Fortnite’s model, too, allows for these kinds of otherwise invasive changes. Every couple months, Epic v buck generator rolls out a massive update that overhauls the map and the items featured — Epic calls them seasons, exactly like television. And each serves the same purpose: to bring players back for just a little longer, and also to stave off competition from other battle royale-style games. Fortnite’s latest update cribbed at least two major features from Apex Legends, the first battle royale from publisher EA. (Apex managed to find a wild 25 million players in just under a month, after a surprise, no-promo release; it’s currently the only real competition Fortnite has in the space.) “It’s not that it’s particularly better or worse suited for the attention economy than others, but it does strike a chord with generations, who typically have more time to allocate, which is why it is doing so well in the attention economy,” says Severin. “I believe it’s more a matter of a generationally cultural shift: Fortnite is among the first to build a truly successful business model of selling digital items which don’t give players any progress in the actual game. They are just cosmetic” Twenty years ago, he continued, people defined themselves by the clothes they wore and what they listened to. “Today, consumers’ personal image is in much larger part defined in the virtual world.”
That Netflix is even acknowledging Fortnite as a competitor is important, because it means that digital media companies are beginning to concede that growth isn’t infinite, and are shifting their ambitions in response. Netflix won’t release a battle royale game. (Probably.) But I’d bet they’ll continue to experiment with interactives — like Black Mirror’s latest episode, “Bandersnatch.”
While Black Mirror’s audience is mostly adult, it’s not a coincidence that the company has interactive offerings aimed at younger people, who are in the same demographic Fortnitehas captured. Netflix partnered with the now-defunct Telltale Games for an interactive cartoon version of Minecraft: Story Mode. A Stranger Things-inspired collaboration was also in the works before Telltale shut down, and Netflix says it’s still “in the process of evaluating other options for bringing the Stranger Things universe to life in an interactive medium,” according to Polygon.
Fortnite’s eighth season started just a couple days ago, and the island has changed again. This time, there is a volcano with lava, cannons to shoot yourself out of, and a pirate theme; familiar locations had been replaced with new ones that players will sink hours into mastering. When I logged on the other day, the other players seemed better, somehow — as though they’d only just returned from playing another game somewhere else, and craved a return to the familiar.