There’s an epidemic sweeping schools and your child could be next. Kids everywhere are challenging each other to do something called the Orange Crush. Some are even filming themselves doing it and posting it onto YouTube.
Thankfully, you don’t have to bring in a drug counsellor if you catch them in the act. In fact, you might be tempted to get them a tutor.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to get onto YouTube for a crash course. Not only will you gain an appreciation of bizarre dance moves – you’ll also learn all about a cultural phenomenon that’s sweeping playgrounds and sports fields everywhere.
Welcome to the crazy, colourful world of Fortnite: Battle Royale, a video game so popular that it comes with a warning not to play it in the classroom. The premise is Hunger Games with wacky costumes and victory dances – you are dropped on an island along with 99 other players, and have to emerge as the last one standing.
Since the start of this year, this irreverent survival game has inspired countless dance challenges and gameplay videos. As of June, 125 million people had installed the game on their devices, earning the developers Epic Games an estimated $1-billion in in-app purchases. The game has the record for most viewed stream on the streaming service Twitch and has just launched its own $100 million sports league.
Not bad for a game that was released barely a year ago. It’s a success trajectory that even the usual suspects – Uber, Facebook and so on – would be envious of.
So what is it about Fortnite that’s made it the hottest topic in playgrounds and boardrooms alike? And what can other businesses take away from its phenomenal success?
From platform games to the platform economy
Fortnite is a game that’s fun, fast and addictive – but that’s not the sole reason for its success. What’s more noteworthy is how well it manages to tap into the larger cultural changes transforming business and society, right down to which platforms it’s on.
Hang around any gamer long enough and you might hear the term console wars, referring to the fierce rivalries that have emerged among fans of specific consoles, fuelled by exclusive content and a lack of hardware interoperability. Apple vs Android, anyone?
Fortnite doesn’t care about console wars. The game runs on everything from a high-end gaming computer to a cellphone with iOS. The developers understand that in a platform economy, being able to operate on as many consoles as possible is a feature, not a bug. And unlike many of its competitors in the gaming market, which offer a non-existent or clumsy experience across platforms, Fortnite runs seamlessly no matter what device you’re using.
You don’t need to buy multiple copies or start from scratch when you play the game on a different platform.
For something to have crossover appeal across demographics, it needs to speak the same language. Fortnite’s wide availability and consistency of experience across different platforms means it’s established itself as a kind of lingua franca of gaming.
Who needs Candy Crush when you can have Orange Crush?
In its most recent ‘season’ Fortnite was making $2-million in daily revenue. This, despite being completely free to download.
Ah, but I hear you say. Fortnite’s just doing what mobile games like Candy Crush have done for years, relying on free-to-play (F2P) revenue models that make their money through microtransactions or in-game advertisements rather than a lump sum upfront.
There’s one key difference. Games like Candy Crush are designed around the minimisation of annoyance and frustration. Can’t get past Stage 765? Buy a power-up to keep paying. Fortnite’s in-game purchases, on the other hand, are all cosmetic – you get the same mechanical experience no matter how much you spend on the game.
There’s no real advantage to dishing out cash in Fortnite – you just get to wear a more eye-catching outfit or break out into a weirder dance. But with new dances comes social status within the community.
All of this makes Fortnite a pretty unique example of the network effect in action. The value of a new outfit or dance relies entirely on how much of an emotional attachment you have towards the game itself. The more popular the game gets, the more value standing out with a rare dance or unusual outfit is. And the more value those rare dances and outfits have, the more value Fortnite has as a network. It’s a self-sustaining cycle of engagement.
The social element
How does Fortnite do it – make a product so addictive that it essentially becomes a perpetual motion machine of engagement?
The answer lies in the origin of the famous Orange Crush dance itself. The dance was not originally in the game – it was only after a clip of a boy in an orange shirt dancing went viral within the community. The dance was quickly added to the game, to the delight of fans everywhere.
I’ve said before that gaming is one of the most powerful tools for driving change, but Fortnite takes several steps further, by expertly combining the immersive and experiential nature of gaming with the immediacy and relevance of social networks. The game itself is built on a shared narrative experience, and developers are quick to release new content based upon what the community is currently interested in.
Like YouTube, the game has its own video superstars. Like Twitter, it generates memes that quickly spread. Like Instagram, there’s a strong aspirational aspect, driven by popular musicians and sportspeople. Like Facebook, it’s designed to be as accessible and seamlessly integrated into your digital experience as possible, offering a single easy login across all devices.
That’s the power of Fortnite – it borrows liberally from what works across different industries, makes it its mission to understand the community, and executes all of its clever ideas very well. In a world where just getting noticed is an uphill battle, games like Fortnite are important case studies in making a product emotionally engaging and relevant enough that people want to drop their hard-earned cash on it.
Forget net promoter scores and customer satisfaction surveys. Perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is: Are you creating products worth dancing for?