Mar 29Liked by Jacob Jolibois

Yeah there's definitely a lot of business savvy at Epic/Tencent. I think you can certainly argue that Fortnite is the game that defines the GaaS episode of the larger F2P era. But I think the fragility of GaaS probably precludes it from being the ultimate evolution of Free-to-play.

By 2017, Fortnite was a latecomer to the F2P party. The absolute omnipresence of F2P in mobile games (even if most just feel like glorified slot machines), the advent of the 'monetization designer/manager' roles in the industry (a role which now more commonly falls under the another nascent title: 'product manager/director') and other examples of F2P MTX at huge scale all came sooner.

But in terms of "GaaS", it is more unique. In 2014, an article on Gamasutra (now GameDeveloper.com) reported that the "vague notion of games as a service is gaining traction in the industry". In his 2018 GDC talk, "GaaS is Dead", F2P games veteran Michael Gordon suggests that GaaS began with Facebook and MySpace games, where hardcore conversion rate optimization, user acquisition and retention metrics were used to boost revenues. As expertise from browser games bled into teams working mobile, PC and console games; both the business model and terminology gained traction.

But Games-as-a-Service is quite unsustainable for most companies because, at its core, it relies on very large player numbers. In the same talk, Gordon makes convincing arguments that GaaS can't really work on mobile due to how impactful getting featured is and how challenging it is to efficiently grow/sustain your userbase beyond the GTM honeymoon usercount spike. Fortnite divorcing Apple, adopting browser-streamed options on iOS and refocusing on PC a ballsy but brainy move. Only recently in 2022, Sony's investors pack (Game & Network Services Segment) included a slide entitled "Exponential Growth to be Sustained by PC Titles Beyond FY22". The high-margin money is on PC.

To merely survive with a GaaS model you have to have a strong core game, a well resourced marketing effort, a mammoth dev team to pace out new content and a very large PC playerbase with low or zero platform costs. As noted by commentators like popular YouTuber YeongYea, a slew of 'live service' games is sunsetting or stopping dead this year due to dwindling player numbers (CrossfireX, Back4Blood, Marvel Avengers, Rumbleverse, Knockout City, EchoVR, and more). He summarises: "Given how much time live services demand from players, there was bound to be a point where the genre would buckle from oversaturation. There are not enough players with enough time to populate so many live services and the unsustainable nature of these games that rely heavily on number of concurrent players and player engagement is starting to show."

Fortnite placed a good bet in the Battle Royale genre after Epic teamed up with Chinese F2P publisher Tencent. It had a somewhat unique combination of combat with (basic) construction. It made a deliberate and smart choice to adopt a more universally attractive, youth-friendly, comicbook style. Its design uses a third-person perspective to simplify the construction gameplay and show off vanity gear. Their marketing team courted and supported streamers who endorsed the game to hundreds of thousands for FREE. And according to this player, their team actively talks to players:

"They are reliably responsive, casually interactive, and constantly rake in feedback from their players. They care about what the players have to say and are always open to taking in suggestions/ideas for how to improve the game."

It's absolutely no accident that Fortnite is a roaring success. There's a continuous history of astute design and business decisions at play, and probably some strong tech decisions in the mix that are less obvious. The latest decision to turn the game into a self-perpetuating content creation platform is really clever, and barring a seismic technology shift, secures healthy player numbers and revenue for years to come.

To your point about borrowing of ideas, I totally agree. It's a cute nod to its gameplay roots as an Arma 3 mod (DayZ) that the Unreal Fortnite Engine will itself spawn hundreds of new maps and mods.

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Mar 28Liked by Jacob Jolibois

Hi Jacob, I'm loving your articles but I think your most recent one attributes too much to Fortnite. It didn't usher in GaaS, that was the Free-to-play (F2P) genre and the evolution of the microtransactions (MTX) model. That significantly predates Fortnite, to the extent that in 2009 Chris Anderson, a Wired Editor, published a book about its rise in popularity (Free: The Future of a Radical Price).

1999 QuizQuiz (South Korea) - "one of the first F2P games using a MTX revenue model"

2001 Runescape (UK) - $1bn lifetime revenue, £50M annual profit

2001 Habbo Hotel (Finland)

2003 MapleStory (South Korea) - $3bn lifetime revenue

2003 Second Life (USA)

2007 Team fortress 2 (USA)

2009 League of Legends (USA)

2011 Team Fortress 2 goes F2P, adds MTX

2012 Runescape adds store & MTX - $1bn lifetime revenue, £50M annual profit

2013 Dota 2 (USA)

2016 Overwatch (USA)

2017 Fortnite (USA)

It is probably fair to say that Fortnite has popularised the cyclical release model in the F2P space, if we think of this as 'seasons' that dramatically alter the world, introduce new gameplay mechanics and cost no money to experience. However, you could argue that another very popular F2P game, Overwatch, began this a year earlier and deserves this accolade.

"The return of the evil dragon aspect Deathwing the Destroyer tears through the dimensional barrier within Azeroth, causing a sweeping cataclysm that reshapes much of the world's surface."

Outside of the Free-to-play space, 'seasons' go back much farther. World of Warcraft began introducing changes to its persistent world with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion in (2008), which introduced a new continent to explore as well as a new player class. It followed this up in Cataclysm (2010) where the game's two main continents were redesigned with a changed landscape and new areas, plus major gameplay changes and two new playable races.

I liked the article, but just wanted to point out that up until this point Fortnite has been riding on coat-tails more than seriously innovating. It wasn't the progenitor of the Free-to-play microtransactions monetization model, nor the 'battle royale' gameplay genre (we have PUBG and DayZ to thank for that), nor First-person multiplayer with construction mechanics (Minecraft, Team fortress 2, Garry's Mod, SourceForts) nor seasonal gameplay and world building (WoW, Overwatch). What it can celebrate is that in many ways it expanded these borrowed ideas in bigger and better ways than ever seen before.

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Mar 28Liked by Jacob Jolibois

Interesting. I recently wrote about roblox vs meta: https://essays.fong888.com/why-roblox-beats-meta-facebook-at-the-metaverse/

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Maybe there can be a head to head article - we can do jointly.

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