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Why the Fortnite “Reboot-a-Friend” program sets a dangerous precedent

(Image Credit: Epic Games)
(Image Credit: Epic Games)
Izaak
ANALYST
Modified 14 Dec 2020
Feature
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New leaks show that Epic Games will be testing a new program in Fortnite that encourages players to get friends who have given up on the game to come back.

This effectively means that Fortnite will now begin weaponizing peer pressure to increase its player counts as the game begins targeting players who, for one reason or another, have decided to move on. Regardless of personal opinions about Fortnite, no game should encourage its players to pressure their friends who have stopped playing to come back to a game they already lost interest in.

How it looks on paper doesn’t always match how it will end up in practice

The paper appearance of this kind of program seems harmless enough. The Reboot-a-Friend program in Fortnite encourages its core audience to reintroduce old friends to the game by rewarding them with specific in-game items. This turns the sizable pool of Fortnite players into evangelists for the game, and directs them at a community of people proven to have the necessary desire to play the game.

What it doesn’t account for is why those players might have stopped playing for at least the last 30 days. People stop playing games for all sorts of reasons, and most of them do so with the mistaken belief that once they put down a game for good they won’t have to worry about that game harassing them years after they’ve stopped playing.

At most, ex-players might expect a random email to pop up asking them to try the game out again, which most of them will promptly ignore, delete, or set up a spam filter for. None of them will expect to have to deal with their friends harassing them to reinstall the game so that they can get some sweet new cosmetic.

Fortnite doesn’t care about your friendships

It’s not known whether Epic either failed to fully think through the potential problems or if they did and simply didn’t care, but this program is actually something that should concern everyone.

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As part of this program, Fortnite doesn’t care why a particular person stopped playing, it only cares whether or not they can be encouraged to come back.

While some people may have stopped playing because they simply got bored of it, others quit because of life changes, or because they were playing too much and it was having a negative impact on their lives, or because they were spending too much money on cosmetic items.

As a free-to-play game, Fortnite engages in the typical exploitation of compulsive purchasers, derisively referred to as “whales” in many circles. For many of these people, quitting whichever game is currently draining their wallets is the first step towards recovery.

The Fortnite Reboot-a-Friend program is analogous to a liquor store encouraging its customers to bring in recovering alcoholics.

But it won’t always be a worst case situation

While the Reboot-a-Friend program won’t always result in players getting their at-risk friends to compulsively drop a few thousand dollars into Fortnite, it’s certainly something that Epic either should be or is aware will happen.

While it’s easy to extoll the virtues of personal responsibility, addiction is a very real problem which millions of Americans deal with. So long as games like Fortnite benefit from these addictive qualities, however, they are encouraged to look the other way and ignore the harm perpetuated by their products.

This program in particular shifts from merely ignoring it to actively hunting for adicts. 

Additionally, it’s likely that the major reason Fortnite is beginning to test these kinds of programs is because of their financial losses following their fight with Apple. While hard numbers haven’t been released, estimates suggest that Fortnite lost as much as a third of its player base when Apple began to block the game on iOS devices.

No doubt this program aims to recoup some of the lost profits of the last few months.

Published 14 Dec 2020, 04:55 IST
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