Why is Fortnite so damn popular?


I won't tell you how much money I've spent in Fortnite, buying skins and pickaxes and stupid little dances for my character to perform. I'm not even very good at it, but I've lost track of the hours I've spent jumping out of that bus and getting shotgunned in the face.

Fortnite was not a battle royale to begin with, and it had a fairly slow start, perhaps due to being behind the paywall of owning the main game to get access.

But that was then. Now we're at a point where Epic Games has pledged $100 million in prize money to competitive Fortnite tournaments, an unprecedented figure in the world of esports. And there's not even a proper Fortnite competitive mode yet!

It's impossible not to have heard of this game. Mainstream media is picking up, sensationalist headlines are appearing about parents "losing their children" to Fortnite, it's causing issues within professional sports teams, and it's one of the hottest things on the planet right now.

But why? I have a few ideas.

1. It's free. Very, very free.


I've previously written about how Fortnite is free-to-play done right, and that's absolutely the case. Normally you'd expect a free game to have some kind of paywall, somewhere you'll eventually feel the need to empty your pockets to get a better experience.

Not in Fortnite. Nothing in the core gameplay is hidden behind a paywall. The paid stuff is all cosmetics. If you want to look like John Wick or the Raven, or an Easter Bunny or a leprechaun, there's going to be money involved. But you can be as good as Ninja without paying a dime.

Epic is still making an obscene amount of money from Fortnite, though, because for whatever reason everyone wants those skins. Whether it's buying the Battle Pass for the season or V Bucks to buy individual items, Epic is printing money. But, you can play for free and still have a great time. Your character just won't look as cool.

Being free also has other advantages. PUBG costs $30, and especially on Xbox it's still in pre-release in the Game Preview program. If you don't have $30 to spend, or you just don't think it's worth it, Fortnite offers an alternative 100-player battle royale experience for zero money.

That's also a reason why it's so popular with the younger crowd.

2. It offers something different in a busy space


The battle royale formula is pretty consistent across the different titles, but Fortnite has an instant twist on it thanks to the building mechanics. Simply put, if you can't build, you're not going to be very good. (That's why I'm not very good.)

Watching the best players build a ridiculous structure in seconds, then still circle behind an enemy and deliver a well-timed blue pump to the head is a thing of beauty.

It's also bringing a very unique style to things. PUBG has quite realistic-looking surroundings and weaponry; Fortnite looks like a cartoon and has a disco bomb that makes your opponents dance.

3. It offers effective cross-platform gameplay


Fortnite is one of the best examples of cross-platform play. You can't play Xbox versus PlayStation 4, and that's because of (most likely) Sony. But folks on an iPhone can play with folks on a console and a PC, and vice-versa.

It's opt-in, and you cannot choose to play with phone players from your PC, but you can conceivably play a match with a buddy on an iPhone and another on Xbox while you play on your PC.

You might well get utterly demolished playing on a phone coming up against PC players, but the idea is sound. No-one is left out. If Sony decides to play ball, you'll get one giant, all-inclusive battle-royale family.

4. It's fun and frustrating ... in a good way


When you first start playing, or if you're struggling to get your building skills nailed, Fortnite is frustrating as hell. You'll see an opponent throw up a bunch of ramps, get above you, and obliterate you in seconds.

But you'll go back to the lobby and you'll try again. And again. And again. That's because it's a lot of fun, and it's very entertaining.

Hit YouTube and check out the highlight reels from some of the big streamers. Yes, you can ride a rocket across the map and hit someone with an epic no-scope snipe. It's not easy, but it's possible, and the entertainment value is unlimited.

And it's only just begun ...

Thanks to the variety of weapons, skins, locations, the building mechanics, and the way the map in Fortnite evolves, it all combines to make a game that's never the same on different days. Season four started by dropping a meteor into the middle of the map, subsequent updates are seeing parts rebuilt.

Fortnite's battle royale mode is a living entity, evolving with every update, and Epic Games is doing an incredible job at keeping the community engaged with fresh content. And that always provides a reason to come back. Now the company is providing huge cash prizes, so no doubt everyone wants to become a Fortnite pro player.

These are some of the main reasons why people keep coming back to Fortnite. Epic Games is onto a winner here, and it's not going to slow down any time soon.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine