But for all of its success as a video game, Fortnite had yet to evolve into its final form. In 2018, Fortnite kicked off its first major in-game events as well as its first significant promotional tie-in: a campaign for the FIFA World Cup. While it makes sense that a live service game developer would want to capitalize off of a global event like the World Cup, in this instance, the relationship was mutually beneficial. Soccer players across the world were already incorporating Fortnite references into their celebrations, and FIFA enjoyed the viral moments that came with popular footballers like Antoine Griezmann performing the “Take the L” dance after scoring a goal. FIFA and Fortnite seemed to be a natural fit.
“Natural” also perfectly describes Fortnite‘s then-shocking 2018 in-game event which allowed players to hunt down the Infinity Stones from the Avengers movies and become Thanos. Prior to that event, it would have been difficult to name a developer savvy enough to not only quickly capitalize on the release of the year’s hottest movie (Avengers: Infinity War) but to build the kind of platform where such a collaboration felt exciting rather than just another cheap marketing ploy.
But that’s the thing about Fortnite. It’s flexible enough that it can incorporate characters and ideas from just about any universe without feeling like the “core” or “spirit” of the game is being compromised in some way. Fortnite was practically built on a foundation of silliness. In the age of memes, shameless streamers, and yes, the growth of the battle royale concept, Fortnite became this pop culture vessel that elevated, and sometimes re-shaped, nearly everything it touched.
There’s perhaps no greater example of Fortnite‘s marketing power than the case of Keanu Reeves and John Wick. One of Fortnite’s most popular early skins was a character called The Reaper who bore a striking resemblance to John Wick. The resemblance was so striking, in fact, that Reeves helped the team officially add John Wick to the game after he said kids were coming up to him in the street and calling him “Fortnite guy.” It’s another case of Fortnite not only being able to juggle the lead of a Rated R action movie as easily as The Avengers and soccer stars but the game’s ability to weirdly appropriate pieces of pop culture and recontextualize them for an entirely different (often younger) audience.
To the studio’s credit, Epic treats these special events as something truly special. Travis Scott didn’t just put on a concert, he became a towering behemoth that players orbited as he tore through time and space. Fortnite didn’t screen a scene from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — Epic designed an elaborate sequence that concluded with the addition of lightsabers to the game.