For the third time in the game’s history, Epic Games has released a new chapter of Fortnite. With this new chapter comes a new map, new weapons, new mechanics, and lots of graphic changes. When looking at all the changes, it becomes apparent that Fortnite Chapter 3 is essentially a new game entirely. Which begs the question, why doesn’t Epic release it as a new game?
Since the beginning of at home gaming, companies have released sequels to games whenever they want to add new content. Think of series like Call of Duty, Halo, Super Mario, Fifa, Madden, and any other historically successful video game series. At the advent of console gaming, there was no internet connection, so to release new content developers would have to release and sell entirely new games.
Fortnite’s strategy of releasing new “Chapters” allows Epic Games to capitalize on the hype generated by the release of a new game, while taking advantage of the massive number of players already integrated into their system. While this sounds great in theory, is the strategy actually successful?
Fortnite’s Business Model
As a free game all of Fortnite’s revenue comes from in-app purchases of cosmetics and their battle pass. It’s much easier to convince players to download and test out a free game than a paid one, which is one of the reasons Fortnite has amassed such a massive user base. This principle along with intense word of mouth marketing early on, has helped Fortnite become the world’s most popular game at its peak, with more than 350 million players historically.
Once that user base has been onboarded, the name of the game becomes in-game-purchases. The sale of Fortnite’s $10 battle pass along with thousands of cosmetics and digital products bought with V-Bucks accounts for 100% of Fortnite’s revenue from players. The more people playing the game and the longer they play, the more likely they are to spend money on it. The goals of increasing user base and playtime offer strong incentives for Epic Games to invest lots of time and money into creating new content for Fortnite. With that being said, how effective is bringing in a new chapter for reaching these goals?
Examples in the Industry
Since Fortnite has been released other major titles have chosen to switch to a free model. CS:GO, one of the most popular FPS games ever, switched to a free to play model in December 2018. GTA V released for free on the Epic Games store in May 2020. New games are also attempting this model far more frequently. Apex Legends, Valorant, Call of Duty Warzone, are all examples of releases in the past 4 years that have always been free and rely entirely on in-game purchases. However none of these games have ever attempted to completely alter their game all the way down to the engine it runs on.
Fortnite Chapter 2
Fortnite Chapter 2 was released on October 15, 2019. This was a massive change for the game, and a major experiment for Epic Games as a whole. The update would see Fortnite transition to a new version of the unreal engine, massively altering the graphics and feel of the game. So how effective was this change?
Although we don’t have access to the specific revenue data based on the transition from chapter to chapter, we can look at the data year to year. In 2019 it is clear that the player base was beginning to tire of Fortnite. Revenue dipped from $5.4 billion in 2018 to $3.7 billion in 2019 (Source). This revenue drop is surprising considering the user base for Fortnite doubled in the same time frame, from 125 million registered users to 250 million registered users. While Chapter 2 was implemented towards the end of 2019, the effect of the update would truly be felt in 2020.
While Fortnite’s registered users only increased by 50 million, the year over year revenue increased by 37% in 2020. This is clear evidence that updating to the new chapter brought back enough of the original playerbase to grow revenue substantially. This points to far more engagement and interest among active players, and demonstrates the positive impact of making a major update to a game, rather than re-releasing it.
Will Chapter 3 be a Success?
The only way to tell is with time. Chapter 3 brings large changes to the graphics, map, and items in Fortnite. Over the next year Epic Games will be able to see if their experiment works out for the better, increasing both registered users and revenue. If the success of Fortnite Chapter 2 is any indicator, I would say they shouldn’t have too much to worry about.