In the year 2017 the world met Fortnite as it now knows it — a multiplayer “Battle Royale” competition that allows players from all over the world to attempt to digitally murder each other on an island, while wearing colorful costumes and doing sweet dance moves. It spent most of the 2018 going viral and taking over the lives of preteens everywhere.
It also quickly became the all time world champion of leveraging microtransactions effectively. While lots of online games have some version of this strategy, where a customer pays nothing for the game, or a relatively low base price, players usually hate them because they essentially force them to keep incrementally spending to enjoy or even properly play the game. But Fortnite forwent the “pay to win” strategy mostly associated with microtransactions. The Fortnite base game is free — and no matter how much one spends on V-bucks (the in-game digital currency) the basic game play is not affected.
On Fortnite players do not pay to win so much as they pay to look cool while they win — with custom costumes, special side tasks and modes and, of course, the victory dances (emotes) that everyone loves. As of the start of 2019, the online game had pulled in roughly $3 billion worth of microtransactions from an audience of hundreds of millions worldwide.
An audience that rapidly found themselves simultaneously alarmed and enraged that Fortnite was, well, gone. The online game disappeared into a digital black hole with no explanation, no plans for the future posted and all of the lucre and V-bucks bought up by avid players suddenly as gone into the ether as the game itself.
The internet took it about as well as one would expect, which is to say with escalating levels of hysteria and rage as the possibility emerged that Fortnite had suddenly winked out of existence and taken everyone’s virtual wealth with it.
Today that is looking a good deal less likely and what looked like a catastrophe is now looking an awful lot like a publicity stunt executed par excellence.
So what happened, how did the world (over) react — and what’s next?
The Black Hole
At around 2 p.m. EST Sunday (Oct. 13) Fortniters logged into the game saw a curious thing. Rifts began appearing in the digital sky over the virtual island where players from all over the world come to meet, greet and savagely murder each other — a sight not uncommon to Fortnite players as a similar visual is seen every time one season of the game ends and a new one begins.
But this time, at the end of the sequence, Season 11 did not drop as expected. The rifts in the screen just kept right on growing until all that was left of Fortnite was a visual depiction of a black hole into which the game had apparently fallen.
The game and everything associated with it was, for all intents and purposes, gone. And not only within the game; the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds for Fortnite had the same black hole with no further explanation. Epic Games, Fortnite’s maker, offered no explanation for what was happening beyond a suggestion that players try a few of the offline mini-games built into the bigger game.
The internet did not respond well to the news. Within two hours of the Fortnite game purportedly crashing, the news was the trending topic on Twitter.
Most of the tweets were howls of rage — consumers watching the black hole complaining bitterly that Fortnite has just boosted thousands of dollars worth of in-game merchandise. Others vowed that if the game came back, they would never play again. Other speculated that despite all reports that Fortnite is a veritable ATM for its maker, Epic Games is actually bleeding millions of dollars a day, and that the great fold-up was because it had suddenly run out of money.
And if you find yourself thinking that is the most ridiculous Fortnite theory imaginable given how absurdly lucrative the game has been, note that it would still only at best be able to make the No. 2 spot. The No. 1 position is a tie between the many theories of the hundreds of thousands of people who spent an afternoon staring at a digital rendering of a black hole trying to figure out what secret code was being sent to them by the string of numbers circling around the black hole’s perimeter. That decoding exercise was reportedly made much harder by the fact that the number kept changing.
The winning response of the day, however, probably has to go to astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson who decided to use the opportunity of a lot of Fortniters with nothing to do to educate them about science.
“Did your @fortnitegame suck you & everything else into a black hole? Can’t help you there. But death-by-black-hole is a thing, and there might even be an entire universe on the other side,” Tyson said on Twitter.
So Now What?
The game, as of this writing, is still down, with no official word from Epic Games as to when it will be back. But via some digital sleuthing preview it does now seem clear that there will be a new tomorrow for Fortnite, probably soon. A trailer for the upcoming season was found on the site Skin Tracker that has been making the rounds as avid players are relieved their game of choice is coming back.
They just don’t know when yet.
Luckily, it seems, in the absence of Fortnite to play, its fans have found something else almost as fun to do — speculate on when the online game will be back, and how Epic will launch it.