Fortnite is available on almost every major platform, including mobile devices, and its most popular mode is completely free. It has earned the sort of mainstream recognition and success that is so rare in North America, outside of games like Pokémon Go that seemed to fizzle rather quickly. Fortnite is easy to learn, but mastering the building system and all its intricacies requires hours of practice and dedication.
This should lead to a game with a toxic stew of angry, foul-mouthed players who are always ready to tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. But it hasn’t. The most surprising thing about Fortnite is how nice the community seems to be.
What the hell is going on?
The fact I have voice chat in Fortnite open at all feels like a huge win for the game. Most games hit you with such negativity and foul language so quickly that your choices are either to only play with people you know or to shut off voice chat entirely. Dealing with random Fortnite players is task that’s much easier, more often than not.
Before I continue, I know that there are shitty players out there, and I’ve stumbled across more than a few. But the tone of Fortnite has, in my experience, been much more positive than negative. It’s an issue I’ve discussed with my colleagues at length, but that niceness is something I’ve been hesitant to write about because it’s so squishy and strange. It feels almost unbelievable.
The average player I hear from in Fortnite is younger than I am — by decades in many cases — and they’re incredibly well-behaved online. If someone says they’re unfamiliar with the game, a dedicated player will explain the rules. People cheer each other’s victories and offer pep talks when someone gets angry. Players will jump into group chat to apologize for not having microphones, and everyone seems to be playing to have a good time.
It’s baffling. Video games should be about having a good time in most circumstances, but most games devolve into ill-mannered discussions of the possible race or gender of a player who is beating your team. But the inverse seems to be true in Fortnite, where the nice, friendly players seem to handily outnumber the toxic, angry ones. How has a game with such a huge draw from so many different areas of gaming pulled this off?
Epic Games declined to comment on the record, and I admitted upfront in the email that it was strange to ask a company what it was doing to encourage a player base that was this friendly. Playing Fortnite often feels like jumping into an episode of Leave It to Beaver, without all the implicit racism.
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is the most popular Fortnite streamer, and even he seems remarkably nice and well-adjusted. He was the perfect ambassador for the game when he went on TV to discuss why Fortnite is so popular.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “The fact that it’s free-to-play is super huge, and it’s already across all the platforms, your Xbox, PlayStation and PC. They just released their mobile version on iOS, which is very difficult to get done. I think there’s rumors about even getting it on the Nintendo Switch. So just the accessibility and how friendly the game is ... they’re just hitting every single mark perfectly.”
That friendliness may be one of Fortnite’s secret weapons, even I’ll be damned if I understand how Epic is able to keep it going, or why the greater community seems to value it so much. I’m not complaining at all; having that sort of “we’re all in this to have a good time” attitude is what every title should aspire to. But Fortnite was able to pull it off.
Ninja had more thoughts about his own personal success.
“It’s very difficult to be one of the best at a video game, in any game, or at anything in all in the world,” he said. “I also think I offer ... I’m very goofy. If you’ve ever watched any of my streams or my YouTube videos, I do impressions and stuff like that all the time. Just crazy shenanigans. [...] It’s pretty fun to watch, and a positive environment as well.”
It’s hard to tell in text, but he’s not being sarcastic or snarky. He’s using the words “goofy” and “shenanigans” in a completely sincere way. Fortnite’s shenanigans are cheeky and fun. Other games’ shenanigans are cruel and tragic, which makes them not shenanigans at all, really.
I tend to play games at night, after the kids have gone to bed and my workday is long over. This is the time of day when I’m tired and cranky, and often have a short temper. The best thing I can say about Fortnite is that I’ll often find myself being nicer to other players just to fit in. I want these kids to like me, dammit! Even if other games would have me cursing up a storm.
If you’re curious about why Fortnite seems to continue to grow at this rate, maybe this is the secret at the heart of it all. The game has, somehow, hit a critical mass of nice players, and just about everyone seems to want to keep that ball rolling.