Far Cry 5 and Sea of Thieves may be major topics of conversation this week, but there's no question that the biggest story going is Fortnite Battle Royale. Epic's battle royale shooter has gone from success to sensation over the past month, capturing the attention of high-profile stars and school children alike.
It's not hard to see why it's become so successful so quickly. Epic's famous pivot came right as interest in battle royale shooters was peaking, and being free-to-play made it possible to establish itself as a legitimate competitor with PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. It was further aided by PUBG's cheating problems, comparative lack of updates, and glitches.
It also managed to get the kids. Because it was free and reasonably non-violent, Fortnite Battle Royale immediately became a major hit among children. When it arrived on mobile, it began spilling over into schools. Kotaku recently reported on this phenemenon:
"There has been a rise in the number of incidents with students walking into classes while playing the games," Nick Gutierrez, a high school computer science teacher, told Kotaku. "They started a match during lunch, or before school, and need to finish the 10-15 long matches. I have noticed in my room students siting next to each other trying to play while pretending to do work."
Fortnite Battle Royale is only the latest game to take over schools, following in the footsteps of old favorites like Pokemon. But it has some notable similarities to another generational favorite: Minecraft.
The game that built Notch a mansion in Beverly Hills is nearly seven years old now, and has been released on nearly every conceivable platform. It has raised a generation of gamers on free-to-play sandboxes with colorful graphics and lots of freedom, and continues to dominate among young children. The kids who are playing Fortnite Battle Royale on their phones are the ones who grew up playing Minecraft on laptops, tablets, and consoles.
So it's no surprise that Fortnite Battle Royale has immediately clicked with this generation. Its friendly-looking art isn't quite as blocky as Minecraft, but it still has that friendly, cartoonish look to it. Its building mechanic is immediately intuitive to anyone who has ever spent much time in Minecraft's sandbox. And now its on mobile—the gateway to gaming for millions of kids born after 2000.
Of course, Fortnite was always betting on its Minecraft connection to win over players. As originally conceived, Fortnite was a PvE tower defense game in which you built forts to fend off waves of zombies, making it in effect "Minecraft with guns." It was fun, but it had a whiff of "been there, done that" to it.
It took a genre shift for Fornite to realize the success it was seeking. While it latched firmly on the coattails of PUBG, it wisely retained its connections to Minecraft. As a result, Fortnite has managed to effectively pull a "Blizzard" on PUBG within months of its release and steal away an entire genre. PUBG may yet recover some of its momentum, but there's no question that Fortnite Battle Royale is in the driver's seat now.
It's hard to understate its success thus far in 2018. It was up to 40 million downloads by January, with revenue exceeding $126 million in February. Fortnite's mobile version is invite-only and limited to iOS, but that hasn't stopped it from being the sixth highest grossing game in the U.S.
Its momentum is only going to grow as the summer arrives and kids finish up school. A representative from one major publisher recently told me that blockbuster games could see sales drop as much as 20 percent because of Fornite Battle Royale.
Whenever a game breaks out like this, we ask what the next big thing will be. Often it's a game no one was expecting. While every developer was trying to rush in and copy World of WarCraft, League of Legends was busy stealing away players in droves. Military shooter copycats are now playing catch-up with the battle royale genre.
Fortnite Battle Royale found success not just by borrowing from PUBG, but by building on the immensely successful concepts introduced by Minecraft. And in so doing, it may have just become its unexpected successor.
This Week's Notable Releases
- Far Cry 5 [March 27]: Far Cry is back in all of its messy glory, this time moving the setting to scenic Hope County, Montana. Reviews have been up and down so far, with many focusing on the story. Mike liked the gameplay in his own Far Cry 5 review, though, and that was ultimately what swayed him. Nevertheless, this looks to be a controversial one. You can check out our Far Cry 5 guides here.
- The Alliance Alive [March 27]: If you liked 2015's Legend of Legacy, then you may want to check out The Alliance Alive for the 3DS, which also aims to revive the classic JRPG. Featuring a scenario by Suikoden's Yoshitaka Murayama, The Alliance Alive is a turn-based RPG with a three-by-five grid in which you can arrange your party in different formations. Like its predecessor, it's apt to fly under the radar owing to its hardcore premise and choice of platform, but the names attached to it should earn it notice among RPG fans.
- MLB The Show 18 [March 27]: The latest in the annual baseball series arrives tomorrow, though it's technically been available to anyone who has preordered for several days ago. As always, it's a gorgeous looking baseball sim, though it appears to be dogged once again by server problems. You can check out my MLB The Show 18 review so far, as well as our MLB The Show 18 guides.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: The Kingdom to Come from Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
There's a lot I like about Ni No Kuni 2 but there are several things I don't like about it as well. Hopefully I'l get a chance to write about 'em in detail sometime soon. My schedule this week is just jam-packed, though. [Fans self]
I don't have much of a problem with Ni No Kuni 2's soundtrack, though. I'm not raring to download the whole thing, but there's not much wrong with what's here. I'm especially partial to the gentle acoustic version of the Ni No Kuni theme that flows through the windblown plains that currently serve as my fledgling kingdom. It's so nice and breezy.
I just hope it doesn't morph into something shrill and grating as my kingdom becomes bigger. Sigh, I love you Suikoden 2, but man, your level 2 castle theme is...something else. Thanks for that screechy flute solo.
Mike's Media Minute
Pacific Rim Uprising became the film to end Black Panther's streak at the box office, shoving the king of Wakanda into second place after five weeks on top. Uprising only bowed to the tune of $28 million for the weekend, which was actually ahead of estimates. The film also reached its budget, taking in $150 million worldwide; unfortunately, it likely needs to double that to get into the black.
Even if its been taken down to second place, this weekend was enough to push Black Panther to the top domestically. It's now the highest-growing superhero film in the United States, taking Marvel's own The Avengers down from the top spot. At $630 million in the US, Black Panther is also the fifth biggest film ever domestically. Worldwide, the film is already at $1.2 billion, and there's still a bit of room left to beat Beauty and the Beast and Frozen, both also Disney films.
Tomb Raider is currently on its way to potentially beating the previous films' worldwide take with $211 million in the bank currently. The very first Tomb Raider adaptation reached $274 million. The new film has already turned a profit, but it remains to be seen whether Hollywood will consider a sequel.
This Week's News and Notes
- Unionization was a hot button topic at this year's GDC, with multiple outlets publishing editorials in the wake of IGDA director Jen Maclean's comments on the issue. These issues go back more than a decade, but they continue to flare up amid rising development times, studio closures, and general instability. More people than ever are playing video games, but competition is ferocious, and developers are being pushed to their limits.
Unfortunately, it's never been harder for an industry to organize than now. The lack of federal protections make it possible for employers to instantly outsource positions like QA, and the inherent desirability of game development means that there are always fresh workers. If game developers wish to organize en masse, they will face a massive uphill climb.
- In the wake of GDC, Caty posted 13 indies that are on our radar. I think my favorite of them is Carrion. As Caty puts it, "This game shreds."
- Sea of Thieves cause an uproar with its Death Tax, which prompted its immediate removal. But that's not going to mitigate its general problems. There's no doubt that Sea of Thieves is an immensely cool experience, but it's very much in the "It might be good in a few years" category that service games seem to fall into these days.
- I still haven't gotten over the craziness of Ni No Kuni 2's opening. It was fantastic. I only wish that the rest of the game had done a better job of doing it justice.
- The USgamer Podcast: We weren't able to spare the resources for a podcast last week with the craziness of GDC. Boo! You should still follow us though. Subscribe here!
- Axe of the Blood God: Nadia and I talk Bard's Tale IV, Ultima Online, and Zanki Zero in the latest episode of the RPG podcast. In addition, Nadia recently picked up a copy of Ni No Kuni 2 for herself, and she has has some thoughts on why mice should never be evil. Subscribe here!