I’ve been asked a few times recently about Fortnite by fellow parents and, to my shame, as ‘Mr. Games’, I’d never really played it. If you’re like them, fear ye not, as I’ve now fallen down the hole so that you don’t have to. The core game is simple. You get plopped on an island with 99 other people, and the goal is to not be dead. To the casual observer, that might seem like it would soon get repetitive but, every day, a ‘Punchcard’ containing three new quests is delivered to you. Successful completion of these grants you a pile of XP, which allows you to level up, granting you ‘Battle Stars’ which you can spend on cosmetics like emojis and graffiti to personalise your experience.
Occasionally you can even get free ‘V-Bucks’, the in-game virtual currency that you can blow on various other items/avatars in the in-game Item Shop. Theoretically, if you played the game (which, itself, is also free) for three-and-a-bit seasons (approx ten months) you’d have enough V-Bucks to pay for the game’s premium ‘Battle Pass’ (which gives you a wider range of items to spend your Battle Stars on) without it costing you any real money. Once you have that, it rewards you more than enough V-Bucks each season (1500) to never have to shell out cash again, if you’re prudent with them.
Of course, that won’t happen. If you’re playing this game regularly for the best part of a year, you love it, and, if that’s the case, you’ll have seen so many things in-game you ‘need’, to customise your experience. To really tempt you, the game’s Item Shop refreshes every 24 hours with a different selection of virtual merchandise. This, of course, creates artificial scarcity of the many items that could appear each day, as you can only buy them when they appear. As a result, if you log in and see a cool skin you saw someone else using a few weeks ago, you’re compelled to grab it before it’s gone again the next day.
Going back to those Punchcards, there’s a weekly one too, as well as a plethora of Character ones, guiding you to complete quests for the world’s cast of in-game NPCs. Both of these rain yet more XP down onto your grateful, addicted, head and also ensure that every time you play, you’ve got something different to do to keep things fresh, as a sort of sub-quest alongside the primary goal of not getting deaded.
And the world itself isn’t even static. Hour by hour, day by day, the map is evolving, and different game mechanics come and go, as the game’s metanarrative plays out slowly over weeks, months, years through its chapters and seasons. In short, if you’re wondering why your kids seem obsessed with it, it’s because it will almost endlessly reward you with something new for giving it your time, attention, and, in all likelihood, money.
That all sounds incredibly sinister, and maybe it is. But the game also offers a way to play with your friends, wherever they are, whatever platform they’re on. Nintendo Switch, PC, PS5, Xbox, even your phone – Fortnite is everywhere, and cross-platform play is a breeze. And it’s entirely free. Theoretically. As a result, it’s been a source of comfort and happiness for a great deal of people through lockdown, and that is a Very Nice Thing.™
If none of this made sense… basically, if your kid loves Fortnite:
- Buy them the Battle Pass (works out at about £2/month)
- Buy them as many V-Bucks as you can afford
- Alternatively, if you want to spend less money and ensure they’re not so addicted, start them on cigarettes instead.