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How Fortnite blurs the line between a product and a service

(Image Credit: Epic Games)
(Image Credit: Epic Games)
Izaak
ANALYST
Modified 07 Nov 2020, 03:39 IST
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Despite being one of the most popular games in the world, Fortnite operates much more like a service, offered to players each day, and subject to change based on the whims of its creators.

The shift from product to service has been a slow and methodical one over the last decade or so, with many modern games leaning much more towards the service side. For Fortnite players, this affects what they can expect from the giant game, and limits their control over it, and creates a degree of unpredictability.

The sliding scale between product and service

Almost anything anyone can ever spend their money on will be either a product or a service, but for games this, it is more like a spectrum of how product-like or service-like they are. For Fortnite, this service model has affected players in multiple ways right from the start.

Fortnite could never afford to be free as a product, but as a service it can adopt the free-to-play model and make its money elsewhere. Skins, wraps, emotes, and more are all “products” the player can buy to continue funding the “service” of maintaining, developing, and updating Fortnite.

This isn’t the most accurate explanation, but for the purposes of this article it should help understand it enough.

Why does it matter whether Fortnite is a product or a service?

This distinction matters to two different communities, both of which are trying to get vastly different results out of Fortnite. To players, the distinction affects how much the game gets updated, whether it changes with the time, and how long they can expect it to hold their attention.

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For anyone who intends to profit off of Fortnite, however, the distinction affects almost every decision they make along the way. As discussed during the TechCrunch Equity podcast, games usually have very front heavy sales. Almost all of a game’s lifetime sales will come during the first six weeks.

This revenue provides a massive influx of capital needed to pay developers and fund future products, but this model makes it very difficult for developers to make plans. Additionally, this has the issue of developers being pressured to make every game a hit, stifling potential innovation and encouraging them to chase trends.

Service oriented games don’t entirely escape this dynamic. Games by their very nature have to fight for every precious cent and second they earn, and that has a significant effect on the overall culture surrounding game development. However, service based models do help by keeping revenue consistent and predictable.

Another significant benefit to the service model is that flops are less devastating. If Fortnite should suffer a seriously bad update, players and shareholders alike don’t have to worry that much, as another patch is always right around the corner. This fluidity and flexibility allows service models to adapt to new information and changing tastes to better suit their audience.

The service model does have some drawbacks

It isn’t all upsides, however. Service based games come with an obligation for both developers and players. The most famous service based games, MMOs, have the issue of requiring players to effectively put in a certain amount of time per week just to be able to play the parts of the game most players actually want.

Likewise, developers have an obligation to continue working on the game long after release, sinking time and money that could be spent elsewhere. Because of this obligation, these games often attempt to hook players.

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However, these attempts have been criticized for being addictive, and for getting players to spend incredible amounts of money on games that were advertised as being free. Not even Fortnite has escaped these criticisms, as Epic has even been sued for allegedly using Fortnite to trick underage gamers into buying digital goods.

So should Fortnite be a product or a service?

Whether or not games like Fortnite should shift more towards being a product or service will depend highly upon each person’s opinion. It isn’t a matter of what should be done, but rather simply accepting that this hybrid model has become the new normal for many games, especially those which rely on online multiplayer.

It is up to players everywhere to be aware of how this model can affect them, however, as each person is responsible for making their own decisions about where they want to spend their time and money.

Published 07 Nov 2020, 03:39 IST
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