Read the full interview HERE

We interviewed the former Head of UI at Epic Games who managed a team of artists, designers, and programmers for five years to build Fortnite.

We explore:

  • Core differences in Heroes of the Storm and Fornite gameplay design and mechanics
  • How hero characters can shape the gameplay and monetization
  • Why Battle Royale is the perfect game mode
  • The design of the Battlepass, loot boxes, and player retention strategies
  • Fortnite player behaviour versus other FTP games
  • What defines success in a 'third space' or virtual world like Fortnite
  • How to look at the power of Fortnite's 'blank canvas' intellectual property

What was unique about the in-game services that Fortnite offered, versus previous free-to-play games?

I talked a lot about cross-play; I think that is probably one of the biggest, unique things that the service has offered. The other thing is the technical excellence that was required to operate at that scale. The amount of players that came into Fortnite compared to other games and the speed at which they came in, required a level of technical excellence that was really quite impressive. That online team, they were heroes and they did an amazing job keeping the servers running, making optimizations. From a service level, a lot of that stuff was invisible to players, except for when there were problems. But there was a lot of work and a lot of thought and a lot of genius that had gone into how to operate at a scale that was never before seen.

When you look at the numbers that Epic released for things like the Marshmello event and, most recently, there was another concert that they had, these are massive numbers; 10 million CCU and things like that. Games don’t operate at that level; that’s absolutely insane, especially in the west and especially for games that are very real time in nature. Not only that, but Epic really loved having these large events, like the concert, where they basically focused all players in, at an exact moment, causing a massive spike in server usage. This is something that, typically, a lot of companies actively try to avoid; they try to smooth out the curve, as much as possible, so that you’re not dealing with these massive spikes that the servers can’t handle. If you go back to the Ahn’Qiraj event that World of Warcraft had, at least 15 years ago, the designers had built this event that caused all players to focus in on one server, in one location, because this one server happened to be the one that did the war effort the fastest. They were going to open the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj and there was this new dungeon that was waiting behind; it was a really cool event and players were really excited about it.

But by the nature of how it was designed, they basically encouraged all players to be focused in on this exact one location, at one time and the servers were just melting; the architecture was not built for that. There was a lot of effort done to make sure that, for World of Warcraft events, the design of various systems was more about spreading people away. Whereas Epic, with Fortnite, they looked to bring people close together, which is really cool. They take the technical requirements and they say, you know what, don’t design around the technical requirements; make something awesome and then the tech has to be fixed, to make it work.

Was there anything different about the Battle Pass or challenges or loot boxes or any of the add-ons that were offered in Fortnite, that were materially different from previous games, that gave it a much higher MAU, for example?

The Battle Pass is really interesting because there was some Battle Pass like things that had existed prior to Fortnite, but that ended up being a really interesting mix of gameplay and cosmetics, that you could purchase. When you purchase the Battle Pass, you purchase the ability to unlock items, if you play more. You get both the stickiness of making the purchase because one of the biggest indicators if someone is going to stick or not is if they spend money, but also the stickiness of the progression system. In hindsight, I guess it’s a little bit surprising that players were willing to spend money on something that they didn’t really get everything out of; they had to then work. They purchased the ability to work, to get the rest of what they wanted. You wouldn’t have predicted that that would have worked well. But I think the truth was, the value of the Battle Pass is just so incredibly high, when you look at the amount of items you get inside it, including just the V-Bucks. The V-Bucks inside the Battle Pass pays for itself.

In many ways, what you are doing is, you are purchasing a subscription-like system. It’s not in the wrapper of a subscription, but every three months, the Battle Pass comes out and you spend your $10 and then you get to unlock things, over time. I think that was a really interesting approach. As I said, other games had done things like this before. Dota has their Battle Pass, but it’s got some differences. That was a surprise, seeing how that played out and how well players really reacted to that. That’s something that now, almost every free-to-play game coming out now, has some kind of Battle Pass, for a good reason.

What surprised you about player behavior and monetization; what they were purchasing and how they were engaging with the game, specifically?

The biggest surprise, for me, looking at how players played Fortnite, was how they treated it like the third space. That concept where many players were playing Fortnite, but not actually playing Fortnite. They weren’t playing the Battle Royale game; they were just hanging out with their friends. That’s really all they wanted. That concept of the third space being that place that you go to that isn’t your home or school/work; it’s the community area; it’s the mall of the eighties and nineties. It’s the place that you’re just going to, not to do the activity that is intended at that location, but you’re just hanging out with your friends. In the eighties and nineties, when the mall was that third place, you weren’t going there to shop; you were just hanging out with your friends. Fortnite, in many ways, became that first true, virtual third place. I think World of Warcraft and some of the other MMOs had that, to a degree. But Fortnite really took it to the next level.

What do you think defines a winning third space?

Having lots of interesting things to do, but not being forced to do them, is probably one of the big things. That’s probably something that World of Warcraft and Fortnite both have in common. They’ve got this interesting, rich world and all these toys that you can play with, but you don’t have to actually use them. You can hang out in Stormwind and chat in Trade Chat or you can drop in whatever location, in Fortnite, and just run around. You don’t really have to engage in combat. You don’t really have to pick up and do things. You can do all sorts of other activities. You need an interesting world where there is stuff to do. Possibly you need some danger and excitement and random things that happen in the world. But you don’t have to engage with it; it’s not as if you are constantly playing.

If you take a game like League of Legends, you are constantly playing. You can’t just hang out in League of Legends. If you stop and decide you just want to take a walk through the jungle, you just fall behind. That’s a different kind of game. Even though both Fortnite and League of Legends are competitive games, in Fortnite there’s not the same kind of pressure to win. You’re not letting your team mates down; you’re able to just hang out and do whatever you want. That freedom, I think, is a really important aspect to it.

Also, things such as charming world, interesting and fun characters, irreverent. While you can probably make a third place in a post-apocalyptic zombie survival game, I think it will have a very different feeling from a game where you are running around on colorful hoverboards and zipping around and having fun. It’s a different kind of thing.

Read the full interview HERE