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Fortnite Becomes The Social-Media Experience Of Teens’ Choice

Brands trying to connect with teens and tweens should focus their attention on a fast-growing new social-media platform, perhaps better known as the hit video game Fortnite.

That’s the finding of National Research Group, the Los Angeles marketing-research firm, which just released survey results showing that 40 percent of gamers between 10 and 17 are playing weekly, spending a quarter of their free time in Fortnite.

And they’re not just playing the Battle Royale-style hit; they’re watching friends play, crowding Twitch live-streaming rooms to follow stars such as Ninja, and, importantly, hanging out and communicating with friends in the game and its lobby area for hours.

“It offers a safe, playful way to be your authentic self,” said NRG CEO Jon Penn. “If you think of some of the pitfalls happening in social media, they want to do that in a way that’s inclusive, that provokes creativity. They’re talking, they’re commenting, they’re having a shared experience.”

The game was originally a quickly developed additional mode for an Epic Games title focused on co-operative survival. The Battle Royale mode launched for free in Fall 2017, and quickly took off, surpassing Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the genre’s pioneering title.

Epic eventually released Fortnite versions on just about every game platform and now claims an estimated 250 million players. Its free price, goofy humor, regularly evolving gameplay and wide availability fed its rapid growth.

Jumping On the Brand Wagon

Now Fortnite is generating more than $200 million a month in revenue, largely from the sale of season passes, digital goods and victory dances that allow players to customize their avatar and express themselves. Brands have increasingly tapped into the game with branded or sponsored goods, including content from the NFL, Nike and Lionsgate’s latest John Wick film.

Demographics of the game’s users skew younger, as with other teen favorites Netflix and YouTube. And unusually for any game, two in three current users say they’re playing the game more this year than last.

Normally, the next new title to come along claims players’ attention and a game slowly fades away to perhaps a hardcore contingent of fans. But Fortnite’s evolving role as something closer to a social-media/messaging tool has given it unusually long legs for a game.

“With polarization and divisiveness seemingly defining our culture, Fortnite presents a more hopeful Metaverse where community, inclusivity, creativity and authentic relationships can thrive,” said Penn.

On average, the game occupies 25 percent of the free time of younger regular players (21 percent of all players), pulling relatively equally from just about everything else they do. And it’s that potential that makes the title such an attractive new option for brands too.

“Fortnite is the No.1 service teens are using, and audiences cite its social elements as the primary motivators for playing: it’s the best place to be my authentic self and to connect to what everyone is talking about, making me feel like I’m not alone,” according to the study.

Finding Their Authentic Self

Young players rate Fortnite highly in three key areas of sentiment: “connects me,” “worthwhile experience,” and “fun to use,” the study says. The game’s fans not only play, or watch other players, they also hang out routinely with each other in the game’s online lobby for hours.

Fortnite is more than a game,” the study says, a “more positive digital space….seen as having a positive impact on users’ lives because they create a sense of community.” It also allows players to “escape the pressures of everyday life, in an immersive, inclusive environment.”

“It’s about being inclusive, stressing diversity, enhancing creativity,” Penn said. “It’s about innovation. It’s about not being afraid to fail.” 

Surprisingly, the game’s everyone-against-everyone style, where all but 1 of 100 players will lose, actually contributes to its positive aspects, Penn said.

“The thing with social media is that they’re turning into quite competitive media. Everything you do is being judged,” Penn said. “Fortnite is highly competitive, but even though100 people are playing, and 99 are going to lose, Fortnite has become the place where it’s okay to fail. Losing actually helps.”

For brands, Fortnite is becoming an increasingly important channel for connecting particularly with younger males who increasingly ignore traditional media and generally avoid advertising.

Marshmello’s Massive Concert

A February performance by EDM musician Marshmello held in a meadow on the Fortnite game map attracted 10 million participants for its 10-minute duration, surprising many casual observers and suggesting the game’s potential as a showcase for many kinds of sponsored entertainment.

“This is an audience that’s really hard to find today,” Penn said. But, “If you’re the wrong film with the wrong message, (appearing on Fortnite) might be hurting the property. John Wick 3 was the perfect film for it.”  

But to take advantage of that venue, brands will have to use different approaches than they might on any traditional platform or even many new ones.

“In an era defined by immersive experiences, every brand must think like an entertainment company to win and keep consumer attention,” the study says.

Methodology: NRG surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,500 general consumers for one continuous week in March 2019. See major results in the infographic below.

Fortnite NRG Study infographic