[For background, this is a guest post by Elijah MacGowan, a high school student with strong interest in technologies that transform digital experiences. Elijah resides in London, Canada and is the son of Allan MacGowan from CafeX. During 'take your kids to work day', Elijah was asked to reflect on the importance of cross-platform embedded voice communication to player experiences in Fortnite Battle Royale.]
The Fortnite phenomenon
Even if you are not a gamer, you have probably heard of Fortnite, either on social media or from the endless nagging that goes on in homes to get kids and adults off their screens. This revolutionary pastime created by Epic Games has blown up the video game market, making Fortnite (aka Fortnite Battle Royale) one of the most iconic games of its generation. But what makes Fortnite so unique? Is it the stunning cartoonish graphics and intense gameplay? How about the creative building, funny dances and cool skins? That’s part of the answer, but there is a key ingredient to the game’s success that often gets overlooked - good ol’ voice communication.
Stats experts are not joking about the size of Fortnite’s platform, with over 125 million users since its release last year. A crazier stat is that as many as 8.3 million people are playing at any moment. Thanks to Fortnite, Epic Games is now valued at over $8 billion, with revenues of $300 million in April 2018 alone. That’s more than this year’s Avengers movie made on opening weekend! Fortnite is actually reshaping the way new games are designed. There are online tournaments where millions of people can watch their favourite “professional” players compete. It is also popular on Youtube and Twitch, where pros will play north of 8 hours a day to ‘earn’ a monthly paycheck as high as $500K.
Why embedded voice matters
So, how has voice chat helped make Fortnite such a big hit, along with other battle royale games like PubG and Call of Duty Black Ops 4? The short answer is that communication allows players to interact naturally, work together effectively and create shared experiences, ultimately leading to what I believe most people want most - friendship.
Talking live with your friends on Fortnite takes seconds to set up. If they share the same type of console (like XBox), it takes three clicks to invite them to a party. And with cross-platform voice chat, you can connect within the game to any console type almost as easily. My Dad uses words like ‘frictionless’ and “embedded”, which is a weird way of saying that talking is about as easy and natural as if you are playing together in the same room. From Canada on my XBox One, I can play with a PC user in South America, a mobile player in the UK, and a friend in the U.S. who’s on a Nintendo Switch. It’s really that easy to play and communicate with friends regardless of location or platform.
Like other battle royale games, In Fortnite you are pitted against 99 other players with the goal to be the last one standing, or the last team standing if playing in duos (pairs) or squads (four people). During team play, communication is essential for survival. My friends and I update each other constantly on our opponents’ positioning and tactics in order to mount appropriate defenses in real time. Quick notifications like “I’m being flanked from the north” or “Grab the spare loot behind that structure” are crucial for getting wins. We develop strategies on the fly and share information verbally, much like an audible in a football game or, I imagine, comms during a military offensive.
60% say voice chat keeps them coming back
But beyond how easy and useful it is, group voice chat dramatically enhances the fun factor of Fortnite. I surveyed 30 of my friends who are active Fortnite users about the importance of voice communication. 90% of respondents said it was a very important part of the overall experience, and over 60% said they would very likely not join a game if they couldn’t talk live with friends.
From my perspective, it is so much more fun to experience wins as well as fails together. I have even built a lot of friendships by connecting with people on a personal level. The ability to share shocking, hilarious and tragic moments out loud is such a huge part of the game. “Playground” mode, for example, allows you and up to three friends to do almost anything you want within a private server, whether it is battling, dancing or building massive structures and forts. This fun and creative social environment separates Fortnite from other battle royale games. For those who are bored of gameplay, the social aspect is what keeps them coming back and spending money, even in the unforgiving video game market, where most games are short-lived and easily forgotten.
Strangers become friends
Fortnite may have already peaked, but its legacy will live on to shape other games and possibly the entire media entertainment industry. Yes, in-game voice chat is nothing new, but when combined with the latest visual and social innovations, the result is highly interactive shared experiences that transform strangers into a community of friends. It’s this level of empowerment and mutual understanding that is the ultimate win for Fortnite fans.