On its worst day, Fortnite draws in more players, viewers and money than most other online games. It has an NFL partnership and its own toys. Its most popular player has appeared on The Masked Singer. Plenty of companies wish for even a fraction of the $1.8 billion that Fortnite brought in last year.
But the free-to-play game is simply not the juggernaut it once was. Fewer people have been playing during the last season, which led to a drop in revenue and fewer streaming hours watched. The downturn could get worse if a worthy competitor rises.
In the two years Fortnite has been active, the game has generated an unprecedented amount of revenue. Developer Epic Games created a strategy to keep players spending more money by giving them more and more choices.
In 2018, Fortnite's revenue was ridiculous. It peaked at $318 million in May 2018 alone, culminating in $2.4 billion for the year, according to research firm SuperData. The battle royale game took in almost $1 billion more than the next free-to-play game, Dungeon Fighter Online.
Fortnite revenue primarily comes from in-game cosmetics such as character outfits or skins, emotes based on famous dances, and other content that customizes a player's avatar. Some of the cosmetics are available through a seasonal Battle Pass, a one-time purchase that lets players unlock a variety of in-game content the more they play. Other content is available for purchase via the game's Item Shop.
Most of the cosmetics are original concepts created by Epic Games, but others are based on popular characters such as John Wick, Batman and Harley Quinn. Epic also signs deals to create outfits based on prominent players such as Tyler "Ninja" Blevins. To purchase any of these items, players need to buy Fortnite's in-game currency called V-Bucks, which has a conversion rate of 100 V-Bucks to $1.
More V-Bucks, more problems
For a while, Epic Games was raking in the money. But things changed in 2019, and the Fortnite train started to slow down. Month after month, revenue declined for the game in comparison to the previous year. Fortnite was the top-earning game for consoles and third on PC in December 2018, according to SuperData.
January's numbers didn't see an improvement. In fact, Fortnite made the least amount of money for the month since November 2017, according to SuperData. That was just two months after the battle royale game made its debut. The firm says Fortnite's decline in revenue contributed to a 42% drop in console spending compared with the same time last year.
The game's downturn appears even to have affected the bottom line for Microsoft and its Xbox console. Microsoft's earnings for the quarter that ended June 30 last year showed a 3% decline in gaming software and services revenue due to a "third-party title." Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad said that title was Fortnite.
Fortnite finished 2019 with $1.8 billion in revenue, down 25% from 2018, according to SuperData. It's still the top revenue generator but only holds a slight edge over Dungeon Fighter Online and Honour of Kings (better known as Arena of Valor in the US), both of which took in $1.6 billion.
But that interest, like its revenue, began to fade in 2019.
Fortnite was the most-watched video game on
in 2018 at more than 1.3 billion hours, according to statistics tracking site SullyGnome. Then in 2019, Fortnite was dethroned after its views dropped by 22%.
"While Fortnite has faced a steady decline in hours watched, they had hit such a high peak during its heyday, that you have to put its current rank as the No. 3 game on Twitch in perspective," said Doron Nir, CEO and co-founder of streaming tools and services provider StreamElements. "While it's normal for some games to gradually lose viewership month over month, the best way to maintain relevance and spike the numbers are by staging events, hosting competitions, and having a pipeline of new content."
Fortnite has that pipeline in place, but Chapter 2's extended season failed to grab people's attention.
Still king of the hill, for now
A Fortnite season generally lasts 10 to 12 weeks with a major in-game event acting as the transition between seasons. At the start, players learn the various new additions, including changes to the gameplay, the map, weapons and more. It's about halfway through the season when the game's new meta is figured out and those playing need a little spark to keep them coming back. It's usually around this time when Epic begins hinting at what's next to stir up excitement in players.
Fortnite has apparently maintained its hold because there are limited viable competitors in the battle royale genre.
Apex Legends came out of nowhere in February 2019 to temporarily take the top battle royale spot from Fortnite. It has since leveled off as developer Respawn Entertainment tried to find the right pacing for updates. Escape from Tarkov is another battle royale game that's hot on the heels of Fortnite on Twitch. In January, the game surpassed Fortnite in hours watched to become the second most-watched game behind League of Legends, according to SullyGnome.
Fortnite's days may not be numbered, but it's losing a grip on its crown.
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Originally published Feb. 19. Update, Feb. 22: Adds more data on console spending.