A Brief History of How Fortnite Became the Most Popular Game in the World
Fortnite might be the biggest thing around right now but it wasn't always that way. Take a look back at the biggest moments in Fortnite's history to learn how it got to where it is today.
Fortnite might be the most popular game in the world right now, but it sure as heck wasn’t always this way. In fact, there was a time when I wondered if Fortnite was still even slated to release. From the game’s announcement, to release, to then becoming what the phenomenon it is today, Fortnite‘s development is one of the most fascinating and tumultuous stories that I have seen in the industry in years.
A bit after the one year anniversary of Fortnite launching, let’s take a look back at the game’s biggest moments to see just how it got as big as it currently is.
December 2011 — Fortnite is Revealed at the 2011 Video Game Awards
Fortnite was originally revealed at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards and was pitched as a base-building game where you would gather resources, build forts, and then fight off oncoming waves of enemies. Still working at Epic Games at the time, Cliff Bleszinski introduced the trailer to the world before later leaving the studio to “retire” for a brief period of time.
Fortnite’s original reveal happened so long ago that it debuted alongside trailers for BioShock Infinite, the now-canceled Rainbow Six: Patriots, and even the reveal trailer for The Last of Us. While we didn’t know it at the time, it was going to be a long time before Fortnite ever actually saw the light of day.
2012-2014 — Silence Surrounds the Project
As you might have expected, Epic Games pretty much went silent on all things related to Fortnite for a span of close to two years after its initial reveal. Other than a random statement here and there potentially said from someone at Epic, the game wasn’t really seen or heard from for a long period of time.
We’d learn later on that when that first trailer was unveiled in 2011, the game really wasn’t much more than just that video at the time. After its unveiling, Epic had to get to work on actually creating what Fortnite would become.
May 2014 — Game Informer Cover Story Re-Reveal
Fortnite’s first big showing following its announcement trailer came by way of a Game Informer cover story back in 2014. This story provided a wave of information that the game hadn’t received in years, and also revealed that Epic Games would be going with a free-to-play model for Fortnite once it released. Around the same time, Epic announced that closed alpha sign-ups were open and that they would begin this phase of the project later in 2014.
July 2017 — Fortnite Launches into Early Access
After many closed alphas and betas from late 2014 onward, Fortnite finally released on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac in its early access form in 2017. While it didn’t release as a free-to-play game in the manner that Epic originally stated it would, the game instead cost $59.99 with the promise of it going to a free-to-play model once it exited early access in 2018 — something that still has yet to officially happen.
Fortnite also released in this “early access” form at retail, with consumers being able to purchase boxed editions of the game. At the time of launch, the only game mode that it shipped with was that of Save the World. It was Epic’s next big move though that really turned the game into what it has become today.
September 2017 — Fortnite: Battle Royale Releases for Free
By far the most important moment on this entire list, Epic Games piggybacked off of the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds to create their own version of Battle Royale, the multiplayer game mode that took 2017 by storm. Utilizing the game’s building mechanics, Fortnite‘s version of Battle Royale immediately set itself apart from its competitors on the market. It was also available on PS4 and Xbox One and became the first game that allowed console players to really dive into this much-talked-about game mode for themselves.
At the time, most, if not all, Battle Royale games were only available for play on PC. A little less than a year later, however, and there are already dozens of Battle Royale games in the pipeline. While the genre has exploded in popularity in the past year, Epic Games struck while the iron was hot and, as a result, immediately created a massive following for its Battle Royale mode. This is likely due to it being available for free, unlike the Save the World mode; within 24 hours of its debut, Fortnite: Battle Royale had already amassed one million players.
January 2018 — Fortnite Passes 40 Million Players, Epic Kills Off Paragon
Throughout the remainder of 2017, Fortnite continued gaining steam off the back of the game’s Battle Royale mode, and Epic continued to provide timely updates for the game. By early 2018, Epic announced that the game had now passed 40 million players and was without a doubt one of the studio’s biggest achievements to date. However, the game was growing at such a rapid pace that Epic Games needed to dedicate more resources to keep up with it.
As a result, Epic announced that they would be ending production on their MOBA Paragon in order to shift more developers over to work on Fortnite: Battle Royale. It was a sad result for those that enjoyed Paragon, but it was no doubt the right business move for Epic to make at the moment.
March 2018 — Fortnite Becomes the Most-Viewed Game on Twitch
When Fortnite surpassed League of Legends as the most-watched game on Twitch, that’s when I started to realize just how powerful this game had become. To me, this proved that the game wasn’t just a fad and was here to stay for a long while. For reference, nothing ever usually surpasses League of Legends viewership on Twitch and if it does, it doesn’t hold the top spot for long. Fortnite becoming the most-viewed game on the streamer platform earlier this year proved that it had staying power.
It also leads right into our next moment…
March 2018 — Drake Plays Fortnite with Ninja
This might seem like more of a footnote in the grand scheme of Fortnite’s history, but I think this moment is more important to the game’s popularity than you might think. When Drake, one of the most popular musicians in the world, hopped in with Twitch’s most popular streamer Ninja to play Fortnite for a few hours, it shed a light on the game within mainstream news outlets that hadn’t been seen before.
The day after this now famous stream occurred, it was the only thing that anyone was talking about, whether it was in gaming circles or not. While Fortnite was already incredibly popular before this moment ever occurred, Drake’s popularity seemed to shine an even brighter light on the game that gave it more exposure than ever before. Oh, and this became the single most-concurrently-viewed stream in the history of Twitch when it happened.
April 2018 — Fortnite Releases on iOS Devices
Epic Games found a way in April to put Fortnite: Battle Royale out on iOS devices and, in the process, opened themselves up to tens of millions of new customers. Not only did this mobile release bring the game to phones, but it also allowed for cross-play with users on consoles and PC. As of earlier this week, the iOS version of Fortnite alone has passed 100 million downloads.
May 2018 — Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet Come to Fortnite
In a crossover that I don’t think anyone really expected, Thanos, the villain from the biggest movie release of 2018, Avengers: Infinity War, made his way into Fortnite in a limited-time mode that allowed players to take control of the Mad Titan and utilize his famed Infinity Gauntlet. With Marvel and Disney being as careful as they typically are with their IP, this crossover showed that Marvel wanted in on the Fortnite popularity just as much as I’m sure Epic wanted to get in on that Infinity War popularity.
While this game mode will likely never return to Fortnite, it was a cool moment for the game that brought it even more notoriety.
June 2018 — Fortnite releases on Nintendo Switch
After months of rumors and leaks, Epic’s not-so-surprising announcement at E3 2018 was that Fortnite would be making its way to the Nintendo Switch on the same day as said announcement. Its arrival on Switch made the game readily available on just about every platform–other than Android–and again allowed for cross-play between certain consoles, PC, and mobile.
Even with the sudden launch of the game in the middle of E3 2018, it’s no surprise that the Nintendo Switch release had amassed over two million players in one day of its launch on the handheld-home console.
July 2018 — Fortnite Surpasses One Billion Dollars from In-Game Purchases
One of the more recent Fortnite developments on our list–and quite possibly the biggest of them all, at least in Epic’s opinion– is that the game has now surpassed one billion dollars made from in-game purchases alone. That’s right, all of those Battle Passes and V-Bucks have brought in more than a billion dollars for Epic Games, and is now easily the company’s biggest success to date — which is no small feat considering their past releases.
As of this moment, Epic Games is valued at somewhere between $5-$8 billion and founder Tim Sweeney is now a billionaire himself. Not too shabby for a free-to-play game.
August 2018 — Epic Forgoes Google Play for Android Release of Fortnite
As of the day of publishing this piece, Epic Games has made even more news by announcing that they’ll be forgoing releasing Fortnite through Google Play for the Android version of the game. Google Play is the major storefront that nearly all Android games release upon, but Epic says that they instead want players to download Fortnite directly from their website in the pursuit of keeping up a more direct relationship with fans. Additionally, Epic’s Tim Sweeney says it will save Epic from giving about 30% of profits of the game to Google for using their store.
This is a huge decision for the company, but it also seems to be like a smart one. Like it or not, Fortnite is big enough at this point that Epic can decide to make these kinds of moves and fans will still likely go out of their way to get the game on their own device. We’ll have to see if Epic’s decision here encourages more developers to do the same moving forward.
From years of silence to not being able to walk down the street without hearing someone mention its name, Fortnite‘s journey is definitely an interesting one, and it shows why so many other developers have tried to cash-in on the Battle Royale craze.
Fortnite’s story definitely isn’t over just yet, and I’m fascinated to see how long of a tail it ends up having. With the near-unlimited resources that Epic Games has at their disposal though, I don’t expect Fortnite to disappear for a long, long time.