Fortnite's slowdown has Epic Games battling to spark new growth

  • Emil "Nyhrox" Bergquist Pedersen, of Norway, left, and David "Aqua" Wang, of Austria, hold up their trophies after winning the Fortnite World Cup duo championship in New York.

    Emil "Nyhrox" Bergquist Pedersen, of Norway, left, and David "Aqua" Wang, of Austria, hold up their trophies after winning the Fortnite World Cup duo championship in New York. (Epic Games via AP)

 
 
Posted8/24/2019 6:00 AM

These should be heady times for Fortnite, the battle-royale shooting game that's set the video-game industry reeling since its release two years ago.

Its publisher, closely held Epic Games Inc., held a much-talked-about World Cup tournament that attracted more than 40 million players and culminated at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York in late July. On Aug. 1, Fortnite launched its 10th iteration, an opportunity to sell more season passes and online gear for a game that took in an astounding $2.4 billion in revenue last year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But all is not well on the Fortnite island. Revenue and viewer numbers have been sliding for much of this year. Its best-known player, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, just left Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch streaming platform, where he made his name, for an exclusive deal to play the game on Microsoft Corp.'s less-watched Mixer site. And hardcore Fortnite fans are in a tizzy about a new character, a heavy-handed robot named B.R.U.T.E. that some claim is taking all of the fun out of the title.

If that isn't enough, President Donald Trump even called out "gruesome and grisly" video games as a reason the country is seeing a surge in mass shootings. In Fortnite, 100 players fight to be the last man standing using guns, grenades and other weapons.

It all has some people suggesting the title's best days are behind it.

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"When the game first came out, it was the biggest and newest thing that everyone wanted to see, but all games get stale and lose their steam," said Nate Hill, a professional Fortnite player on FaZe Clan's roster. "Any new tournament will drive numbers up, but I don't think there will ever be a large spike again."

Fortnite, which is free to play but generates sales by coaxing customers to buy new decorative outfits and accessories, saw its revenue fall 38 percent to $203 million in May, the most recent month for which researcher SuperData has shared numbers.

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Viewer data compiled by TwitchTracker.com suggests fans watching others play on that site peaked in July of last year and has been gradually trending down, with the occasional spike for new content and tournaments.

A spokesman for Epic declined to comment for this story.

On its blog, the company said the recent Fortnite World Cup was no one-off. Epic last Saturday introduced a championship series that will crown new regional champs. The company also plans a series of "Spotlight" tournaments organized by video streamers, artists and others who make their own versions of the game with Epic's online creativity tools.

It's even making amends to fans ticked off by B.R.U.T.E., dialing back his strength in updates of the game.

"This is what Epic does, they release controversial things, people complain, they fix it and when a new season begins the cycle repeats itself," said the gamer and YouTube star known by the screen name ThatDenverGuy.

Whether all that's enough to stem the gradual decline in Fortnite fanaticism remains to be seen.

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