Epic Games’ Battle Royale runaway success hit the headlines this month, chipping away at Minecraft’s achievement record with the most dedicated YouTube videos inside one month. With Fortnite riding high, stealing the limelight from previous social media darling PUBG, we ask if talking about ‘Game X’ simply because people are talking about ‘Game X’ is healthy for games, and gamers, in the long term.
Laws of the jungle
Fortnite Battle Royale is an awesome game mode, and Epic Games deserves all the love its getting for sharing its sense of fun with the world. However, let’s not forget that while the Fortnite and overall Battle Royale hype-train rolled ever onwards, games that included Epic Games’ own MOBA-style Paragon fell by the wayside, lost attention and is being shut down.
Just a word on Paragon before broadening out this discussion: it wasn’t that the game was bad, or broken, or any of those objectively depressing reasons for lack of success. Paragon wasn’t perfect, but it had a community behind it, and Epic was showing how its response to feedback was making this bold adaptation of an aging genre better with each update.
In the end, mere passion didn’t make business sense for Paragon. Epic has apologized for its demise, going so far offering refunds to “every Paragon player for every purchase on any platform." After April 26, Paragon will be no more. It just wasn’t working, but how come?
Though it isn’t sensible to expect that every game should continue to exist, simply because a (comparatively) small community of people continue to enjoy playing, the Paragon situation does set a worrying precedent. That is, if a new game fails to become flavor of the month across social media, or rather if this new game is not suitable for streaming and screaming, for example Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice which just collected five Baftas awards – Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement, British Game, Game Beyond Entertainment and Best Performance (Melina Juergens as Senua ) – they will not get the attention they deserve.
The quick and the dead
Again, it is wonderful to see what is happening around Fortnite, as an example of how games are breaking through into mainstream consciousness in ways that old-fashioned publicity machines could never orchestrate. Twitch streamer Ninja’s Fortnite adventures with Drake originated with the Canadian musician following Ninja on Instagram. It’s led to streams with rapper Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Yet, as Fortnite continues to get things ‘right’ what of other experiences don’t offer the same convenient hooks, or simply don’t inspire that crucial handful of influencers to rally behind something new that has potential? Not all games are as fun to watch, or as easy to comprehend, or frankly just don’t have everything perfectly in place to become celebrated.
Rare’s pirating MMO Sea of Thieves set sail as a rather leaky boat at the tail end of March, but is rapidly plugging any holes and reinforcing its bow to survive turbulent waters ahead. Rare’s intentions for Sea of Thieves were born out of laughter-laden exploits as opposed to a grind-oriented, hugely competitive arena. Though there is treasure to acquire, it’s not in the same boat is other loot-obsessed escapades, a prime example being Bungie’s flagging flagship Destiny.
Though it’s a stretch to label the scenario we’re about to describe as dishonest, the story is true and speaks to the kind of concerns that we have about social media guiding our journey as gamers. Or rather, allowing social media to distort perceptions of what’s worth playing.
During a recent press trip of ours, accompanying an international group of writers and streamers from around the world, an evening conversation turned to the secrets of success for new content creators. Unsurprisingly, this boiled down to hashtags, and more specifically right now ensuring that your hashtags should include Fortnite… because Fortnite. Although the tone of the chatter was light-hearted, the truth nevertheless was upheld that even if you have no interest in Fortnite, or the top-performing searches, the performance of any new channel depends so much on the current feeding frenzy. Therefore, the roadmap is settled.
People are talking about Fortnite because people are talking about Fortnite (or PUBG, or Overwatch, or Destiny’s demise). One of the most successful YouTubers in the group cited Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice as a good example of how following your own heart and mind can produce “disastrous” results for the channel, attracting a few thousand views when anything below 30,000 is considered a failure. So, what if your face simply doesn’t fit?
Overlords and underdogs
This manipulation of the truth is nothing shocking, but we hope confirms something that – at the back of your mind – many of us are half suspecting. Business is business, which is why the highest-flying streamers, YouTubers and writers need to attract the most attention.
Fair play to the most engaging YouTube celebrities who work hard at their art, and to the games developers and publishers that choose the social space as a forge with which to temper weapons of mass distraction. It’s not exactly a case of the blind following the blind here, since the leaders are at least as passionate as you are. Rather, you have to be aware that the direction that everyone seems to be going isn’t always for reasons of sincerity.
For sure, social media has given us an unprecedented degree of transparency that reveals a certain truth about our behavior. Just remember that, because making money is involved, we’re being served content as a means to attract a particular audience – not necessarily to help an audience form opinions that lead to more games having a chance at success.
Seek satisfaction in setting your own agenda, though sometimes, as with Epic Games’ own ironically entitled Paragon, you’re going to have some choices taken away from you. Enjoy Fortnite, but do yourself the favor of finding experiences that seem more personal to you.
Alternatively… Battle Royale 4eva!