It won’t be long now before Playground mode takes its leave from Fortnite. Playground mode isn’t going away forever, but it seems like this initial run was more of a test, which Epic Games plans to take into consideration for the next version. But it seems like an early success. Recently, I was reading about how players have been making the most of their hour-long Playground sessions, and doing things like making Mario Kart tracks to use with the Shopping Cart item. It’s things like that specific brand of screwing around in games that make me think about mass appeal in games, the magic sauce every publisher chases without end. I think Fortnite has it. In fact, I think Fortnite might be, in certain terms, a perfect game.
Playground mode simply cements Fortnite’s uncanny appeal. It’s not just successful because it’s a Battle Royale game. That might be the least important factor at this point. With Playground mode, you have a soaring demand from the game’s playerbase to have unrestricted access to the Fortnite map and tools, without the core goal of fighting to the last man. These players are eager to just drop in the map with three friends, with no goal other than to goof around as much as possible for an hour, when the storm closes in and they’re forced to start all over. Again, this is a mode that abandons the core conceit of Fortnite, and people have flocked to it.
Fortnite isn’t just a game, it’s a platform. A platform that thrives on its unmatched accessibility, making it, despite its insistence on firearms, appealing to younger players, teenagers and children, more so than practically any game on the market today. That appeal is achieved through multiple factors, that combine together to make Fortnite the actual phenomenon it is. Namely, those factors are cost, aesthetic appeal, flexibility, and freedom.
Fortnite, save for the Save the World portion (for now) is free. Lots of games are free of course, but free is free. When a free version of something that is already popular (PUBG) emerges, people will come and see what it’s all about. That much is obvious, and doesn’t guarantee success on its own. But combine free with flexible. Not only is Fortnite free, but it runs on every current gaming platform, even mobile. Almost everyone has a smartphone, or access to a low-end PC. Fortnite, in focusing on its bright colors and ease of use over complexity and realism, can be accessed on a greater level than its peers. The barrier of entry is nearly non-existent, especially when you factor in the style of both how the game looks and plays.
Unlike PUBG, which is certainly a fine game in its own right (this isn’t a competition article), Fortnite is colorful. It’s silly. It’s about a bunch of cartoon characters jumping out of a flying bus and hitting trees with giant pickaxes. Eventually there’s shooting, but most of the guns are silly-looking and there’s no blood and/or guts. It’s a game the average parent can look at and not see much to object to. It’s also a game that is very fast-paced, with the average match over in minutes, and even winning players not playing for very long before the next round. So, individual sessions are short. Something a kid can play during lunch at school (or during class), or in-between homework and bedtime.
There’s also no answer in Fortnite. The game isn’t solved yet, and as Epic continues to work on balance, the game flow will only continue to change. The company also continuously rotates in limited-time modes, and introduces projects like Playground mode. It’s not just a 100-player Battle Royale game. There’s an element of freedom, of sandbox-like play that allows different kinds of players to approach the game how they want. It’s what’s lended the game so well to streaming, and how even players who aren’t building experts can get wins, or at least make it to the top five or ten. Thanks to things like the Battle Pass system, players who aren’t MLG-level experts can still play and feel like they’re earning things and getting better.
This is why Fortnite feels like a “perfect” game. This is why it’s so successful, and has had such an impact on pop culture. It’s a game that has mass appeal, from children who can’t play every new game that comes out every month, to older players with expendable income who are having just as much fun with it (and keeping the game alive). It’s non-violent, bright and colorful, and accessible for a wide range of potential players. It’s less hardcore than some of its peers, but still comes with an element of skill, without leaving people behind. It’s a perfect storm of key elements that are hard for any one game to nail, but Fortnite somehow does it all. And all it took for me to realize that was a group of players goofing around for an hour with shopping carts and wooden platforms.