Shove over, Minecraft and Pokémon GO, there’s a new gaming phenomenon in town. Over the last year Epic Games’ Battle Royale-style shooter Fortnite has become one of the most popular games on the planet.
Even if you’re not a teen or the parent of a teen, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Fortnite. But what is it exactly? Is it okay for younger kids to play? How much of it is online interaction? What does Battle Royale mean? Read our Parent’s Guide to Fortnite for answers to these questions and more.
What is Fortnite?
Fortnite was developed by Epic Games, the makers of Gears of War, and first launched in Summer 2017 as a paid Early Access title. The plan was to allow people to pay to jump in and play the game in an earlier, beta testing state, while transitioning the game into a free-to-play title supported by paid loot boxes in 2018.
The game was actually much different than the popular version that everyone players today. It was originally a cooperative tower defense and action game. Up to four friends and online players could jump into games together and select a map with an objective. From there everyone ran around collecting loot while building bases and defending against waves of enemies.
The action was light-hearted and reflected the cartoony art style, but the gameplay was mediocre and repetitive. Read our Early Access Preview.
What about Battle Royale?
“Fortnite” technically refers to two separate game modes, which have since evolved into two distinct games: Fortnite: Save the World and Fortnite Battle Royale. The original tower defense game mode became known as Save the World when Fortnite Battle Royale was released.
Last year PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) was heating up as an extremely popular online game, featuring a Battle Royale free-for-all.
Battle Royale is a subgenre of competitive online shooters and action games. It takes its name from the 2000 Japanese film in which a class of teenage students are captured, dropped onto an island, and forced to kill each other to survive. Think government mandated Lord of the Flies. Or The Hunger Games.
In video game terms, Battle Royale games drop their players (both PUBG and Fortnite use 100 per server) onto a large island. Everyone starts empty-handed and must quickly scavenge for weapons and supplies. A shrinking circle keeps everyone close together, and if you die, there’s no respawning. The last player (or team) standing is the winner.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds popularized the concept, but Epic Games applied it to Fortnite, creating an entirely separate free-to-play game mode called Fortnite Battle Royale. Now when anyone refers to Fortnite, they’re most likely talking about Fortnite Battle Royale. Fortnite: Save the World still exists, but lacks the popularity of its PvP sibling.
It’s free to play? Can players spend money?
Yes and yes. Fortnite Battle Royale was launched as a completely free-to-play game, and it’s available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, as well as mobile devices.
Fortnite is primarily supported by its seasonal Battle Passes (in Battle Royale) and random loot boxes (in Save the World). The Battle Pass allows players to unlock a series of cosmetic loot rewards, such as new outfits and parachutes. Players can then either earn them through playing, or pay more money to unlock them faster. Think of the Battle Pass as an optional subscription service, each one costing about $10. Players can also buy cosmetic items directly from the shop.
Loot Boxes have come under fire in the gaming industry as a controversial form of gambling. In Fortnite’s case, all of the purchasable items and loot are cosmetic only, leading Fortnite to be considered one of the less insidious free-to-play games.
Many consider Fortnite to be an example of free-to-play done right, and players can easily enjoy themselves in the game without spending a dime. That Rangarok outfit sure looks cool, but it confers no actual in-game bonuses or advantages. It just looks cool.
Note that consoles and mobile devices have parental controls allowing you to disable in-app purchases.
What about the rating? Is it okay for kids to play? Is it Online only?
Fortnite is rated T for Teen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The primary gameplay involves eliminating other players, but the action, like the art, is very cartoony and stylized.
The Battle Royale mode is technically a bit less scary than the original Save the World incarnation, as it lacks the hordes of cartoonish monsters. On the other hand it’s all too easy to be eliminated quickly, through no fault of their own, and be left spectating for the rest of the match. Fortnite is highly competitive, and like any competitive match, can bring out both good and bad qualities.
As an inherently online game, it’s saddled with the typical toxic chat channel that plagues many online games. There’s no voice chat at all in solo mode. Text chat be be turned off in-game, but there’s no parental lock for it. The general consensus is for kids to be at least 13 before venturing into any online game.
Note that the other popular Battle Royale game, PUBG, has a Mature rating and features more realistic visuals and depictions of violence.
Is it okay for my kid to watch others play Fortnite?
As a highly competitive, tense game, Fortnite is increasingly popular as a spectator sport. In the growing age of YouTube, Twitch, and constant live streaming, Fortnite’s popularity for streamers is undeniable.
But this question is more about YouTube and Twitch culture than it is about Fortnite specifically. Find out which streamers your kids are watching and do a bit of research into their personality and their video content. Most streamers are charismatic and entertaining for young people (and quite skilled at the game), but some have unsettling videos or toxic beliefs that they readily impart on impressionable viewers.
Currently the most popular Fortnite streamer is Ninja (neé Richard Tyler Blevins), who has risen in popularity along with Fortnite itself, becoming the most popular streamer on Twitch with nine million followers. Ninja is sponsored by Red Bull and has helped raise money for charity, as well hosted celebrities on his Fortnite stream.
Are my kids playing too much?
The primary concern about Fortnite isn’t tied to the game itself, but how much time kids and teens are devoting to it. To much of any activity, to the exclusion of anything else, is a bad thing, and that can include gaming.
With Fortnite it may be easier to set limits on matches rather than a set time. An average Fortnite match takes about twenty minutes, and players aren’t going to want to stop playing in the middle if they’re still alive. Thus “one more match,” may be easier to dictate than “10 more minutes” when setting time limits.
Fortnite continues to grow in popularity, recently surpassing an astonishing 100 million downloads on mobile devices. It’s not going away anytime soon, but with a little understanding it needn’t be so worrying.