Fancy vacationing on a cartoon island dressed as John Wick? What if I told you that you’d have to fight with Spiderman with a lightsaber and Ariana Grande with a grenade launcher? Well, you are in luck, because Fortnite is the getaway you’ve been looking for.
Fortnite is packed with brand names from bottom to top. It’s the video game equivalent of dumping all your toys out of the toybox and smashing them together. And that is more or less what happens every time you play Battle Royale – a game mode in which up to 100 players fight each other to the death in an ever-shrinking arena.
Fortnite looms large in gaming these days, with an estimated 268-272 million players playing every month. For comparison, Fortnite saw over 10 times as many users online at once compared to Minecraft – another massive juggernaut in the video gaming world. But how did it get so big, so fast? And more importantly – how did my parents find out about it?
One reason for Fortnite’s massive success is that it is free-to-play. That makes the barrier to entry low, and because it’s hella addictive, it’s no surprise that many gamers keep coming back for more.
But the real key to Fortnite’s success is the abundance of beloved branded characters. Marvel superheroes. Popstars. NFL linebackers. You can find every one of them and more in Fortnite.
That means Fortnite isn’t just a game made by a developer. It’s a media platform – or perhaps even a media mogul.
Fortnite literally integrates brands into its story
You may be surprised to know this, but repping other brands from real life is actually part of the Fortnite story.
Yeah, I was surprised too when I found this out.
Here’s the basic idea. The Imagined Order (IO) is responsible for a time loop that traps all people on the island an eternal series of battle royales. They also can hop into other realities, yoink characters out of their worlds, wipe their memories, stop them from speaking, and force them to fight in the battle royale. Hopefully, we’re not next.
Because Fortnite runs on the idea of multiverses, they can pluck Dr. Strange out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Naruto out of his and have them dance to songs from our universe. It all connects back to the story.
Fortnite has a huge partnership with Marvel
With clever sleight-of-hand in Fortnite lore to back it up, the studio that created the game – Epic Games – had carte blanche to reach out to any brand they wanted to. And what brand would be better to kick off with than Marvel? They started off with a bang by adding freaking Iron Man in August 2020.
So how did Epic Games manage to get Marvel to show up in Fortnite? The story says that ex-IO member Midas attempted to stop the time loop from happening, but failed and ultimately attracted the Marvel supervillain, Galactus in the process. Thor caught onto what was happening, and he summed the Avengers and other Marvel heroes to help.
Meanwhile, in Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Thor is shown playing Fortnite in the movie. Ironically, we’re meant to assume that this represents Thor at his lowest point. Simple truth is, the directors of Endgame are just big Fortnite fans.
Of course, that’s the story explanation. It’s easy to think of the business of Fortnite as being much smaller than the business of the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse. But the statistics paint a different picture: during the worst part of the pandemic in 2020, Fortnite had as many as 350 million players.
As for money, Fortnite managed to make $9 billion in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic-related surge in players. Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made $25 billion from 2008 to 2022. We don’t have complete statistics for Fortnite’s sales figures, but suffice it to say that it’s a peer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That’s why, in 2022, it makes sense that there are over 40 Marvel-related skins available to purchase that players can wear when playing Fortnite. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is making a savvy business choice to increase the visibility of their characters.
Strangely enough, it looks like neither company paid a single dollar in this deal either. They simply agreed to do a collab. “You include Fortnite in your movie, and we will include your movies in our Fortnite.”
Fortnite, despite having been out for a few years now, still has really strong sales figures partly as a result of their deal with Marvel and others. Fortnite made $5.1 billion in 2020 – more than what it averaged in 2018 and 2019. Plus its userbase grew from 250 million in 2019 to 350 million in 2021.
How Fortnite makes money as a free-to-play game
Fortnite hasn’t just worked with Marvel. They’ve also brought in characters from Batman, Alien, X-Men, and many more franchises, all while weaving the characters into the story of Fortnite. It’s a brilliant way to keep the season fresh by adding new content for players to play, all of which helps them make money through the Vbucks store.
Vbucks is the currency of Fortnite that people can buy with real money in order to buy skins, emotes (including dances), and other premium content that is on their store. You can purchase Vbucks on Fortnite’s platform and in-person at major retailers like Walmart. Right now, 1,000 Vbucks goes for $7.99 and 15,500 goes for $79.00.
Unfortunately, because Fortnite is a private company, it is difficult to find statistics on how much they are making. Every statistic cited earlier in this article is an estimate. But sometimes things slip through the cracks and give us insight into how much money Fortnite is rolling in. Case in point, Epic Games casually sold 3.3 million NFL-branded skins in one month.
The skins were 1,500 Vbucks each, which is around $15 per skin. That means they made about $50 million dollars in the week or two leading up to the Super Bowl. If you had any remaining doubt that branded collaborations were making Epic Games money, this should clear those up.
Henceforth, Fortnite has collaborated with over 100 different brands ranging from movie studios to shoemakers to sports teams. All of this further enriches the Fortnite world, creating absolutely insane crossovers. Like I said – you can play as Spiderman with a lightsaber taking out a bounty on Ariana Grande with a rocket launcher, only to get sniped by John Wick doing the Macarena. If you told me this 20 years ago, I would have called you mad.
Fortnite can even draw from meme culture. Veterans of the game likely remember the kid in an orange shirt who went viral for doing the Orange Justice dance for a competition. Both his Twitter and YouTube have been suspended, but to this day, he is still dancing in Fortnite because his moves have been immortalized in the game.
Fortnite is also a concert venue
As of right now, dozens of live events have occurred in Fortnite, but four really stand out, as they were events involving celebrities. For starters, famed DJ, Marshmello, took the digital stage back in 2019 and did an epic concert live on Fortnite. Little did we know at the time, this would be the first of may concerts to take place in the metaverse of Fortnite.
Fortnite had 10.7 million players attend the 10-minute Marshmello concert, complete with fireworks, balloons, and other props that the players could interact with during the show. Following that concert, Marshmello hit 40 million views on his Youtube channel in 2 days.
He was already a big DJ, but by playing a concert live in Fortnite, his popularity grew even further.
If we assume that even one-third of the concert attendees bought the Marshmello bundle on the Fortnite store, that’s 3 million people. The bundle costs 2,300 Vbucks, or about $20 in real money. That means Fortnite could have easily made $150 million in revenue on the Marshmello skin alone.
And that’s just assuming people who attended bought the skin, so this is almost certainly an overly conservative estimate.
Consider also that the age group that listens to EDM music the most is 18-24. That’s exactly the same age group that plays Fortnite the most. Even prior to the pandemic, Fortnite was an excellent way to reach young EDM fans.
Following the success of Marshmello, two more concerts were held in Fortnite. One was by Travis Scott and another by Ariana Grande. Travis and Ariana collectively raked in around $20 million in merchandise sales which is just over a quarter of Travis’s entire real-life tour at $53.3 million in 2019. For a virtual concert!
There’s no reason to think that Fortnite will stop collaborating with musicians anytime soon. For musicians, it’s just about the easiest payday they’ll ever see in their life. For Fortnite players, it’s a fun way to see your favorite musicians without spending a dime, because, as you’ll recall, Fornite is free-to-play. They make money on merch.
Fortnite knows how to work with live-streamers too
In the world of video games, celebrity status goes beyond simply movie stars and musicians. Live-streamers can be famous in their own right, and the Fortnite team is smart enough to work with them too.
Take, for example, Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja. He’s been streaming for a while, having started off with Halo 3, but his true fame and glory came from when he started streaming Fortnite in 2017. He is now very widely known as one of the biggest streamers on Twitch.
Ninja is a rare bird. He’s the perfect combination of a skilled gamer and a compelling personality. That’s why he is such a perfect fit for Twitch’s demographic. He was 26 when he started Fortnite streaming, which put him just a hair over the average age of a Twitch viewer. (Of course, he still looks quite young, so you wouldn’t know he’s in his 30s now!)
Ninja couldn’t hide in the shadows forever. In 2017, he amassed over 13,00 subs on Twitch. By 2019, that had risen to 200,000 subs. He was headed for superstar status on the platform. He played Fortnite with famous celebrities and streamers including JuJu Smith-Schuster, rappers Drake and Travis Scott, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Kieran Trippier.
When Ninja was playing with Drake, his stream saw over 600,000 live viewers on Twitch. Eventually, Fortnite realized how much of a favor Ninja was doing them by streaming their game, and they immortalized him in the lore of Fortnite in 2020. For 2,000 Vbucks ($15), you could purchase the Ninja Bundle, complete with a Ninja skin and many other items made in Blevins’ likeness.
Even though skin creators only receive a 5% royalty, you have to imagine that Ninja is absolutely rolling in money from his collaboration with Fortnite. And Fortnite, of course, benefited from yet another brand collaboration to further enrich their world and pull in more players.
Clearly, Epic Games understood how to capitalize on the insane rise of Fortnite. By collaborating with Marvel, musicians, sports teams, and even streamers, Fortnite was able to expand its reach and bring in new revenue. It’s a brilliant way to keep eyes on the game.
But even better, Fortnite did not treat its collaborations as simple cash grabs. They found a way to weave brand integration into their story and explain why all these characters belonged. I think turning brand deals into a coherent story is a really clever innovation that keeps the game fresh with every new chapter.
With over 100 brands in Fortnite, it doesn’t seem like they will be stopping anytime soon. Pitted against all the other video games in the world in a battle royale, Fortnite could one day be the victor, especially if they keep these brand deals going.