Whilst it is not a mainstream element of my IoT analyst day job at 451 Research games are an integral component of the technology industry and the blend into virtual and augmented reality enterprise applications, and even the simple gamification of processes all fit into the gaming frame of reference. I am chair of the BCS Animation and Games Specialist Group and have always been a gamer. I have spent a long time both playing and trying to understand the mechanics of games, technically and from a narrative point of view. Recent developments, in particular the massive success of Epic’s Fortnite, have highlighted some interesting social dynamics that leak out of the game into the physical world.

Fortnite – Battle Royale

Regardless of your gaming connections or engagement with the medium it is worth knowing that Fortnite, from Epic Games, has reportedly taken over $1bn in in-game purchases in its first year. There are over 125 million players with a peak at any one time globally of 3.4 million players. This is very impressive for any business, and bear in mind that the mighty Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTAV), which is a premium award-winning Triple A game has taken $6bn since 2013 with 90 million copies sold. I mention the AAA status of GTAV because it is a game you buy hours of story and crafted experience at a premium price, it does have online in-game purchases and a online virtual world too which has added to its revenue.

Fortnite however, is a much simpler game, and free to play. It drops up to 100 players into an environment where they have nothing, no weapons or resources. Players quickly scavenge and collect what they need, part luck, part skill, in order to battle it out with their fellow players to be the last one standing. As the time limited game progresses the virtual island is shrunk forcing people together. If you get killed, you are out, there is no respawning. This game genre is called Battle Royale, and everyone is adding it to every franchise now it seems. It was not Fortnite that created this, it was popularised by another game called PUBG, and there had been some, now withdrawn, legal proceedings on that. Fortnite added a more cartoony visual style and included the ability to build structures.

Each battle gains players points or credits, earn enough credits across multiple matches and you unlock new customisations for your player the next time you play. However, and this is important, those customisations are non-functional, they do not provide any benefit to the player other than feeling good or showing how much they have played. The game works, with the same Epic account information across iOS, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo Switch, is plays on the Sony PS4 too but you can’t share accounts there (yet), something I have written about in the context of enterprise standards and customer pressure.

$1Bn but free to play?

Here is the clever/surprising part of the financial model of Fortnite. Whilst players earn their bling and skins for customisation they can only collect those on a tiered system. So everything on the lower tier is open as you make the numbers, but the next tier shows you what you have unlocked(ish) when you fully unlock the battle pass tier, that tier costs real money transferred into a game currency call V-Bucks. Those can be spent on unlocking each of the tier or on specific items, all of which are cosmetic. You buy V-Bucks with your “real” cash. For around £8 you can unlock the battle pass tier.

The even more clever/surprising thing is that these sets of tiered virtual goods are only available for a few months before the next Season, as they call it, which resets the tier system and players start again, and if they want the battle pass tier, they pay again. Players still keep everything they have actually unlocked up until that point. That makes these virtual things even more valuable to players, adding a sense of rarity and effort to acquire the seemingly better things. Being cosmetic they are there on show to all your fellow players, who hopefully are in the know that you have something ultra-rare for bragging rights, or the same thing as one another that was hard to get giving a band of brothers feel to the multiplayer experience.

Why are they all dancing?

One of the things that players can win is emote and celebration animations for their character. When all you do is run and jump it is good to have a few little dances and waves that you can throw at team mates or at the end of a game to show off. I mentioned the Floss dance last month as evidence that gaming culture is part of our everyday life, but I didn’t explain where it came from. Its popularity as a little shimmy to do has leaked out from Fortnite. The dance move already existed but once it became digitised and earned in Fortnite by so many people, especially kids, they started to copy it in the real world as a little celebration jig, just as many were doing the Dab last year (a curse of many family photos).

The Floss has taken on a life of its own, and other moves have joined it. What happens is in game status leads to gaining these virtual goods, the dances, unlike the clothes and makeup, are a tangible thing that players can do to socially in the physical world letting others know where they are in the game. Rather than asking about scores, levels etc, these short emotes are being played out, to those in the know. It is not so much copying the game as wearing it, the same as buying a band’s t-shirt to show your allegiance or for the concert you attended. It’s what kids too to replicate the goal celebrations of their favourite football goal scorers too, which themselves are sometimes now from the game. The England world cup team mentioned playing Fortnite in between training. It will keep sociologists going for a while Imagine.

Just bear that in mind if you see someone, of any age, doing a little shimmy, two step or just flossing what the origin might be. A game that you may not regard as much, but making quite the splash, and lots of cash, around the World.