Did Fortnite Save Anything for the Swim Back?

Gattaca tells the story of Vincent Freeman, an ‘invalid’ failing to meet the genetic requirement to achieve his goal of journeying into space. He was conceived naturally and as such, has a high probability of several disorders. His younger brother, Anton, was conceived with the aid of genetic selection and is a much ‘purer’ human being. Throughout their childhood Anton would often challenge Vincent to a game of chicken; swimming out to sea as far as possible before having to turn back. Anton would always win of course. Until one day… he didn’t.

What has any of this got to do with Fortnite? I’ll get to that…

As of this moment thousands of Fortnite players are sat staring at their screens, or more specifically a black hole staring straight back at them. If you think about it, it’s a perfectly solid basis for the next episode of Black Mirror. You were worried when you thought your kid was transfixed by Fortnite the game? Well, now they’re legitimately staring into The Ring.

It would only be right to assume there would be some info to be gained by visiting the official Fortnite website or social channels but unfortunately not. In a truly impressive feat, not only has Fortnite ‘the game’ disappeared but so has all of it’s ‘official presence’ online. Once again, Fortnite remains a masterclass in headline-grabbing marketing and media manipulation.

I’ve played several seasons of Fortnite. It only seems like yesterday that I blogged about the huge iceberg colliding with the island indicating the start of Season 7. A season that brought aerial dog-fighting, zip-lines and ski lifts. Fortnite has introduced new toys, game mechanics, weaponry, game-styles, outfits and emotes week-on-week. And occasionally, the odd world-changing event.

Somehow though, the randomness became predictable, and ultimately for me, the experience became a little stale. It didn’t help that I was awful at the game and would often be humiliated by schoolkids who liked to measure me up for my own personal coffin which they would then proceed to build around me, and dance as they demonstrated its ‘iron maiden’ feature.

What will now be known as Chapter One of Fortnite has seen the island deal with *looks at notes*…

…Meteors, time-travel, superheroes, missile launches, iceberg collisions, volcano eruptions, vikings, an Ice King, giant robots (and giant sea monsters) and of course Kevin the CUBE. Oh, and half a dozen or so tie-ins such as the Avengers event and Marshmello in-game concert. (Don’t ask me, he’s big with the kids I guess). All of this before players witnessed the island (and everything else including the UI) disappearing into a black hole.

Epic have consistently subverted expectations throughout the first Chapter of Fortnite. I had nothing but praise for the team when I wrote about them 12 months ago. A team that’s obviously dedicated, passionate and driven. In April however, a story surfaced from Polygon that shed some light on what it really takes to keep Fortnite on top. A ‘brutal work culture’, ‘100-hour working weeks’ and ‘never-ending crunch’. After all, with Fortnite epitomising the games-as-a-service model, EVERY week is a go-to-market deadline week.

“You wanna know how I did it? This is how I did it Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back”

Vincent Freeman, Gattaca

Towards the end of the movie, Vincent explains to his brother how he was able to beat him. It’s a quote that I think is relevant not only to Fortnite but to the games industry as a whole. Games like Read Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man… for games like this to be possible requires sacrifice. Our enjoyment comes at a cost, and that cost is far more than the $60 ticket price. It’s the time not spent with the kids, its the pressured relationships, its the heightened stress-levels, its the copious amounts of caffeine and energy drinks, its the unfavourable diagnosis…

I wonder if Epic Games have perhaps given too much, set their bar too high. Sequels have to be bigger and better, with more content, more events, more aesthetic bullshit for players to obsess over (and immediately forget about when the next loot target is revealed). With the frequency of updates and creativity on show throughout Chapter One, we have to wonder what else Epic, and its artists have left to give.

2019 will see the introduction of ‘the next generation’ of consoles and developers will be expected to meet the ever-increasing demand of consumers. If Fortnite is to stay successful it will need to maintain its relevance, at a time when players have become acclimatised to the frequency of its updates and events. Furthermore, it will need to somehow make the transition into next gen hardware.

It’s only been through writing this post that the deeper meaning of ‘not saving anything for the swim back’ gained much more relevance. Documentaries such as Playing Hard and Raising Kratos give us a glance behind the curtain of the arduous development of Ubisoft’s For Honor and Sony’s God of War, and the common theme of both is sacrifice.

I genuinely hope Epic‘s black hole screen saver stays there for another month, giving that entire team the chance to earn a well earned rest. In reality, I’m rushing to get this post out before it spits out a new island and crunch begins again.

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