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Fortnite’s community is already at odds over loot crates (update)

Some think Epic has gated high-level play behind a paywall

Fortnite: Battle Royale storm art Epic Games
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Fortnite, Epic’s free-to-play, hybrid “action-building” game, has finally left its private beta and launched into a proper early access period on PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One. But the game’s not actually free yet. You have to purchase a founder’s package to get access. Complicating things is the fact that the community is already at odds over the perceived pay-gating of the game’s high-level content.

At issue are Fortnite’s loot crates, which take the form of sentient, llama-shaped piñatas. Llamas can be purchased with in-game currency, which can be earned by completing specific quests or purchased for a fee. It’s a now-classic monetization scheme that’s appeared in just about every free-to-play game from War Thunder to Pokémon Go.

The trouble here seems to be that players are blasting through the Fortnite content at a breakneck pace and hitting the upper limits of the game’s difficulty curve. The only way forward for some seems to be spending additional money on random loot crates.

For a game destined to become free-to-play in the future, but one that’s currently being sold in packages ranging in price from $39.99 to $149.99 without discounts, that’s setting off alarms among early adopters.

“I am at a point where I am trying to progress through tougher and tougher missions,” said one player in a recent post on Reddit. “My hero is max evolution and level for my point in the game, as are my couple of weapons and traps I use. They cannot get any better than they are currently.”

They go on to explain how they spent nearly two days grinding to max out their current assets, only to find that they had been hard-capped by the game. In order to break through that cap, players need to discover many more ultra-rare items, found only in llamas, and literally destroy them for fuel.

“This process of churning items continues with the material requirements growing exponentially with each step of progression,” said the same post. “You will need more and more items that are time/money gated and no amount of playing the game will alleviate that. That is the issue with this game; at a certain point it becomes a massive grind of items that are only found in llamas. Llamas are the means to progression.”

Other posters refute that assessment. One claims that they have hit the so-called paywall of progression but are still having fun.

“After sinking close to 50 hours into this game since launch day,” they wrote, “the challenge missions that give me [in-game currency] have dried up. ... And you know what? I'm doing just fine.

“Yes that's right, shock horror, but I'm still having the time of my life playing this game. Because I didn't buy 'llama opening simulator.' I bought a zombie tower defense game. And amazingly enough, the tower defense bit is still working.”

One issue that is resonating in all circles, including among popular streamers on Twitch, is the repetitive nature of the game. It appears that, at least in this early access period, there’s just not all that much to do in Fortnite outside of several fairly rote missions. Players spend time searching a map for resources, uncovering a location, building improvised defenses and protecting it from a horde of enemies.

Fortnite launched just a few days ago, on July 24. The early access period, Epic told Polygon, is a means to an end. The true goal is to begin feeding a community of players new and exciting content over time. Executive producer Zak Phelps told Polygon in June that the way forward will involve iterating as quickly as possible and building Fortnite into a platform, not simply a game.

The full commercial release of Fortnite is scheduled for some time in 2018.

Update July 28: Around the same time that our story went up yesterday the Fortnite team issued a post addressing some of the community's concerns over llamas and end-game content.

“There isn't a secret cabal of llama hating Illuminati out there who are trying to "trick" you into spending money on the game once you've played it for fifty hours,” wrote executive producer Zak Phelps. “What there is however is a big RPG with lots of ins/outs.

“What makes the problem interesting, and why we need the community's help, is there are a lot of confounding factors in the post 50+ hours experience. Is it the fact that we simply don't drop enough llamas? Is it because we haven't explained how survivors work well enough and how they can make Commanders powerful? Is it a difference between players who binge play, and players who play daily? We could go on here, but it'll probably put you to sleep.”

Phelps stressed patience during the early access period, and included a list of tips and tricks to get players over the hump. They recommended focusing on boosting the power of player’s home base by diving into the game’s more opaque systems, including survivor teams, retirement and experience retention. Teaming up with other players, he said, was another great way to power through tough encounters.

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