How Fortnite is revolutionizing in-game advertising

Fortnite featuring Travis Scott Presents: Astronomical (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Fortnite featuring Travis Scott Presents: Astronomical (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) /

Fortnite has evolved from a battle royale game to a in-game advertising powerhouse with concerts, movie tie-ins and special events.

Let’s be honest here, nobody likes advertising. Whether it’s on television or on the internet, people go out of their way to avoid it. Over time, advertising has bled into video games and, to no one’s surprise, it has been met with resistance.

The biggest offender of this is probably 2K, who took some serious heat with the implementation of unskippable ads in NBA 2K19. In free-to-play mobile games, ads are somewhat understandable and tolerated as long as it’s not done in a way that ruins the overall experience. But NBA 2K19 was an actual blockbuster sports game that people paid premium money for.

Not all advertising is as clumsy as what you see with your typical free-to-play mobile game, which oftentimes requires you to watch a 30-second ad to gain energy or continue to the next level. Some brand integration is actually done in a way that feels natural to the game and less intrusive. Sometimes ads are dynamically inserted into a game, appearing on background billboards of a level or stadium. In any of these instances, however, it clearly feels like an advertisement.

Enter Fortnite, Epic Games’ free-to-play battle royale game that exploded in popularity. Fortnite has become one of, if not the most popular games on the planet and is hands down the most culturally relevant.

Fortnite is still a battle royale game at its core, but it has since evolved into more of a social tool and advertising opportunity for many big-named brands. Sites joke that Fortnite is no longer a game, but one big advertisement — and there is some truth to that. It’s exaggerated a bit, for sure, as Fortnite is still very much a game; but, it’s become so much more than that.

The branded advertisements started off small initially with the availability of cosmetics designed for specific events. In 2018, Epic introduced soccer skins and interactive pitches in celebration of the World Cup. They’ve also had cosmetic tie-ins with the NFL.

It’s not just sports though. In 2018, Epic collaborated with Marvel for a special Fortnite x Avengers crossover event where players could collect the Infinity Stones and become Thanos. It was seemingly this event that jump-started a string of collaborative events for blockbuster movies. Since the initial Avengers crossover, Fortnite has hosted either special cosmetics or game modes for films like Star Wars, John Wick and Avengers: Endgame.

Most recently, the game was host to the premiere of a trailer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming blockbuster, Tenet. A giant movie screen was set up in-game that allowed players to gather and watch the trailer’s premiere.

It was during this event that it was announced that an entire Christopher Nolan-directed movie will be streamed for free within Fortnite this summer. It almost definitely won’t be Tenet, but he’s got quite a collection of impressive films to choose from. It’s the perfect form of advertisement — a free movie to hype and familiarize players with the director of a soon-to-be-released film.

Beyond films and sports, Fortnite has also become a social gathering hub for fans of music. The game has hosted multiple in-game concerts, each a massive spectacle with timed choreographic movements and impressive lights. Marshmello and Travis Scott are two prominent artists who put on digital concerts, debuting new songs in Fortnite.

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Special events like trailer premieres, in-game movies and concerts, limited-time events and cosmetics are all technically forms of advertising. But they don’t feel that way in Fortnite. For starters, they are all completely optional so you can choose to log in and participate. They aren’t shoved in your face and forced upon you if you want to play the game.

Advertising in Fortnite doesn’t feel like your typical adveritsing. These massive in-game spectacles feel like can’t miss events. They get players excited while familiarizing them with a brand or product. Epic Games has made advertising cool and exciting — well, as cool and exciting as advertising can be.

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According to analytics from SuperData, Fortnite hauled in $2.4 billion in revenue in 2018 — the highest figure in gaming history. It’s unclear how much of that stems from these events or how it breaks down into advertising but either way, Fortnite is revolutionizing how brands reach gamers.