Your kids won’t stop talking about it, your friend hasn’t come out of his house all week because he’s addicted to it, some of the world’s biggest sports stars and youtubers are doing it. It’s not a drug, it’s a game; Fortnite, and with so many playing the game month to month, the creators are making quite a killing. Below Ken Wisnefski, CEO of digital marketing firm WebiMax, discusses the microtransaction element behind Fortnite’s big profits and the future of this clever new way of selling.
Like so many quarters fed into an arcade machine, an around-the-clock influx of outside cash has turned the video game industry into a revenue resource like no other. Whereas video games were once a one-time purchase rarely exceeding $50, we now have free-to-play offerings like “Fortnite” that can rake in millions. How is that possible? “Microtransactions” and “platform-based business models” allow gamers to customize their experience by spending real-world cash in exchange for in-game goodies. The fact that Fortnite developer Epic Games earned just shy of $300 million in April 2018 alone tells me a few things as a digital marketing expert, but chief among them is this: We’re not in Super Mario World anymore.
For the unacquainted, Fortnite is a co-op survival game that takes place in a “sandbox” universe and drew a record 3.4 million concurrent users in February 2018. On the revenue side of things, there are aspects of Fortnite that are free to download. There’s also a roughly $10 seasonal “Battle Pass” that’s optional, last for a few months and provides additional immersion. The microtransactions that I mentioned earlier – and the platform that makes this exchange possible – is a hotly-debated concept among gamers. In the case of Fortnite, many say Epic Games got it right and I agree.
“Rank your Battle Pass up before it expires, and you’ll earn more than enough in-game cash to unlock the next Battle Pass,” a March 2018 GamesRadar.com article says. “That eliminates the dread of having to pay more and more cash to stay up-to-date in a living game, and it encourages you to keep playing for the whole season and into the next. So smart!”
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Microtransactions are, as the name suggests, a way for users to pay a nominal amount of real-world cash or in-game currency and receive small game-enhancing perks as a result. There are right and wrong ways to implement microtransactions into a game. The wrong way, as Electronic Arts (EA) learned in 2017, is to sell “loot boxes” to users that create an unfair playing field. This crisis came to a head upon the release of “Star Wars Battlefront II.”
“We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right,” a statement from EA read following player backlash.
Only months later, “cosmetic-only” microtransactions were up and running again inside that galaxy far, far away. Back here on Earth, I think the majority of us can see the parallels between EA now selling “loot boxes” that don’t affect gameplay and what Fortnite has been doing since launch. In my experience in digital marketing, someone who wants to spend their own money on attainable goals should be able to do so. When you start toying with the framework, such as paid-for results at the top of a Google search page, then we need to throw in some disclaimers or other ways to give everyone equal footing.
Try and find Apple’s brick-and-mortar “App Store” in your neighborhood. We won’t wait around, because we all know it isn’t there. Slate reported in early 2018 that this non-physical outlet for iPhone programs earned $38.5 billion in 2017 and “is poised to double its 2015 revenues by some time in 2018.” What readers should understand is that there’s no longer a need to offer physical goods as the only way of making money. Today, we have people streaming their live feeds of Fortnite gameplay on the Twitch website and reportedly making $500,000 per month doing so. Amazon may be building local warehouses to help expedite shipping, but it started as an online-only book-ordering company and its CEO is now the richest man on Earth.
I find it helpful to think of ride-sharing services as a more tangible example of what digital platforms can offer: An actual good or service that’s obtained for a payment on a middle ground – or “platform,” if you will. I only have to look under my own roof, where kids are playing Fortnite, to see what microtransactions have evolved into and how in-game “V Bucks” can be spent on spiffy new avatar outfits.