Fortnite is battling media titans into a corner. The smash-hit video game may have raked in as much as $2.4 billion in 2018 sales, industry tracker SuperData estimates, more than any Hollywood blockbuster last year. Netflix said this week that it is threatened too, in the fight for viewers’ attention. Success comes from the mass appeal: young and older gamers are hooked. Both traditional movie outfits and streaming giants are right to be alarmed.
The survival-themed game, launched in 2017, styles itself as a “battle royale”. Simply, 100 gamers are dropped onto a virtual, shrinking island, where they collect weapons, build forts and spar with each other until one person is left. It’s hugely popular for several reasons. First, it’s free to play for anyone with a smartphone, computer, and most gaming consoles. Players can also compete individually or as teams, which makes it fun and social. As of the end of last year, registered users topped a whopping 200 million worldwide. It helps, of course, that celebrities from the U.S. rapper Drake to the L.A. Lakers’ Josh Hart play too.
Developer Epic Games, backed by Chinese web titan Tencent and U.S. private equity firm KKR, makes money by charging for add-on gimmicks, like outfits for avatars, or dance moves known as emotes. And these are rapidly adding up: Fortnite was not only the highest grossing game last year, it also beat 2018’s box-office winner, Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War”, which grossed just above $2 billion worldwide, according to data from Box Office Mojo.
Fortnite’s wild success has caught the big entertainment names off-guard. Netflix boss Reed Hastings wrote in a letter to shareholders on Thursday that his video-streaming giant now considers the game a bigger competitor than HBO. That sounds odd, but it turns out fans are just as hooked to watching Fortnite as they are to playing it. Viewers on the game-streaming site Twitch, for instance, watched an eye-popping 218 million hours worth of Fortnite by the gamer known as Ninja last year, SuperData reckons. Netflix, for one, is already experimenting with interactive offerings like “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”. Finding other ways to keep viewers glued will be key to win in this melee.