Over the weekend, I was chatting with the mom of my son’s friend and let slip that I’m a video game blogger. Her reaction? “What do you think of Fortnite? Is it so big because it’s free-to-play?” Our kids aren’t even old enough to play this game, and she knew all about it and wondered about its runaway success.
The truth is, there are lots of reasons for Fortnite’s success, more than I had time to mumble out in small talk. Jamie Madigan on The Psychology of Video Games blog took a stab at answering the same question this week, and his answer is probably not what anybody is expecting.
“I think Fortnite Battle Royale’s secret sauce has to do with something that’s kind of obvious once you think about it: random chance. I don’t mean that Fortnite’s success is due to luck. Rather, I mean that Epic smartly leveraged the power of random rewards in their design for the game, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s so popular.”
In other words, Madigan is suggesting that Fortnite perfectly harnessed the power of psychology to generate the “thrilling anticipation” from its random lootboxes. The “pinata explosion of loot” is exciting, as it is in games like Diablo, but Fortnite, he argues, goes further, as each encounter with another player, who might be hiding behind a tree or in a bathtub, is essentially another moment of anticipation, another hook. Even if you die, the “near miss effect” keeps you coming back for more like so many gamblers elsewhere.
That blog, incidentally, contains a wealth of academic posts on video game design; here are just a few of the other topics we’ve done that were inspired by Madigan’s work.