At my kids’ school they seem to talk about three things: Pokémon cards, Minecraft, and Fortnite. And while last year Pokémon cards were the number one, Fortnite seems to be on the rise. The parents at school seem divided on the topic. But a common trend among all the parents is none of them can really explain what Fortnite is. “It’s a shooting game.” “A killing game.” “It’s like Call of Duty.” “It’s rated Teen and my kids are eight so no, absolutely not.” A lot of parents seem, for lack of a better word, ignorant to what exactly Fortnite is. As a parent who allows both his eight- and four-year-old to play, and because PlayStation Compass exists to bridge these exact gaps between parents and kids, today we’re going to have a conversation about Fortnite.
What is Fortnite?
Fortnite is two different games in one. “Save the World” is a solo or multiplayer survival game, but as of this writing it costs money to play. Completing missions in Save the World earns you V-Bucks, Fortnite’s premium currency. Players can spend these V-Bucks on skins and accessories in either of Fortnite’s game modes.
“Battle Royale” is likely what your kids are talking about. Fortnite Battle Royale is free to play and is the biggest game in the Battle Royale genre of video games. Fortnite is to Battle Royale what World of Warcraft was to MMORPGs. They weren’t the first games in their genres, but each catapulted its genre forward.
What is “Battle Royale”?
Battle Royale is a video game genre loosely based on a Japanese film of the same name from 2000. A class of middle school students were placed on an island and told the last survivor would get to return home. Each student was given a backpack with supplies and a randomly assigned weapon. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Hunger Games movie had a similar premise. Hunger Games-themed Minecraft mods started gaining popularity after the movies. A short time later, the Battle Royale subgenre was born. But another subgenre made an important contribution to Battle Royale: open-world survival.
Games like DayZ and Rust dominated the open-world survival genre. Large, open world maps made their way into the first Battle Royale games. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came out following the popular Minecraft Hunger Games mods. Fortnite Battle Royale followed soon after. But with the move away from Minecraft came one major change: guns replaced swords. Battle Royale has become synonymous with shooting.
Before 2018 ends, both Call of Duty and Battlefield will introduce Battle Royale modes to their new games. It’s no longer a genre for small-team indie studios. It’s now a triple-A genre with millions in development dollars.
Why is Fortnite so popular?
Fortnite Battle Royale got in early, and it got in cheap. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, cost money. Open-world games like Rust and DayZ cost money. Epic Games announced that Battle Royale would be free for everyone. Fortnite came out on consoles, then mobile devices. And Fortnite ran beautifully on every device capable of playing it. It runs well on iPhone. It runs well on Switch. PS4, PC, Mac. It’s second only to Skyrim in how many different devices it can run on. Fortnite doesn’t have an Alexa app yet, unfortunately.
The game sets itself apart from its competition in its building mechanic. Fortnite allows players to harvest wood, stone, and metal to build small structures: walls, stairs, roofs, and floors. Players use a pickaxe on trees, buildings, trash cans.. almost anything in the game world. Building is a big part of combat in Fortnite, with proper building skills being as important as shooting skills. During large battles it’s common to see huge structures spring up from the ground.
Battle Royale is free, but that wouldn’t mean anything if you could pay for better guns and more armor and health. Thankfully, Epic Games takes a cosmetics only approach to its in-game purchases, with real money only used for unlocking new outfits, accessories, and emotes—offering no gameplay advantages. This appeals to both hardcore and casual players, as everyone is on even ground at the start of a match. Every player is in the same bus, sees the same route, and has the same chance at loot as the rest. This type of balanced gameplay doesn’t exist in most genres. Skill-based gaming is the best at encouraging long-term play, because the only way you get better is to play more.
But isn’t Fortnite a shooting game?
Now that you know what Fortnite is, it’s time to address the shooting. Yes, this is a shooting game. Some parents will immediately cross out a game if it has guns, and nothing I can say will change that. If you want to win in Fortnite, you shoot other players and kill them. But you’d be doing Fortnite a disservice if you left it in the same pool as other shooters. Most shooting games carry a Mature rating, but Fortnite’s ESRB rating is Teen. The big factor here is blood. Fortnite Battle Royale contains no blood. You can’t blow someone’s legs off or stab them in the chest. There’s no spray of blood following a headshot. Fortnite is a shooting game, but it’s less violent than comic books. It’s less violent than any of the Batman Arkham games. It’s less violent than any of the Avengers movies.
So Fortnite is safe?
Fortnite lacks excessive violence. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe for kids of any age to play. Fortnite features two things that I hate exposing my kids to: voice chat and in-game purchases.
Voice chat is something I’ve written about before. It is the most dangerous aspect of online gaming for kids today. People are not nice in online video games. Any game that includes voice chat is going to have people with direct access to your child’s ears. When my kids play Fortnite, or any online game, the first thing we do is disable voice chat. Fortnite offers this feature in its own settings. With voice chat disabled, playing Fortnite is a much more pleasant experience. If your child plays with his friends, they can still join a party and use voice chat together.
In-game purchases in Fortnite offer no competitive advantage. But they offer skins you cannot get through regular gameplay. You can buy new dances. New pickaxes. New gliders. And these cosmetics carry an amount of prestige into the playground at school. I’ve heard my son and his friend talking about how many dances they have. They compare outfits. Epic Games rotates available outfits and dances every day. This creates a sense of urgency when kids see something they like. 24 hours later, it could be gone forever.
This urgency isn’t lost on kids. My son spent his birthday money on a costume, Raven, and then regretted it the next day when a new dance and another, cheaper costume were available. He added up the cost and realized he could have bought a cheaper costume and dance for the price of his one costume. And since Raven doesn’t match with another dance he bought before, so he feels he can’t even use his two purchases at the same time.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 introduced loot boxes last year, in what could be described as the most predatory implementation of an in-game gambling system to date. This led gamers, parents, and governments to reconsider its definition of online gambling. Fortnite Battle Royale does not sell any chance-based loot. While this could change, given Epic Games’s recent game Paragon. Paragon featured random card packs that did offer gameplay advantages. And when you introduce kids to a mechanic like this, you can see nothing but disaster. I have read that Fortnite Save the World does have loot boxes with random rewards, but I have not played it myself.
What is a “Battle Pass”?
The Battle Pass coincides with Fortnite’s seasons, currently wrapping up season 5 and approaching season 6. The Battle Pass contains a “Free Pass” and a “Battle Pass.” The free pass offers rewards slowly in an attempt to convince players to buy the Battle Pass, which rewards players much faster—both with faster progression via experience boosts, and more frequent progression. You can preview rewards up to level 100, but you can only unlock the paid tier after you buy the Battle Pass.
Seasons run for eight weeks, and each week a new set of challenges unlock in the Battle Pass. Several of these challenges are available to free pass players, but many need players to buy a Battle Pass. Completing challenges earns the player experience towards their season/pass level.
I bought season 4’s Battle Pass for my son and found that through the Battle Pass rewards, he earned enough VBucks to buy the season 5 Battle Pass without spending any more money. He wound up spending those V-Bucks on a new costume instead, so when Battle Pass 5 came out, he couldn’t buy it. If your kids have good self control, you could buy the Battle Pass once and never spend money again, renewing each new season with the V-Bucks earned from the previous season’s pass.
Still, the Battle Pass is the best way to spend money in Fortnite. It gives your kids specific goals to accomplish, making the game more fun. They can see a specific timeline of when they’ll earn enough V-Bucks for the next skin they want. It’s a solid system and as far as free-to-play money sinks go, not really predatory at all.
Should they play it or not?
As a gamer, I don’t like Fortnite. I like both Battle Royale and shooting games. Fortnite’s mechanics, in particular the building and weapons, don’t appeal to me. But I can see why my kids and their friends like it.
I have no problem with my kids playing Fortnite. But I also let my kids play Dead by Daylight and Call of Duty. Violence in video games is not a concern of mine. The parameters that I set for my kids are no voice chat and restricted in-game purchases. We manage how much money the kids spend in game. Since Fortnite doesn’t have loot boxes or gambling, it won’t encourage addictive behaviour.
If your child—or his or her friends—is going to use Fortnite to create an unhealthy environment of competition and bullying, then it’s best to stay away. My son’s social circle talks about their skins and dances, and showcases the dances in front of each other, but it’s all done in a healthy, non-competitive way.
Fortnite has been a healthy addition to my son’s gaming and social growth, so I can only recommend it. I limit the unhealthy aspects of online gaming, but otherwise he’s free to play how he wants.