Product
Fact: Fortnite caters for an audience that’s made up of gamers that are always seeking for their next thrill.
The ability to get people to keep playing the game is essential for Fortnite’s survival.
Because of this, Fortnite continuously improves its game by constantly introducing new game modes, weapons, events, and exciting skins.
Yes, Fortnite might be the most popular game right now. However, there are plenty of gamers out there that would rather play something else.
This statement was true until the Fortnite x Batman event! In this event, players could use a Batman-themed skin and battle it out in a Gotham City-themed Fortnite map.
Many players that didn’t play Fortnite for months rushed back to the game to enjoy the Dark Knight-themed version of Fortnite.
These are the kind of partnerships and events that Fortnite creates to attract more players to their platform. They also leverage existing brands’ popularity to attract more attention (we go more into this later).
Fortnite is a Creator’s Dream!
Gamers that live stream their gameplay on platforms like Twitch and YouTube have massive audiences. Ninja, one of the most prolific Fortnite streamers, has 24 million subscribers on YouTube.
Any product or brand that gets into Ninja’s hands gains instant exposure to millions of viewers. Fortnite is at the center of all of this.
Fortnite is the machine that helps Ninja to generate content for his fans to enjoy!
The moment Fortnite launches a new exclusive skin, game mode, or event, people like ninja will immediately create content around those new releases. Millions will instantly see the content they make.
For example, when Thanos made an appearance in Fortnite, millions of people found out that you can play as Thanos from watching Ninja on YouTube.
This is an excellent example of using an influencer to notify an audience of your product updates instantly.
Want to learn more about Influencer Marketing and Influencer Giveaways? We have an in-depth post that’s filled with tons of influencer giveaway examples.
Another prolific streamer, Typical Gamer, started a secondary YouTube channel called TG Plays (in March 2020) to host highlights from his live streams.
TG practically uploads just Fortnite content to his new channel.
The TG Plays channel reached 1.64 million subscribers within 6 months!
The channel currently averages around 11k new subscribers daily. Again, Fortnite plays a considerable part in the content creation and success of TG Plays and other YouTube channels.
Fortnite always introduces fresh new content within their game that is excellent enough to engage players and spectators alike.
This is a great example of how a brand is helping advocates create content with their product to do the marketing for them. This can be interpreted and compared to affiliates or brand ambassadors.
Making Headlines Worldwide
Fortnite made the headlines of major news publications globally with its 2019 Fortnite World Cup.
Kyle Giersdorf (Bugha) walked away with the grand prize of $3 million. This is the most that any person has ever won at an esports tournament.
The tournament brought the Fortnite brand to the masses and also elevated the status of esports.
More than 40 million people competed in the tournament that had a total prize of over $30 million.
Always Collaborating – How Fortnite Mastered Special Events
Fortnite isn’t just responsible for continually improving their game, they also keep adding new content to the game.
New content like:
- Exclusive skins
- Game modes
- And more…
In other words, Fortnite knows that “content is king” and they sure know how to create the right sort of content for their game.
To ensure that they are always on top of their game, Fortnite regularly collaborates with popular franchises, brands, and celebrities.
Early in 2020, Fortnite hosted a Travis Scott Astronomical virtual concert.
The concert itself was at a specific point on the map, with users having to show up at certain times to watch the concert live.
It’s important to note that Travis Scott shared a video of the event on his YouTube channel that has 12million followers. This strategy allowed Travis Scott to introduce his audience to Fortnite and the Astronomical event introduced Fortnite players to Travis Scott.
Marshmello is also featured in a Fortnite virtual concert in 2019.
Showtimes were put up in the game’s lobby, and users simply had to show up to the concert within the battle royale map to enjoy the show.
This tactic of increasing engagement, cross-collaboration of music, and gaming had never been done before and was definitely a contributor to the success of Fortnite.
These events became extremely popular and successful, as they generated plenty of hype for the game.
Fortnite continues to host virtual concerts that feature world-class performers like Steve Aoki and Diplo.
Fortnite also regularly collaborates with movie franchises like John Wick and Suicide Squad by releasing exclusive skins and in-game challenges.
This strategy allows Fortnite to attract players to their game with famous franchises and celebrities. IT also allows them to stay relevant and keep delivering unique events that make headlines.
Key Takeaways – Fortnite, the Global Phenomenon
- Always Improving – Fortnite today isn’t what it was a few years ago. They are always introducing new content, game modes, and maps. This is an excellent strategy for brands that want to keep their customers engaged.
- Influencers love Fortnite – By continually pushing new updates and content, Fortnite not only remained relevant but they also consistently created new things that influencers can talk about. Gamers would instead show off a new skin or play a new event on one of their streams instead of merely winning the same game repeatedly. The ability to consistently push new content is one of the reasons why Fortnite is the most streamed game.
- Leveraging trends: Fortnite did a really good job of spotting trends and introducing pop culture into their games. This allowed them to gain a lot of press and attention to help organically market their product.
- Making headlines globally – Fortnite hosted a world-class esports tournament that featured some of the most massive prizes the sport has ever seen. This allowed Fortnite to make the news worldwide, giving them global exposure. This is another example of how Fortnite leveraged the press to market their product for them.
- Collaborating with other brands – Fortnite’s ability to integrate other valuable brands, franchises, and influencers is astounding. They know how to use the popularity of different brands to attract people to their own brand and acquire more users.
Man Down! Fortnite’s Demise
Fortnite enjoyed a meteoric rise in fame and popularity early in 2018. They maintained their popularity with their ability to evolve and create exceptional content for their game continually.
However, Fortnite’s likability eventually began to fade late in 2018 and started to hit all-time lows in 2019.
The above is a chart taken from Google Trends with the search term “Fortnite.”
Unfortunately, the same things (examples mentioned above) that made the game famous also attributed to its downfall.
Some of the most controversial updates in 2018 include:
- Fortnite Playgrounds
- Over-powered weapons
- Additional AI-characters
- Re-releasing exclusive skins
In June 2018, Fortnite introduced “Playground Mode,” which allowed players to free roam the Fortnite map.
For the first time, players could explore the game without pressure from other players trying to kill them. The purpose of this mode was to allow new players to practice and learn the game.
However, new players were able to exponentially improve their skill levels within a short space of time. This gave new players an edge over long-existing players, which made the game feel unfair.
Fortnite regularly introduces (and removes) different weapons to the game. They also frequently adjust the effectiveness of some weapons like the shotgun and the sub-machine gun.
Around mid-2018, Fortnite released a sub-machine gun that was just too powerful. This weapon again made the game unfair as it gave players an unfair advantage over others.
Fortnite did remove the weapon, but there were still many players who were disappointed with Fortnite’s continuous unfair decisions. A lot of which forced players to leave the game for good.
Another weapon that did spark controversy was the Infinity Blade.
Some over-powerful weapons do make the game seem unfair. The intention of a product should be to benefit all its users equally.
However, in Fortnite’s case, many of these weapons were unbalanced and gave the players that used it an unfair advantage.
This was also a good example of how Fortnite listened to it’s customers and made adjustments to improve their user experience.
Additional AI-characters and Re-introducing Rare Skins
The purpose of Fortnite: Battle Royale is for 100 players to fight each other until just one player is standing.
However, Fortnite introduced Zombies to the game to make the game more challenging.
Now, players had to fight off zombies that repeatedly interrupted gameplay. This was simply annoying for most people.
Fortnite usually keeps things exciting by periodically releasing ultra-rare skins. In other words, they profit off the fact that “you can only purchase this skin today.”
So if you wanted a particular rare skin, you had to bust out the V-Bucks and buy it right now! (FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out)
This is one of Fortnite’s most critical strategies, profiting off exclusive and rare items in their store.
However, Fortnite rereleased ultra-rare “once in a lifetime” skins. This caused an uproar among its userbase because players had to pay a premium for once-off skins, only to see it reappear in the store.
This meant that Fortnite profited off lying that the skin will never be re-released.
#FreeFortnite – Apple V Fortnite
Epic’s legal battle with Apple is probably the most controversial move that Fortnite has made to date.
Epic is suing Apple after they removed Fortnite from their App Store for violating store policies. In this case, Fortnite offered its players an alternate means to make a payment, which was not via the App Store.
Because of this, Apple could not claim their 30% cut from App Store transactions, which is why they removed the game from their platforms. Similarly, Google has also removed Fortnite from the Play Store for the same reason.
Now, iOS and Android players no longer have access to the latest version of the game.
One of the strangest things about all this is how Fortnite immediately sued Apple after they were banned. Epic Games even released a full-on campaign against Apple (see video below).
Epic orchestrated the entire anti-competitive lawsuit by intentionally getting banned by Apple.
They might have good intentions, but they did decide to sacrifice a third of their users (iOS and Android players) to make their point.
Key Takeaways – Fortnite’s Demise
Lets recap on some of those costly mistakes that Fortnite made and see what your business can do to avoid these mistakes.
Fortnite regularly introduced new game modes and weapons to the game that gave new players an edge over older players. The intention might have been to “make things more exciting,” but long time paying customers were disappointed.
This is similar to a business that creates a product or service that is of more value to some customers over others.
E.g. including additional features and perks for B2B clients only. You don’t want to make your customers feel like they are being treated unfairly.
Adding zombies to the game didn’t make the game more challenging. It only annoyed players.
Bad updates aren’t just a software thing. Businesses regularly update their policies which can directly affect its customers.
E.g. A business that decides to no longer accept cheques or cash. This can annoy and inconvenience long time customers.
Fortnite took more money for ultra-rare skins (which you only had one chance to get). This is perfectly fine until you re-release those skins, breaking your promise and making your brand look like it intentionally lied to make extra money.
Its common for businesses to not meet expectations. However, if you plan to profit out of a promise you made, then going against what you said will make you look like you cheated your customers out of their money.
E.g. Charging a customer for an accessory or additional item that they should have gotten for free.
Making bold moves at the expense of the customer
The Apple V Fortnite lawsuit will benefit a ton of developers on the App Store if Fortnite wins. Fortnite was brave to stand up for what they think is right. However, their actions have caused a third of their userbase to suffer the consequences of the Apple ban.
Apps regularly get taken down because of non-compliance, funding, or bad partnerships. A business’s decisions should always try to keep the consumer in mind.
E.g. A popular social media management app had to shut down this year because of its poor management. It wasn’t able to refund any customer memberships or offer an alternative service. This left customers feeling bitter.
Always making a statement
The one thing we can appreciate about the Apple ban is the #FreeFortnite campaign that was swiftly launched right after the ban. Fortnite released a video (that parodied an old Apple video) and hosted a #FreeFortntie Cup with exclusive skins. Fortnite is always working on its brand, even during dire times!
The one positive thing that we can take from Fortnite’s woes is that they are always up for the challenge and ready to turn almost any issue into a PR campaign.
Spotify is another company that also made a bold PR campaign against the anti-competitive nature of Apple.
Respawn – Fortnite is Here To Stay!
Fortnite is no stranger to controversy or bad publicity, which is why the game still continues to remain popular for gamers. Epic always seems to take its challenges and any kind of negativity in its stride.
As mentioned before, the Fortnite franchise may not be the most beloved franchise for hardcore gamers. Yet, Fortnite remains one of the most popular games in the world today.
Fortnite’s popularity can be attributed to some of the following reasons:
- It’s Free to play and has cheap features – If you purchase a game console (like a Playstation), you can download Fortnite for free and play immediately. Access to the Battle Pass is under $10 and gets you plenty of perks for an entire season.
- Anyone can get caught up in it – Fortnite’s regular updates include skins from franchises like Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, and more. There’s always something in the game for everyone. Can you resist playing as John Wick? Or gliding on a TIE fighter with Kylo Ren?
- Fortnite is cool – Despite receiving criticism, the game is still popular with most streamers and casual gamers. Kids are drawn to the game and its many antics and endless challenges.
- Constantly evolving – Fortnite is always trying to make their game more interesting for its players. They achieve this by developing new game modes or tweaking the current format (adding drivable cars, helicopters, and boats).
Building a Community Around Your Brand
Epic’s most outstanding achievement to date was building a like-minded community around its brand and products.
Millions of people take part in Fortnite together to unlock unique new skins. Fortnite has hosted an event that features a bunch of Marvel superheroes and villains, with a storyline that’s right out of the comics.
Fortnite achieved this by:
- Carefully considering feedback from its users.
- Timing their events carefully so that everyone takes part around the same time or misses out. This is crucial if you want people to talk about an event you help for a limited time.
- Being consistent in producing new content and always ready to impress its users. Fortnite doesn’t mind taking in its success in small doses, as long as their efforts always outdo previous efforts.
#FORTNITECOMBINE Giveaway Case Study
- Host: Epic Games
- Campaign Type: Contest/Giveaway
- Entry Method: Submit media (screenshot or video) to enter
- Prize: Special Edition Fortnite Xbox Controller
Epic Games hosted their very own Fortnite giveaway on Twitter. Entrants were requested to play the Fortnite Combine Challenge, take a screenshot of their high score, then post it on Twitter with the hashtag #FortniteCombine.
10 winners were selected at random, and each received a prize – Xbox Wireless Controller.
- Hosted the giveaway on social media to boost engagement and followers
- Plenty of user-generated content that included video gameplay and screenshots of people winning the challenge. Such media from users can encourage others to play the game.
- The entry method forced users to play Fortnite to enter. No need to buy the game as it is free-to-play.
- A special edition Fortnite Xbox Controller is an excellent prize. Even players that already have controllers will still enter to win this controller, which is usable on multiple platforms like PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
- Dedicated page for the giveaway. Helps in boosting website traffic – Fortnite Combine Giveaway on Epic Games
Creating a Fortnite Giveaway with VYPER
The Fortnite Combine Giveaway is an excellent example of using a giveaway to achieve multiple goals. Entrants had to play the game and engage with Fortnite on Twitter to enter.
We liked this Fortnite giveaway idea so much that we created a similar demo Fortnite giveaway using VYPER.
To celebrate two events (Fortnite Nexus War and Sony PS5 Launch), Fortnite is giving away brand new PS5s and custom game controllers.
Entrants must earn a Victory Royale in an Ironman skin, take a screenshot, then upload it to the giveaway to win.
We also included more ways to win by allowing entrants to complete Bonus Actions to earn points. The top 20 entrants with the most points will win a custom Fortnite controller.
Bonus Actions can be simple tasks like referring more people to enter the giveaway or engaging with Fortnite on social media.
To complete a bonus action, entrants must click on one of the blocks on the left. This will lead them to a page with instructions on how to complete the task.
Once the task is completed, the task’s points will be allocated to the entrant’s name. They can continue to earn more points by completing more tasks.
Bonus Actions Examples:
Some of the most important bonus actions you should include are:
- Refers friends – Your giveaway entrants will have a good understanding of someone they think will be interested in your giveaway. They can then earn points for inviting that person.
- Social Media Engagement – Get entrants to tag, like, or share your social media posts. This is essential for any giveaway as it can help you improve your social media presence and followers.
- App Download – Allow entrants to earn points after downloading your app.
Fortnite has managed to grow its brand consistently from scratch over the course of just a few years. They started with a minimum viable product, tweaked the product for a different market, and then relentlessly updated and promoted it.
Constant updates, brand collabs, and new content allowed Fortnite to engage and maintain its customers. However, the brand did suffer some significant losses from their poor decisions and their lawsuit with Apple.
Yet, Fortnite has managed to take on any challenge that comes in its way and always finds a way to preserve it in the end. Hopefully, these lessons can inspire us to push our brands to the limit.
Are you a fan of Fortnite’s marketing? Did any of their strategies inspire you recently? Let us know in the comments below.
Jack Paxton is the co-founder of VYPER, a marketing tool that helps brands build email lists, social followings, and revenue using viral giveaways, referral, and reward programs. After millions of dollars spent testing different marketing strategies at his marketing agency. He then also co-founded Hyax a fast, conversion & design-focused course and funnel builder for creators.