What made Fortnite so ridiculously popular? Anticipation is baked into both the loot and the gameplay, says one psychologist

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.

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Jack Tyme

I think part of Fortnite success is that it is not a medieval themed game. I am actually sick of seeing medieval games popping up everyday.

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Weilan

Guess I’m defective since I despise battle royale and find it extremely boring. The cool kids will never accept me as one of their kind… T-T

kjempff
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kjempff

Anticipation is one extremely powerful thing, that has been lost in newer mmorpgs. Probably one of the reasons I don’t really play many mmorps anymore but more arpgs (and Warframe which is full of anticipation).
RNGesus saves games!

Well anyways, as important as RNG is, it is not the reason for Fortnites success.. which is the sum of all the psychology tricks of mobile games .. you know all the stuff pc gamers see right through.

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James Crow

tried but deleted it after few matches.
now, i love epic games and the cartoon art but dislike:
1. doing the same without feeling of progression beside rank number
if im playing a game i want to get new skins/unlocks or something that make my character looking better.

dont get me wrong, im glad for epic but sad for all Unreal
Tournament fans out there because fortnite successes is the reason for UT Dev Stooped for now
*epic words not mine, the team behind UT working on fortnite

Xijit
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Xijit

I blame the simplicity: the game is just easy to play and does away will all the convoluted UIs and gear stats and loot tables and whatnot.

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Joe Seabreeze

I downloaded this game last weekend, played one match, then deleted it. I’m kind of disappointed that it didn’t click like it does with so many, because frankly, I haven’t had anything good to play in a couple years. Mmos seem to be fading, and everything else seems to be so generic. What happened to the magic?

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Weilan

You got burnout or are jaded or both. I feel the same way too. Good thing classic FPS games are still somewhat fun to me. ESO is also fun for the story. Also Alliance of Valiant Arms Dog Tag is a relaunch of my favorite FPS Alliance of Valiant Arms, so I have something to look forward to.

Try new genres that you never did pay too much attention before, look for old games on GOG that are your main genres, but you’ve never played.

Nothing else you can do really, or just quit gaming and find another hobby, because gaming isn’t improving, but dumbing down instead, seeing as how garbage like battle royale is so popular.

veldara
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veldara

A lot can factor in a game becoming the next big thing. But if you ask me a well optimized game with stylistic art direction is one of the major factors that I see as a common thread among a lot of games that really blew the doors open.

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Nick Smith

That right there. Stylized. Optimized. If its a fun and addicting game… the stylized art helps with the optimization.

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Sally Bowls

http://nymag.com/selectall/2018/07/how-fortnite-became-the-most-popular-video-game-on-earth.html

Like any modern internet-software phenomenon, Fortnite is sustained by an almost predatory number of dopamine-inducing metrics.

Across the tech industry, more and more software companies are shifting to services. That is, instead of selling one copy of a piece of software for a fixed price, they sell continual access to that software for a recurring fee. Other competitive games, like PUBG and Rocket League, have announced plans for similar “passes,” while perennial franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield have each announced its own plans for a battle-royale mode.

But Fortnite is less a game than it is a lifestyle, talked about in classrooms and on social media 24 hours a day. “I’ve had kids come in like, ‘Mister, I’m mad tired,’” Marshall says. “I’m like, ‘Why?’ They’re like, ‘I was up until 3 playing Fortnite.’ And then I see them taking out their phone! They’re opening up the game on their phone.

Video games pioneered the dopamine-rush cycle. … And then mobile products learned to do the same thing. Give people goals, reward them with flashes of color, and you could entrance them into something resembling addiction. This was called, tellingly and unsurprisingly, “gamification”: …The process has come full circle. Fortnite is a gamified video game.

“I just think it’s the fact that there’s the mobile app, which means that you don’t really ever have to stop playing Fortnite. You can get off your system or whatever, your computer, and then come into school and keep playing, [that’s] the big difference.”

Veldan
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Veldan

Interesting read, thanks for the link.

I recently watched the movie “Ready Player One”, which made me fantasize about the idea of a virtual world that everyone wants to be in every day. I think, in certain age groups, Fortnite actually comes close to that. Definitely closest of everything we have today, and possibly of everything we have had up to this point.

borghive
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borghive

The game is just fun regardless of the rewards.

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kgptzac

I actually wonder about people’s obsession of randomness. It’s inconceivable to consider waiting a long time in lobby and getting killed in a most frustrating and short lived session is something related to the idea of “fun”. So Fortnite is popular because even more rng? damn.

Also I think it has something to do with the art style… looks kinda like WoW and Overwatch, both played by way too many people.