Epic Games continues to show it doesn’t know how to behave in the video game industry. The developer/publisher has been a force in the industry for decades, having developed iconic titles such as Unreal Tournament, Gears of War, and eventually Fortnite. As of writing, Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world, with no sign of the battle royale or Epic Games slowing down.
Fortnite wasn’t always this big though. In fact, it was a bit of a flop at first. It was being built as this crafting game built around wave-based enemy combat. When Fortnite was being developed, crafting games and wave-based enemy combat was one of the more popular trends. Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty Zombies, Minecraft, Terraria, and other games all embodied these addictive gameplay mechanics and elements in different ways. Epic Games just had the ability to blend them all together at the perfect time.
Except that’s not what happened at all. Fortnite came out. People played it. It wasn’t a worldwide sensation. Do you know what was? A battle-royale title called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG for short). PUBG didn’t leave but it’s absolutely less popular than it was in 2017. Fortnite’s initially took landed pretty flat, but Epic Games was watching. Fortnite later dropped again, but this time with some differences and from the top of a Battle Bus.
The company was able to quickly create a battle-royale version of Fortnite. Epic Games put their own spin on the PUBG battle-royale formula and quickly overtook PUBG. Epic Games was literally giving away the battle-royale version of Fortnite while PUBG was being sold for $29.99 and available on fewer platforms. Fortnite was everywhere all at once. Epic’s relaunched battle royale used up nearly all the oxygen in the room. A room that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was once breathing and thriving in.
PUBG wasn’t a tiny title but it was still smaller. Many in the community felt PUBG Corporation was spending too much time counting the money and less energy fixing the game. PUBG had (and has) dedicated fans but it felt like each new update brought more issues than fixes as time went on. I found myself playing PUBG less in 2018 and it wasn’t even by choice at first. Matches would freeze and end without warning. Players would get stuck in the map and die, through no fault of their own. Soon I was spending more time restarting PUBG than I was playing it. And I wasn’t alone.
The reason I bring up the reputation of PUBG at this time is it made it much easier for Epic Games to move in closer. Epic Games didn’t outright break any laws when Fortnite took over but with PUBG Corporation’s idea and Epic’s deep pockets, there was never any chance for PUBG or any other developer to effectively compete. Epic Games had everything but the idea, which had been broadcast by players all over the world on Twitch and YouTube. And now Epic Games is doing it again with a different game.
Epic Games recently added a new mode to Fortnite called Fortnite: Impostors. The new mode has a lot of people talking and it’s mostly about how sus it is. Impostors is obviously a shameless clone of Among Us. It was so bad that individual members from Inndersloth (developer of Among Us) were talking about it. Among Us community director Victoria Tran tweeted “it would’ve been really, really cool to collab haha” with “just sad indie hours rn” added at the end after a long space.
She went on to say that it’s one thing for other developers to borrow or experiment with game mechanics but that “at the very least even different themes or terminology makes things more interesting?”
Other members from the team shared criticism as well. Unity programmer Gary Porter shared a screenshot from Among Us and Fortnite: Impostors showing the clear similarities between the two games.
And of course, some fans chimed in on both sides but player thoughts don’t really matter at this point. Epic Games has made it increasingly clear it’ll do whatever is necessary to remain at the top. The threads are beginning to unravel. One of the reasons Epic Games has provided for its problem with Apple’s App Store policies is that smaller developers can’t afford the amount Apple takes. Epic said it’s fighting this fight for all developers. Regardless of your thoughts on the court case, there’s no denying the entire thing has been ridiculous, including the “Free Fortnite” campaign.
Epic Games is concerned with making as much money as possible at its word when their reasoning for taking Apple to court was provided. One of the reasons shared during the case was that Epic Games could afford Apple’s App Store cut but that many smaller developers can’t. Apple’s response didn’t result in Epic Games changing their stance just like eating PUBG wasn’t enough to satisfy Fortnite’s hunger.
The About section on Innersloth’s website has five people listed on it. These are people that had a wonderful idea that people loved. It’s remained popular and Innersloth has continued to update the game. Fortnite made over 9 billion dollars during its first two years. Epic can afford to fail and try again. Epic can afford to fail repeatedly and try again. There’s little actual risk involved in their development process whereas indie development consists almost entirely of risk, pain, and sacrifice.
Regardless of how good content is, it’s important that larger developers be held to a higher standard. Companies like Epic Games can afford to take time when researching new ideas but smaller developers don’t often have the same. Innersloth should have had a say in this mode. Epic could have launched a partnership with Innersloth and did an official event.
Cosmetics and other details could have been exciting instead of different homework answers. It shouldn’t have happened without Innersloth’s approval and the money from related cosmetics should have been fairly split between the two companies. Epic Games could have acted responsibly, instead of selfishly, but that’s starting to become the company’s only response.
Indie games are an important part of the video game industry. New ideas often come from smaller creators that are chasing a dream and happy to take risks along the way. Seeing Epic Games establishing a new kind of precedent in how it’s treating indie devs is concerning. It’s troubling for the future of indie games and video games in general. If smaller creators aren’t protected and corporate consolidation continues then the future of indie development is in more danger than ever.