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How did Fortnite become a global gaming phenomenon?

·3-min read

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

With 350 million registered players, Fortnite is one of the biggest videogames of all time - but it’s far more than just a game.

Promoted by celebrities including Drake, Marshmello and Ariana Grande (who did a concert inside the game world of Fortnite), it’s a bona fide cultural phenomenon. 

An illustration and Fortnite logo on a smartphone, with the Fortnite logo in the background.
Fortnite has 350 million registered users. Source: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The game earned $9 billion (£6.5 billion) in the space of two years, according to documents revealed in maker Epic Games’s high-profile court battle with Apple (see below).

Fortnite’s ‘Live Events’, 3D events staged inside the game world, are watched by millions - and helped to spark excitement around the idea of a ‘metaverse’, a shared virtual world, something both Epic and Facebook are investing in. 

The game launched on September 26, 2017.

Fortnite streamers such as Ninja are global celebrities: Ninja had 16 million followers on Twitch as of this summer, making him the most-followed streamer on Earth. 

Video Game Streamer Tyler and host Jimmy Fallon sit at a desk
Game streamer 'Ninja' speaks to show host Jimmy Fallon. Source: Andrew Lipovsky/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images \

The game has a devoted following among under-10s (as well as teenagers) and primary school playgrounds are filled with the game’s strange slang, such as ‘cranking 90s’ for building protective walls at a 90-degree angle. 

The game is a ‘Battle Royale’, similar to previous hits such as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds - where 100 combatants are dropped into an arena and the last survivor wins. 

Crucially, it’s free to play on just about every platform, from PC to PlayStation 4 to Nintendo Switch, with players forking out instead for outfits (‘skins’) and other in-game goodies. 

This, naturally, helped to cement its popularity with under-10s.

Fortnite upgraded the battle royale recipe with a building system, allowing fighters to craft walls to hide behind and towers to snipe from. 

It also had its own cartoon-like world, where players parachute from a party bus onto a colourful island surrounded by a storm which closes in, forcing the players to fight at ever closer quarters. 

Game review site IGN wrote, ‘Stiff arming its way through the crowded battle royale genre, Fortnite Battle Royale sets itself apart by trading the traditional, bland military simulation vibe with vivid colors and an outstanding, freeform building system that’s unlike anything else in competitive multiplayer games.’

Game streamer Ninja said, ‘Fortnite really is just the perfect storm of a game. You have the fact that it’s free-to-play, on almost every platform, and everything about the game is enjoyable.’

Teenager plays Fortnite on a desktop computer while wearing headphones
The game combines shoot 'em up and building elements. Source: Getty Images

The game has become famous for a legal battle mounted by maker Epic Games against Apple, over fees of up to 30% charged for in-app purchases in games in Apple’s App Store. 

Fortnite was withdrawn from Apple’s App Store after it offered an alternative way to pay. 

In a judgement this year, a U.S. court ruled that Apple had to allow developers to provide alternative payment methods. 

Apple has blacklisted Fortnite from its app store until appeals are exhausted - a process that could take years. 

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