The Fortnite Frenzy: What’s behind the video game obsession
MADISON, Wis. — It has become the latest video game phenomenon to take over the minds of American children, and sometimes even adults.
“Fortnite: Battle Royale” has had an unrelenting rise since it was first released last summer by North Carolina-based Epic Games.
According to video game research firm Superdata, the game generated $223 million in revenue in the month of March, a 73 percent increase from the month before. That’s despite the fact that the game is free, and contains no ads. Revenues are generated when players purchase in-game add-ons, such as the game currency known as V-Bucks.
“Fortnite” has already become the biggest free-to-play game ever played on a console system, such as PlayStation 4 or Xbox.
“A big drawing point of that is that ‘Fortnite’ is a free-to-play game. Anyone can play it,” said UW student Jared Simonsen, the president of the Madison eSports Club. “Anyone can play it on any console. They can play on PS4, on Xbox, on PC, on iPhone even you can play it now And everyone’s playing it because they can and it’s just so unifying, similar to how ‘Pokemon Go’ was last summer.”
In the game, players are parachuted onto an island from a Battle Bus, with nothing but a pickax. From there, often online, in teams of up to three friends and competing against up to 100 other players, they battle their way through the island, collecting weapons and building things in a fight for survival.
For Simonsen and his friends who have gone to college elsewhere, the social component of the game has been a big draw.
“I think ‘Fortnite’ has become a great opportunity for me and some of my best friends to bond together. It can bond so many people across so many divides and so many platforms,” he said.
In addition to being a free game, another draw is that parents don’t see the game the same way they do more violent video games, such as the popular “Call of Duty.”
“It’s kind of a combination of ‘Minecraft’ and ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Hunger Games, but there’s no gore, no guts,” said SSM Health pediatrician, Dr. Michael Trias. “It’s a very toned-down version of a shooter game.”
Kay Kratochwill, like many busy parents, vetted the game herself before putting it in the hands of her 10-year-old son Max.
“I asked a lot of adult people that I knew, that play it, what it was all about. Like, is this age-appropriate for my 10-year-old son? I watched a little bit of it and I thought, ‘Well, it seems OK.'”
Some parents have taken issue with the amount of time their children spend playing the game. Many families are engaged in a nightly battle to squeeze in ‘Fortnite’ around dinner and homework. Trias recommends setting out guidelines before downloading ‘Fortnite.’
“Time goes by quickly, and sometimes you start playing at 9 a.m., and the next thing you know it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. “Most of these kids are old enough. You can develop ground rules before the situation happens.”
Kratochwill’s biggest battle with Max has come over the credit card connected to the Xbox Live account, the network used by Microsoft to connect players. In recent months, she has received emails notifying her that someone had used her Microsoft-connected credit card to purchase V-bucks for “Fortnite.” Bewildered, she figured it had to have something to do with Max. He eventually fessed up to it, and had to pay his mother back with his allowance money.
“He learned a lesson, definitely,” said Kratochwill, “and he’s also learning about responsibility. He’s learning about honesty.”
Trias said trust is a big part of the equation with any video game that’s played online.
“There’s a level of trust that you have to have and a level of understanding and ground rules,” said Trias. “When we’re talking about not only spending money but also interacting with other people on these devices and games.”
When played in moderation, with a watchful eye over the credit card connected to the account, “Fortnite: Battle Royale” can peacefully coexist with homework and dinners in many families, at least until the frenzy over “Fortnite” ends. There can even be some positives.
As Kratochwill knows, video games can be a tool to help her get through the day. “As a single mom, I can’t always set up play dates for him,” she said with a hint of guilt. “He kind of has a play date right there, and he’s playing with two of his best friends.”
“It’s very social,” Trias said. “You’re not necessarily playing by yourself. You can play with your friends. Back when we were young, we had to be at someone’s house, playing together, taking turns. Now, you can be anywhere and you can be playing with one of your buddies. That’s a huge draw for these kids.”
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