Even if you’re not a gamer, chances are you’re aware of the global phenomenon that is Fortnite. But as the game makes the transition from at home hobby to global culture brand, there’s a fascinating story to be told about Fortnite from a marketing and customer-experience perspective, which explains why it has captured the attention and hearts of its audience in under two years.
Since Fortnite’s launch in July 2017, the growth of the Epic Games property has been spectacular, with over 200 million registered players reportedly spending between six and 10 hours in the game every week—metrics any marketer would kill for (and probably do if they’re a Fortnite addict). It’s also created bonafide celebrities; with Fortnite star Ninja boasting over 13 million followers alone on streaming channel Twitch.
But what’s really interesting from a marketing perspective is that this world, with its own language and bizarre dance moves, has moved from a simple idea executed well with a clean onboarding journey into a platform that is continually looking for co-creation and partnership opportunities. If you’re one of those who tuned into DJ Marshmellow’s in-game Fortnite concert, you’ll have immediately seen the opportunity for brands to reach a captivated global audience.
This isn’t just confined to Fortnite’s gaming world, either. Within hours of the gig, Marshmellow and Bastille’s collaboration ‘Happier’ jumped to No. 2 in the US Billboard chart. While they may not be the first crossover in this space—those of you with longer memories may recall that Duran Duran once played a gig in Second Life—it shows how Fortnite has created a brand with social currency that has spawned beyond the gaming world, coming to life as a subculture of a generation.
It’s important marketers look beyond the obvious Fortnite and gaming insights, especially considering Google’s recent Stadia announcement, if they want to sell to Millennials and Gen Z. There’s a lot about Epic Games' approach to continually engage and grow its audience that our industry could learn a lot from. These would be my five top takeaways.
1. Seamless onboarding
The entry point to the game is remarkably simple—and, of course, free. Within minutes you are in the game, gliding into your first Battle Royale, without any complex or tedious onboarding guidance.
The UX allows you to investigate the layers of the game in your own time, but like any good relationship, it doesn’t come on too strong in the early days. The onboarding is a lot more pull than push. Brands who bombard customers with communications after a purchase may want to give this some thought.
2. Community first
Fortnite’s community is, if anything, more important than the game itself. Once you remove the ability to team up with other players, chat, build your own structures, and dance around, you’re left with a product that wouldn’t have many differentiating features from its competitors.
Fortnite’s confidence in allowing the community to define the brand is bold, but one a lot of other companies could learn from. Your product doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and often some of the best ideas come from your most engaged or passionate customers—or simply from understanding the conversations customers have around how they use and perceive your brand.
3. Personalisation at the core
Fortnite has its own unique way of allowing users to cultivate their own digital identity. And it’s a serious business. Just ask my son, who almost had a meltdown when I set up his gamer name as “folk muffin” (it was quickly retyped as “DareDevil”).
But what’s really impressive is how Epic Games is monetising personalisation. The core revenue driver isn’t the game, as almost 60% of spend within Fortnite goes to character outfits, which have no real gaming advantages, but help the character express their identity.
The average spend of a Fortnite gamer is US$85, and analytics firm Sensor Tower suggests the game is making an average of US$1 million every day. That doesn’t include the other economies that have sprung up around Fortnite, such as the 25% of players who pay Twitch Prime Subscriptions to watch others play.
4. Purpose-built for the influencer
Authenticity is one of the biggest buzzwords when it comes to influencer marketing, and Fortnite has this in spades. Epic ignores the traditional marketing playbook, cultivates a hyper-influencer following and letts the fanbase do the work.
Fortnite has actively enabled the creation of celebrity status, but also understands the community around the game. Gamers watch, play, chat and experience the game with influencers across multiple platforms, both inside and outside the game, and add the crucial level of authenticity Fortnite needs to gain cultural capital. It’s not forced, unlike some brands’ attempts to create online culture.
And it’s paying off. Twitch’s top 10 influencers maintain over 23 million followers cumulatively and seven out of the 10 feature Fortnite livestreams on their channels. One, Ninja, has 11.4 million YouTube subscribers. As a side note, Twitch was purchased by Amazon in 2014 for a cool $970 million.
5. Constant co-creation
Fortnite’s final strength is how it embraces the feedback from its community and changes its approach all the time based on how the community reacts. It’s co-creation on steroids.
Epic Games development teams are on Reddit, YouTube, Instagram—any platform where they can collaborate with their community but, crucially, put user needs firsts. Not every brand needs to go to the level that Fortnite does, but they shouldn’t be afraid of responding and interacting with their most committed customers with the user needs at the core.
The list of updates, upgrades and challenges is endless and constant. Interestingly one challenge series, 14 Days of Fortnite, was carefully built around accumulating rewards for consecutive visits. From a marketing perspective this is a really smart way to build frequency of repeat engagement.
So, these five core principles deepen player engagement and build advocates of the Fortnite culture. Naturally, it follows that the volume of people joining, staying and coming back for more continues to gather momentum. These are the same marketing challenges we are trying to solve every day for our brands—how to get, keep and grow our customers by delivering an awesome CX.
And a final note. As marketers we can’t afford to ignore the likes of Fortnite, Pokemon Go or Minecraft-style phenomema. They challenge our marketing playbooks and give us a real insight into how people are choosing to communicate, spend their time and interact with brands. So next time you’re asked, 'How can we build repeat sales', ask yourself 'What would Fortnite do?'.
Claire Webber is senior CX strategist with MercerBell Australia.