Fortnite is a popular video game that has quickly become a cultural phenomenon, incorporated into everything from pop music concerts to fashion shows. It has also sparked controversy, with some experts calling it addictive for kids and others saying it leads to rage-related aggression. But what is it exactly, and how do you know if your child is playing too much?
Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite has three different game modes: Battle Royale, a free-to-play multiplayer game in which up to 100 players fight in an ever-shrinking game area to be the last person standing; Fortnite: Save the World, a cooperative multiplayer game in which four players play as commanders of home base shelters and work together to complete missions; and Creative Mode, where players have the freedom to design worlds and battle arenas. Each game mode has its own distinct gameplay, but they all share a common game engine and visual style.
In its first year of release, the Battle Royale mode alone earned $20 billion for Epic Games. That revenue stream reflects a significant change in the way developers earn money from video games. In the past, they made most of their profits from selling their games, but now more than 70 per cent of video games available on a popular online gaming marketplace feature a so-called “freemium” business model that doesn’t cost anything to download or play but is stuffed with opportunities to spend money. Loot boxes, virtual treasure chests that dispense in-game prizes for real-world currency, appear in many of these titles.
Like many modern video games, fortnite is designed to be addictive. It sucks players in by triggering the brain’s desire for dopamine, encouraging them to engage in repetitive behaviour and rewarding them with small victories and virtual prizes. In theory, any video game can be addictive, but today’s newest hits are especially seductive and crammed with features that make them easy to over-indulge in.
Codes that automatically save credit card details are a common feature of many mobile and PC games, including esports titles, social media apps and, now, fortnite. For example, when a player purchases a new Batman skin for their avatar in the game, their payment information is stored and ready to be used again with a single tap, no PIN number or CVV required.
For parents, this can be concerning, because it means children are potentially exposing themselves to online predators and other undesirable characters, and because the unmoderated chat function in Battle Royale allows players to communicate with anyone, not just friends. It also exposes children to inappropriate language and even bullying and extremism, which are not uncommon among younger gamers. Fortunately, there are tools available to help parents manage their kids’ in-game spending and time spent playing. The most important one is to speak with your child about what constitutes a reasonable amount of gaming and to set limits together. Then monitor how often they’re meeting those limits, and adjust as needed.