Obviously, one of the driving forces behind this launch is a pitch for the Unreal engine in order for other games to follow suit, but for now, AAA titles are mostly going to be left behind, unable to reproduce themselves like Epic is doing here. I can ...
Paul Tassi , Contributor News and opinion about video games, technology and the internet Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Tomorrow marks the launch of Fortnite Mobile on iOS, with Android and PC/console cross play soon to follow. But this is a rare case in which “[Insert Game] Mobile” does not mean some half-hearted port, but instead a copy of the fully-fledged version of the game.
It’s hard to understate just how big a deal this is for the industry. If I could pinpoint the reason for Epic’s incredible success with Fortnite, other than the obvious draws like fun gameplay, it would be speed. Speed to create a Battle Royale mode in the wake of PUBG’s popularity. Speed to get to Xbox and PS4 quickly. Speed to update the game constantly. And now speed to get a full version of the game running on mobile, which is something we almost never see in this industry.
That last point is going to be the final booster rocket in Fortnite’s launch into orbit. It will reach a point where every other title on the market simply cannot touch it, because Epic has done something almost no other shooter has a chance to emulate.
The flexibility of Unreal, and specifically Epic using their own engine to its fullest for this port, is on display here, and the key to all of this. It’s put Epic in a position that will be incredibly hard for others to emulate who aren't using Unreal themselves. Obviously, one of the driving forces behind this launch is a pitch for the Unreal engine in order for other games to follow suit, but for now, AAA titles are mostly going to be left behind, unable to reproduce themselves like Epic is doing here. I can maybe see PUBG managing to do this at some point down the road, but not any time soon as unlike Epic, speed has not been their strong suit, and they’re constantly plagued with pressing technical issues and cheaters. They still haven't managed to get on 75 million PS4s yet, due to Sony's lack of an Early Access program.
But it’s not just the PUBG vs. Fortnite rivalry. It’s all other games that can’t hope to compete with this move. Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Battlefront, Destiny and so on, aren’t in any position to bring their multiplayer modes to mobile. Ports of these games would be heavily stripped-down, modified versions of the original title, if they existed at all, and unless you can create a 1:1 copy of the original, you can’t hope to have anything like cross play on the table. Again, another ad for what Unreal can do, but with more complicated, more demanding titles, it's going to be difficult for these major players.
The only other game that comes to mind with this level of popularity and this kind of availability across platforms would be Minecraft, which took over the world several years ago on the backs of the same younger-skewing crowd that is now making Fortnite a worldwide phenomenon. If you can get on mobile, if you can get a real version of your game on mobile, that’s the key to taking something from a hit to an all-time legendary title, simply because of how much it blows the ceiling off your potential playerbase. But almost no titles can do it, putting games like Minecraft and now Fortnite on a mountain.
There are obviously questions that remain to be seen about Fortnite Mobile, namely how it will control on a touchscreen, as this is not a leisurely session of Minecraft, but a fast-paced, competitive shooter. Epic creative director Donald Mustard told me this on Twitter the other day after the mobile version was announced:
“I think we’ve refined the controls into something pretty great. I’m really proud of several areas where I think we’ve innovated or advanced what’s possible with touch screen input.”
There’s also the potential for players to use various phone/tablet controller accessories to control the game on mobile, turning your device into essentially a mini Nintendo Switch when it comes to Fortnite gameplay (though players obviously are still dying for an actual Switch version). It will probably be a process of refinement, but provided it’s not a total disaster that scares everyone off the mobile port, it’s going to totally change everything about how Fortnite is played. And also how other games will want to be played in the future, if they can somehow manage this kind of flexibility. Right now, almost none of them can, which will leave Fortnite on an island declaring Victory Royale indefinitely.
There are an estimated 144 million copies of Minecraft that have been sold to date, much of that on the back of its mobile versions. This is where Fortnite could go if Epic maintains both this level of momentum, and creates a mobile version that players find as fun and engaging as the original. This is going to be something to behold, one way or another, I can tell you that. Stay tuned.
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