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Fortnite: The hot, new social network

The Fortnite logo as an app icon with many notifications
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For tween and teen young men — and even college and young celebrities and pro athletes — "Fortnite: Battle Royale" in 2018 became more than a live-streaming game: It's now so consuming that it has taken on hallmarks of a social network. Think of it as the new Snapchat. 

  • Respected tech writer Owen Williams writes on his Charged blog: "Fortnite isn't a game, it's a place ... Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it's become the coveted 'third place' for millions of people around the world."
  • A trend in 2018 was parents naming their babies after Fortnite figures, like Ramirez, and “skins” or outfits, like Bunny and Leviathan, according to a report from Baby Center.

Betsy Morris, who covers mobile tech for The Wall Street Journal, points out that Fortnite "is not only reshaping how boys spend their time, but how they communicate — it acts essentially like an open phone line."

  • "The videogame is free [although you can spend plenty on 'skins' and other add-ons] and can be played almost everywhere on game consoles, desktop computers, laptops or smartphones."
  • This is key: "Like with many videogames, the more people play Fortnite, the more data is generated about what captivates players the most and what drives players to quit. The constant stream of information boosts the ability of game designers to use machine learning to amplify player engagement."
  • "As games get smarter, parents feel outmatched."

Why it matters, from Axios' Felix Salmon: This is as big as Snap was, in its own way. It's a form of communication with your peer group that isn’t recorded for posterity.

Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer has the smart brevity on how Fortnite became a global sensation:

  • Fortnite was first released by its parent company, North Carolina-based Epic Games, in early 2017 as a console and desktop game.
  • "Battle Royale" mode, a fight-to-the-death version with only one winner, was released in September 2017 and lets up to 100 users play at once.
  • "Battle Royale" propelled Fortnite's user base to 200 millionregistered players in November (up 60% from June).
  • In November, Fortnite said it reached 8.3 million concurrent players (the number of users playing Fortnite at the exact same time around the world), up from 2 million in January.
  • Epic Games is now reportedly worth over $15 billion, up from $1 billion six years ago, per The Wall Street Journal.

Fortnite users aren't just using the game to communicate and socialize, but are pouring more time into it than other social networks, according to Sara:

  • A study by financial education company LendEDU of over 1,000 Fortnite players earlier this year found that most players spend at least 6-10 hours playing the game per week. By comparison, the average active user of Snapchat or Instagram spends roughly 30 minutes per day on the platform.
  • Half of teens say playing Fortnite helps them keep up with their friends, according to a study from Common Sense Media. And 44% say they have made a friend online through the game. Heck, 39% say they have bonded with a sibling through the game.
  • Fortnite reached 200 million users (nearly 80 million monthly active users) in a little over a year. It took Twitter roughly five yearsafter launch to reach 100 million monthly active users.

Sara notes these astonishing average revenue per user (ARPU) figures from Leo Polovets, seed investor and general partner at Susa Ventures:

  • Fortnite: $96 (nearly twice Google + Facebook + Twitter + Snapchat)
  • Google: $27
  • Facebook: $19
  • Twitter: $8
  • Snapchat: $3

Eileen Drage O'Reilly, an Axios editor and science writer, shared her sons' Fortnite insight:

  • Michael O’Reilly, 16 and an active user, says the game is in no way a replacement for Instagram (first) and Snapchat (second) for social networking in his age group.
  • "Fortnite is Minecraft with guns," Michael added.
  • Carrick O’Reilly, 21 and a less active user, pointed to stats showing that almost half of all gamers are female (45%), but only 28% of Fortnite players are female. But there are several famous female players on the streaming platform Twitch, such as KittyPlays, who could raise the rate of female participation.

Be smart, from Axios managing editor Kim Hart: It’s what every generation has to grapple with — how to keep boys from succumbing to the all-encompassing latest technology folded into a shooting video game. 

  • Kim emails: "I just called my younger brother to ask him why he was so obsessed with Halo when he was a teenager in the early 2000s (which made my parents crazy). He said it was the first multi-player game that allowed you to play with a split screen with your friends in different rooms or different houses."
  • "With a router and several Xboxes, he and his friends would spread out in multiple rooms in our house, all playing each other for days on end."
  • "That seems quaint now that faster processing and broadband enables that kind of player interaction on a smartphone."