Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Suppliers seek Fortnite’s magic touch

Fortnite Battle Royale is on its way to becoming one of the most popular video games in the world, providing a challenge for gaming suppliers as to how to recreate its success and capture the millennial gamer.

Developed by Epic Games, the free-to-play battle-royale shooter is estimated to bring in a total of $2 billion in revenue to the developers by the end of the year, fueled solely from the sale of in-app items such as character & gadget skins, emotes, and other in-game items.

To date, the game is said to host more than 125 million players - helped by its free-to-play status. According to NewZoo, more than 68 percent of Fortnite BR’s player base fall within the 10 to 30-year age group, the latter of which the gambling industry has been struggling to attract.

But, breaking down what makes Fortnite so successful is no easy task, say gaming experts.

“There is no real hard and fast rule about what makes a game popular,” said Hai Ng, co-founder of Neomancer and an avid gamer. “Games go viral for one reason or another.”

In Fortnite, your player is pitted against 99 other human opponents in a massive open-world free-for-all. Players start the game unarmed and are forced to use their own resourcefulness and cunningness to find weapons, build defenses and eliminate opponents in order to survive.

“The concept isn’t actually new,” said Hai.

Fortnite Battle Royale is the second “me-too” BR game, following Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG) released by Bluehole in 2017, and H1Z1, released by Daybreak Game Company in 2015.

However, where Fortnite has outstripped the competition, says Hai, is in its all-player encompassing design.

“What makes Fortnite interesting for a me-too, is that it is in a sense, very creative. It cartoonized the game-concept - meaning that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It designed its gameplay in a way to cater to both low-skilled and highly-skilled players,” he explains.

“One rule of game design is that the wider-range of skills required for the game, the wider your base of players. There are players who like to play slow games, fast games, run and gunners, builders, campers. The more [player] archetypes you can encompass, the better a game can do. This is something that Fortnite has been able to do well.”

However, Hai says the real magic in Fortnite comes from the way it seems to have perfected the balance between player luck (RNG) and skill.

Fortnite is designed in a way in which every player, no matter the skill-level, has a chance of taking the crown at the end of the day.

“A game where a player always has an opportunity to win, meaning it has some level of luck, can be appealing to a wider group of people. It’s like playing poker. You may not have the skill of a pro, but you could beat one if the flop comes your way.”

On the other hand, a game that is purely determined by luck - like most slots on the market today, will find it very hard to attract the core gamer market.

“As a gamer, you want to feel that your skill has made a difference. The luck helps you brag but you need to be able to convince somebody that you won because of your skill.”

“You need to create a game that gives the player enough of an illusion of skill that it’s worth their time, but also enough RNG so that even lower skilled players will remain hopeful, despite their disadvantage.”

It’s a balance that many skill-based slot machines manufacturers are still finding difficult to master, said Hai.

“Today’s skill-based titles do a poor job of hiding the fact that their outcomes are almost completely determined by RNG. They try to say its a game of skill but it’s really not because regulations do not allow it. Once a player finds out that their skill didn’t do much to determine the outcome, they will feel betrayed.”

“You need to make games that give people the illusion that their skill affected the outcome,” he adds.

Surprisingly, one group that appear to be making strides in this area are the students of game design at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, led by Daniel Sahl, Ph.D., Associate Director for the Center for Gaming Innovation.

Students in Sahl’s class focus on creating, patenting and commercialising new concepts for casino games with the ultimate goal of getting them to the casino floor.

While a few of their games are already set to launch, one particular product of interest involves a take on the skill-based slot, which borrows from popular mechanics found in Match 3 games such as Candy Crush and Bejewelled.

“We call it Line ‘Em Up, and it's basically a game that takes the most popular element from Match 3 games, and makes it work with the line building element of traditional slots.”

Line ‘Em Up is a game that provides a player with a variable number of “moves” after each spin of the reel, allowing them to manipulate the reels and extract a winning combination.

“And it's real skill,” said Sahl. “It's very possible to make a mistake.”

“It has a skill element that allows you to learn, and improve your outcome next time. We think that's where the player will get a deeper sense of enjoyment, as opposed to what they would get from a passive slot experience.”

It’s a seemingly simple concept, but its execution could end up being a breath of fresh air to the stagnating passive slot machine design.

“In gambling, the skill doesn’t have to be overly complex or time consuming to give players that sense of satisfaction when they receive a nice outcome or a win,” added Sahl.

But it’s not all about game design and mathematics, says Myles Blasonato, creative director and lead writer at Capptive Labs. From the moment the game starts, Fortnite puts players in the center of their own story, giving them plenty of choice from the get-go.

“Fortnite is a massive sandbox. Everytime you play, you don’t know what to expect. This means that the stories that come out of the game are stories created by the player... It becomes an engrossing experience,” says Blasonato.

“Traditional games require players to take an optimum strategy, or follow a set path. Fortnite takes this concept and throws it out the window... There is no optimum strategy.”

“Emergent game design is about player choice,” he adds.

But creating a truly innovative gambling game is easier said than done.

“A lot of the time, game design is being driven by regulatory constraints. Game designers are told what they can’t do, and expected to build a game from that,” said Hai.

“A better approach would be to design a game that breaks the mould, and then bringing it down to a regulatory level,” he said.

Sahl believes there is room for the industry to better cater to the gamer generation.

“Video games have trained an entire generation to identify patterns and game mechanics in order to win,” said Sahl. It’s the learning experience and progression that people enjoy.

“That to me is the formula for success,” he adds.

“What’s often lost in the gaming industry, is that the game designers are not trained in what makes good game design. We need to find real gamers and ask them the right questions,” concludes Hai.

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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