This past week Epic released a brand new Antman skin into the game. The new skin is the latest cross-over between Epic and Marvel. The addition of Antman annoyed me, not because I have an issue with Antman, I think Antman is dope.
I am just annoyed at the constant addition of non-Fortnite characters into the Fortnite world in lieu of original storytelling.
Over the past few years, in-game promotions in the form of events and skins have become an increasingly influential part of Epic’s monetization strategy for Fortnite. While some of these crossovers made sense, as time has gone on, the endless deluge of crossover events and skins has worn me out and taken a negative toll on my enjoyment of the game.
With so many corporate sponsorships lately, Fortnite can sometimes feel more like a playable ad than a game to me.
Fortnite’s escalating relationship with in-game advertising
Fortnite’s first crossover event was in 2018 when they released soccer skins for the World Cup. They followed that up with a collaboration with the NFL, allowing players to dress as their favorite American football team. These minor sports collaborations were unique and interesting at the time, and ultimately had little impact on the overall aesthetic of Fortnite.
Later in 2018, Epic held their first event for Marvel. It was promoting the Avengers and featured a mode that allowed players to become Thanos, but notably did not include any skins that would remain in the game permanently. The story of the Thanos mode was also presented as completely separate from Fortnite’s world, rather than attempting to explain why Thanos was on the Fortnite island.
The Marvel promotion was not Fortnite’s first foray into superheroes either. Season 4 was superhero-themed and even featured the Carbide skin — which looks suspiciously like Ironman. So the brief collaboration with Marvel felt mutually beneficial for Marvel and Epic at the time.
In early 2019, Fortnite hosted a Marshmello concert to nearly 11 million players, a revolutionary event the Marshmallow skin from which is still very popular. This was the first example of a sponsored event adding permanent cosmetic options to the game. The virtual concert then opened the door for other music artists like Weezer and Travis Smith to collaborate with Epic on similar projects later on.
While these early promotional events were relatively unobtrusive to the Fortnite aesthetic and story, Epic’s cross-promotional events became more invasive with time.
In May 2019, Epic started to push corporate in-game partnerships more aggressively. Over the course of only a few months, they held promotional events for Marvel’s Deadpool, Nike Jordans, John Wick, and Stranger Things. All of these events added permanent cosmetics to the game,
Then, in 2020 Epic really went overboard when they dedicated all of Chapter 2: Season 4 to Marvel.
Marvel gained control of the Fortnite story and battlepass cosmetics for an entire season of gameplay. During that season, Epic filled the game with numerous non-Fortnite characters for players to use, many of which remain popular to this day.
Fortnite has continued to double down on its collaboration strategy, including The Predator, Tenet, Star Wars, Travis Scott, and more. While not all of the promotions were bad, the constant stream of cross-promotions takes away from the Fortnite worldbuilding by crowding the game with unrelated promotional cosmetics and focusing the Fortnite story on external properties.
Has Epic lost faith in the world of Fortnite?
At the Fortnite World Cup in 2018, there were hundreds of people cosplaying as their favorite Fortnite characters.
Some folks made their own Bright Bomber cosplays, replete with a Unicorn harvest tool and a battery of memorized Fortnite dances. Others came to the event cosplaying as Triceraops and Tomoatohead. And costume or not, everyone was doing Fortnite dances.
People were passionate about Fortnite’s characters and its world, even in Season 2 when there were comparatively few characters to even celebrate. Throughout the lifecycle of this game, Fortnite has managed to create characters and tell stories that resonate with people.
But lately, with all of these corporate-sponsored seasons and constant limited-time promotions, it feels like Epic lost faith in itself to produce an interesting world that people want to spend time in. The cross-promotions act as a content crutch for the company, replacing their need to tell compelling narratives with yet another partnership with Disney, or whoever.
Seasons like the Marvel season cheapen the Fortnite narrative by mixing the original Fortnite property with unrelated sponsored content. The best example of this happening was near the end of the Marvel season when instead of introducing their own enemy for players to fight, Epic had players fight Galactus, an established Marvel supervillain.
While some players might be interested in living out Marvel plotlines in Fortnite and playing as or against Marvel superheroes, not all players are looking for Fortnite to be a portal to other properties. Epic left the players who were passionate about Fortnite’s world behind.
To be fair to Epic, they have delivered some great Fortnite cosmetics and story arcs in the past year as well. They did good work in the secret agent season that featured original Fortnite agents to unlock and play as. That season arc told a compelling story with plenty of original ideas and cool game mechanics. For that entire season, Fortnite sold me on their world and had me hooked.
I would love to see Epic place less emphasis on their sponsored events and skins in Fortnite, and place more emphasis on adding to their own original canon. Make Fortnite characters and Fortnite stories the star of Fortnite once again.