Helping marketers figure out Fortnite’s freemium phenomenon

Drake, trendsetter that he is, got in early. Most of the English Football Team only stopped playing long enough to kick a ball or two round a field. It’s already spawned a range of dance crazes and parental concerns.

You know you’ve hit the big time when schools ban even the merest mention of it and accredited detox programmes exist to help you recover from it.

I’m talking, of course, about Fortnite. I think brands and marketers should really watch this space.

Currently the most viewed game on YouTube and Twitch, it has taken the zeitgeist by storm. It inspires Minecraft levels of devotion, content and brand interest.

Critical to its wildfire-like spread has been the compelling nature of the game – go on, just one more go – and the fact that it’s free. Also, uniquely, it’s cross-platform (playable across all gaming platforms) meaning you can start an account on your iPhone and resume play on your PS4 or PC.

There are loads of freebie games on every platform but they haven’t reached the levels of mania that Fortnite has. The defining factor is that Fortnite is free and high quality, with theoretically no limits to gameplay, even if players don’t spend a single buck. Its gameplay is close to that of Battlefield, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto with all of the graphics and none of the upfront cost, though its success is with the Battle Royal format - something which Call of Duty will be adopting in its next release. Gaming as a service.

This baffles many observers. It’s a multi-layered, nuanced game with quality visuals, regular updates and near universal device availability for free. Cheap games usually look cheap, the play is cheap and there’s almost always a hidden catch – obtrusive ads, near impossible levels to complete without buying your way past. Not so with Fortnite.

Of course, you can (and people do) spend real world cash on virtual V-bucks to enhance their gameplay through skins and so on. The developers are making a tidy profit on that alone. But a huge opportunity for the creators and potential partners wishing to make capital from the latest obsession is its accessibility to marketers.

Part of the draw of these games where multiplayer interaction and showing off (latest gun, latest armour, latest dance move – spare us from more flossing) is the whole upgradability of it all. In real life, when kids are sticking minion merchandise and YouTuber swag on pretty much every single possession they have, why not have it in their virtual world too?

It’s ticking every single consumer box. Reach customers where they are (glued to a screen) – tick. Help people be part of and even stand out in their tribe (are you on Fortnite – no, are YOU?) – tick. Help customers show their allegiance (shall we floss?) – tick.

If you’re not in the virtual consumer world, you’re already behind the curve. Marvel paid Fortnite to sponsor parts of the game for the release of Infinity War. Players didn’t even have to pay – find the Infinity Gauntlet and you play as Thanos.

Brand names are thrown about with abandon, whether marketers put them there or not. On Reddit, players have already been ‘branding’ the in-game areas to the extent where Junk Junction and Haunted Hills now have their own UGC logos. A character bearing a striking resemblance to action franchise character, John Wick, is one of the most sought-after (although, in the straight-from-Aldi school of brand pinching, he’s called Jason Wick in the game).

Freemium isn’t new, nor is brand involvement in-game. What makes Fortnite and its ilk game-changers is down to quality. Quality of game play, integrity of content and thrill of social interaction.

As the game progresses through more seasons, more characters and more players, there are endless opportunities for brand marketers to insert themselves into the gameplay universe. And, as long as they aren’t covetous about it and play it right, gamers will welcome their participation.

Dino Myers-Lamptey, UK managing director of MullenLowe Mediahub

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.