It is indisputable that Fortnite is one of the biggest games in the world, its cultural dominance so pronounced that our so-called metaverse future will likely be inside its all-consuming smorgasbord. You can wear Nikes in Fortnite. You can listen to an Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite. What else is left that’s still kid-friendly? And yet, mere hours after a preview of Epic’s new creator tools for the game, I’m convinced everything that’s happened so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
On paper, the basics may not sound all that groundbreaking: Epic is adapting its Unreal Editor for Fortnite, a toolset that game developers use to make major games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, though it’s getting fairly popular in Hollywood as well (The Mandalorian famously uses it). This Unreal Editor adaptation will release alongside a revamp called Fortnite Creative 2.0.
Fortnite adopting Unreal doesn’t sound all that wild when you consider that the game already had built-in tools that players could use to make their own games and experiences. All of the major things that Unreal will let players do, like make new modes and maps, are to some extent already possible. Now, though, everything will ostensibly be faster, easier, and prettier. You’ll be able to do more. That, and, you’ll be able to import the vast array of models, animations, and textures that people have already created for the engine in other games. I can’t even begin to list how many possibilities this opens, though cursedly the first one that comes to mind is Thomas The Tank Engine terrorizing everyone in a new game. In this house, we honor tradition.
More broadly, what we’ve seen play out time and time again is that major games with deep modding capabilities are some of the most industry-defining titles. They are the ones we joke about never dying, the ones we boot up when we tire of what’s out there right now. These are games that are maybe over a decade old, but someone out there right now, as you read this, is creating new content for it.
But games on the level of, say, Skyrim, GTA V, or Minecraft are few and far between now. Ironically, games like Fortnite have shifted the industry toward live service titles that may not live to see a full year, or tightly-controlled experiences that don’t allow modding at all, or smaller games that can’t have the same cultural impact of the big budget ones that built this industry in the first place. Anything that would normally be a mod is often sold as DLC or an expansion, if not outright punished for existing thanks to the prevalence of ‘always online’ games.
Mods and player-created experiences still exist, of course, but that perfect storm of juggernaut games that refuse to die because players keep the train going perpetually has, for a long while, seemed almost impossible to recreate outside of maybe Roblox.
Until now! I mean, look at this Fortnite footage:
It’s not that I think this clip shows an incredible, must-play game. You could argue it looks generic, though I’d say that’s unfair and not entirely the point here. Now I want you to look at this, which is what players were making before with the tools they had. This, my friends, was top of the line stuff.
God bless everyone who spent time toiling away making things in Fortnite Creative, but they were playing with scraps. Things like boss battles were possible, but they weren’t really intuitive, and certainly not polished. Everything was a game of pushing against limits. Now, though? I can’t possibly predict what players are going to make when they have real grown-up tools that approximate what people use to make fully-fledged video games. What if GTA V inside of Fortnite, two industry-shaking games for the price of one? The world is your oyster, my friend.
The previews that Epic itself has provided blow my mind with simple stills. I’m seeing players talk about the inevitability of having the original island recreated in full, along with adding back in mechanics that were once considered mere memories. It won’t be long until you’ll barely be able to recognize that something has been made in Fortnite. One of the maps Epic shared as an appetizer kind of looks like it could be Mass Effect lite. One day, we’ll be looking back on this as if it were a toddler’s finger painting.
Maybe, like Warcraft once did, it’ll give us an entirely new genre of game. Almost definitely, this is going to launch careers in game development. Epic is vowing to pay out 40% of the net revenue from Fortnite’s Item Shop and “most” real-money purchases for the game to all island publishers on a monthly basis, which is huge. The games that Fortnite is currently in the heels of became behemoths without this kind of monetary incentive, at least not this soon, not in these quantities, and not from the developer itself. “Payouts are based on what players enjoy in Fortnite and account for things like island popularity, engagement, and attracting new players,” Epic says in a blog post.
Whatever happens next, one thing is clear: Fortnite is just getting started.