The game by Epic Games is free, but it has generated billion-euro incomes. It uses a system of micro-transactions through which players pay for purely aesthetic elements.
Consumers prefer to take a trip or go out to dinner rather than to buy clothes. The expense on clothing and footwear is far from that prior to the crisis, but it did not represent an obstacle for Epic Games, a video game development studio, that managed to create a multi-million dollar business by selling clothing and purely aesthetic elements in its free game Fortnite. The US company is not pioneer in including micro-transactions in games, but it is one of those that has managed to make the most of this system of monetization.
Launched on July 25, 2017, Fortnite is based on the battle royale concept, in which one hundred players fight on an island until only one remains standing, in the style of Suzzane Collins’ The Hunger Games. Each one controls their own character, whose design has a cartoon appearance, and must collect materials and weapons to eliminate the other users, who compete in real time.
The game did not take long to become popular, becoming one of the multiplayer with more users on all platforms and one of the most watched video games in audiovisual services such as YouTube or Twitch. At the end of 2018, Fortnite exceeded 200 million registered players on all platforms in which it is available, a figure almost equivalent to the whole population of Brazil. The game has seduced audiences of all ages, mostly minors.
Users can pay almost twenty euros for a pack of aesthetic content in ‘Fortnite’
Fashion has been key for Epic Games to succeed in monetizing a video game whose access is completely free trough what is known as in game or micro-transactions. Fortnite players can acquire aesthetic content (commonly called skins) that allows to differentiate themselves from other users, with a personalization that fosters the social component.
Many online games use this same function, such as Overwatch or Call of Duty, so that companies have a sustainable financing system beyond the sale of the video game. Packs with just a creative design suit and a backpack can cost up to 19.90 euros at the Fortnite store. Along with the skins, the game also sells dances, that is, animations, for the character and other kind of items.
Epic Games does not disclose data on its business although, according to information published by TechCrunch last December, the company had a revenue of 3 billion dollars in 2018. The performance of Fortnite led the studio to receive more than one injection of capital in the past year, the last one of 1.25 billion dollars in October, raising the value of the company to 15 billion dollars.
Brands join the phenomenon
From T-shirts to decoration figures, or to a Monopoly, Fortnite crosses the border of its virtual store and sells its merchandising through some distribution chains. Likewise, there are several brands that take the opposite step and decide to launch its own skin inside the video game.
Mobile phone manufacturers such as Samsung or Honor have partnerships with Epic Games to give their own skins to those players that have their top devices. At the end of last year, Fortnite also partnered with NFL, the National Football League, to sell the uniforms of the teams participating in the competition in the game’s store.
The purchase of skins is completely optional and does not give users any advantage regarding the playability aspect of the game. In that sense, it is a mere aesthetic interest for the players, which makes them stand out from others in a kind of rivalry to be the best looking, regardless of who wins a duel at gunpoint. This free to play business model with purchases in game is very common in the market of video games for mobile devices.
To complete the picture, there are games that go beyond the sale of skins and launch them using loot boxes, which are boxes that include items inside and distribute rewards randomly, as if it were a mystery box. Some groups believe that this practices in particular can lead minors to gambling.
Some brands collaborate with ‘Fortnite’ to sell its own aesthetic items inside the game
For instance, users may receive items of lesser value with respect to the money they invest, something that often happens in games of chance. Critics state that players do not really know what are they buying and such business policies are often compared to those in casino and bookmaker businesses.
The natural evolution for brands?
In a scenario in which both user experience and personalization are aspects that gain importance, it makes sense for brands to bet on selling outfits through channels like Fortnite. It is not something new for the fashion industry: many companies have understood for more than a decade that the cultural icon of video games and its audience can be part of its strategy, especially when it comes to games played by millions of people around the world.
For example, Diesel collaborated with Electronic Arts in one of the expansions of The Sims 3, so the game sold clothing and accessories from the brand inside the game. The series of The Sims also had been collaborating with H&M and Ikea for its second edition.
Even video game characters have become models for some brands, as is the case of Lightning, the protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII. Louis Vuitton used that character for an advertising campaign, and placed images in shop windows of its stores in Barcelona and Paris, among others.
Clothing, and aesthetics in general, is an essential pillar in the artistic design of a video game. A peculiarity of this industry, which is a differential factor compared to cinema, literature and music, is that it gives the player the opportunity to express their personality through clothing. In that sense, fashion shares a very similar value and, in this case, it is reflected in the virtual world.
The role of video games as a sales channel is becoming increasingly relevant in a context in which omnichannelity is the order of the day. They are, indeed, the main driver of global entertainment, after generating 134.9 billion dollars in 2018, 10.9% more than the previous year, according to Newzoo.