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Fortnite Creative 2.0: battle stories from shipping UGC!
Also: yes, more Unity coverage, and lots of news...
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
So, we’re back for another week. And while we’re talking about Unity (of course!) further down, we decided to start this week’s coverage with a look at a large, curious, and rapidly evolving market - Fortnite Creative maps/games.
Unrelated: in ‘just when we thought we were out, they’re pulling us back in’ news, the U.S. courts released a new set of ‘FTC vs. Microsoft’ lawsuit documents. They’re redacted, but we see some good stuff to analyze later this week. (Will the drops never stop?)
[Good news: our upgraded Plus data suite soft-launched, and you can subscribe to Plus now to get full access to it, weekly PC/console sales trends, an exclusive Discord, six (!) detailed game discovery eBooks - & lots more. Our full launch & write-up will be in Wed’s newsletter…]
Fortnite Creative 2.0: lessons from shipping UGC..
Just to remind everyone - Epic’s multiplayer game juggernaut Fortnite announced a big UGC push in March, with the company distributing “40 percent of Fortnite’s net revenue to ‘eligible creators who publish games in Fortnite’, a description that includes Epic itself.”
As for what this means in real terms, here (above) are the ‘yearly payouts using April 2023 as a base’ payouts for ‘Fortnite Creative’ levels made by third parties. (Comparing it to Roblox’s current payouts, which used an ‘average developer in the Top X’ metric that is a bit less transparent, it’s likely less $, but still a large number.)
What’s fascinating is that, if you look at the public CCU numbers for top Fortnite levels/games on Steam - as you can see on the Fortnite.com home page and in-game, the top levels are almost all - currently - long-time community creator levels, mainly with gameplay adjacency to the core ‘Battle Royale’ experience:
So you have OG Fortnite Creative community folks like TheBoyDilly from GoodGamers, who made Go Goated Zone Wars (video), and is now suddenly making $100k-s per month, according to Fortnite.gg estimates. (Well, only if he is 18, since that’s one of the rules of getting payouts?)
But how about ‘regular game developers’ coming into Fortnite and trying to get some of that market share and payout? What styles of game work, and how easy is it? Well, we were delighted to chat to Margaret Robertson and Kevin Cancienne of Cabbage Systems, who have been doing some fascinating Fortnite Creative experiments.
Both Kevin (at pioneering NY dev Area/Code & Zynga) and Margaret (former Edge mag EIC, mobile puzzle hit Two Dots) have had lots of conventional game biz experience, and formed their Tokyo-based microstudio to do cool, sometimes metaverse-adjacent stuff.
So why not try some Fortnite Creative games? Here (below) was their first game, which took about three months to develop, ‘team multiplayer pizza delivery mayhem’ level/game Fast Feud - it looks super neat.
Why did Cabbage Systems go with this clever, theme-based approach to a level? Kevin says, simply: “If you want to make something new, what's going to distinguish the thing from any other thing is the rules. And that, to me, sounds like a really pure game design exercise.”
Cabbage managed to put out this level despite constraints on what can be done. As Kevin told us: “The range for expression in this platform right now is still relatively narrow… You can't make new inventory items, you can't make new weapons - there's tons of stuff that is kind of constrained.” (Epic is, of course, working on this.)
But - to cut to the chase - people did not end up playing Fast Feud. It ended up having negligible CCU, and not really retaining any players over time, despite being clever & well-designed. But why not? Here’s some thoughts:
The sheer amount of Creative levels people have to choose from: just go to Fortnite.com and scroll down to see all the levels to pick from. There are over 40 categories highlighted there, with 10 games on them, and some of these are constantly rotated. Most are made by fans and hobbyists, as opposed to pro devs. Many of those are still pretty darn fun - if sloppy fun.
The difficulty of getting people to understand the game - as Margaret notes: “your ability to communicate about what the game is to your audience is very narrow. You have a really a thumbnail and the game name.” That’s it. How do you get a set of players both a) in your level and b) understanding & playing something that has new or more complex rules?
The brief discovery window your game/level is given to shine: Kevin speculates on how this works: “I think Fortnite will surface you in some category in some region, initially, for some brief amount of time. And then based on his performance there, you'll show up, again, worldwide some random amount of time after that.” And you need to make a good impression to stay up there.
Popular experiences in Fortnite (or Roblox) don’t have trad game design heritage: the folks at Cabbage looked at this, as have I, and I specifically suggested to them that “professional game designers coming into Roblox do not have an advantage.” Why? Because the weird IP-mashup meme-y popularity of games there are way more sandbox-y and undirected. Rules? A hassle!
Does this mean that games made on Roblox or Fortnite Creative are ‘bad’? Absolutely not. But they sometimes have a culture and a chaotic flavor that it’s difficult for professional game developers to come in and replicate. (In addition, there’s a lot of ‘illicit’ IP mash-ups floating around on Fortnite Creative, haha…)
So what did Cabbage Systems do next? They leaned into the culture of what was hot on Fortnite at the time - ‘get to the top of the level without dying’ game turned microgenre Only Up!, which started as a Steam game but had Fortnite clones with 100k CCU at one point. So they made Only Up: Top Gun in just three weeks:
This has a super-clever twist - it’s multiplayer Only Up’, but the highest player on the map gets the only gun on the map. (And BTW, since it doesn’t matter if there are 1 or 10 people in these Only Up levels or if people drop in/out, it fixes the PvP ‘cold start problem’ we’ve discussed before, which applied to Fast Feud.)
It’s not a smash, or up there with Go Goated, but we can see this experiment was a bit more successful for Cabbage. It has an around 100 CCU peak in the last 24 hours, and maxed out at 160 about three weeks ago. So that’s a good indication that following trends seems important to discovery. (And a good showcase of Cabbage’s skills.)
But where to go from here? Even traditional success instrumentation is tricky right now. With Fortnite Creative, you’re missing a lot of the data you’re used to with ‘conventional’ games - for example, you get retention numbers, but on a 24-hour window, and there’s no referrer information.
Nonetheless, this is something Epic will be working on improving. The giant DAU of Fortnite (it was >25 million DAU during the Epic vs. Apple lawsuit, we don’t really know nowadays) make it and Roblox (65m DAU!) the closest current thing we have to a scaled, immersive 3D ‘metaverse’ - if you want to use that word.
And Epic is internally recruiting to make an open-world survival crafting game in the Fortnite ecosystem. So there are signs that now they have created this open ecosystem that pays out 40% of net revenue, they are planning to inject brand new first-party games into it to grow the overall DAU. (Which is smart, if you ask us.)
And there we have to end it, unfortunately - because Margaret and Kevin and I talked about so much other interesting stuff in our interview, like the “really weird IP slurry that kids today are kind of growing up in” - which we think is neat, not sucky, by the way. But we hope this helps you understand this fascinating - and slightly alien - market.
Why the Unity biz model change is.. changing!
While the Bowie ‘ch-ch-changes’ lyrics loop in our brain - including “don't want to be a richer man”, ironically - we know now more about what happens next, after Unity’s install-based engine monetization changes met with such negative feedback last week.
How so? Well, we’ve been made aware - via a Unity tweet apologizing for “the confusion and the angst” and promising “an update in a couple of days”, and now Bloomberg covering a leak from a Unity all-hands meeting - that there will be biz model shifts.
From the sound of Jason Schreier’s report, the main Unity policy changes - which may or may not be announced ‘publicly’ by the time you read this - will be:
“Unity will limit fees to 4% of a game’s revenue for customers making over $1 million.”
“Installations counted toward reaching the threshold won’t be retroactive.”
“Management will rely on users to self-report” installations, vs. Unity remotely monitoring it.
So, this will absolutely not be a wholesale ‘walking back’ of the biz model change. And it seems that Unity CEO John Riccitiello is relatively unrepetant, saying in that leaked Unity meeting: “I don’t think there’s any version of this that would have gone down a whole lot differently than what happened.” (Though he did agree “we could have done things a lot better” on explaining the roll-out.)
Before this change got teased, we actually planned to make this part of the newsletter about ‘if you’ve lost these people, you’re in trouble’. The people Unity ‘lost’ include:
Even more PC and console devs: the ‘F*cked By Unity’ Twitter/X account has been doing numbers, with notable folks like Fire Hose Games (Techtonica) and David Sirlin (“There is not a single thing #Unity can say that has any value to me at this point other than ‘CEO John Riccitiello has been fired and we're sorry.’”) piling on the pressure.
Lots of mobile game publishers with leverage: PC and console devs can largely ‘just’ complain. But mobile firms like Voodoo and Homa can actually publicly say they are turning off Ironsource & Unity ads, until the firm changes its policies. Which is real money out of Unity’s pocket.
Many of Unity’s actual employees: they identify with the PC/console devs most affected - and are literally Tweeting about meeting with internal management to try to ‘fix’ this, and the things that need to change.
Ultimately, it’s likely true that Unity misunderstood the potential blowback on this biz model change - or was fine with the ‘bomb’ model of PR - because a) they thought they were being underpaid by their top customers, and b) they thought they could ride out public objections. (Not so much.)
With this change - particularly the self-reporting downloads & revenues part - and the other carve-outs they are already claiming (charity bundles, Game Pass-like fees paid by platforms), maaaybe the Unity biz model change edges down from ‘completely outrageous’ to ‘incredibly overcomplicated and dumb’. (But to be clear: this is all bad, and Unity should be ashamed, given the stress & uncertainty it’s caused its customers.)
Whatever happens, Unity has created a long-term problem for itself, at least in the PC and console space. People now really want engine alternatives with a less complex pricing model - and more trustable management. The question is - can anyone step up? Besides Unreal, of course, we’re watching Godot closely - but its open-source nature makes console messy.
The game discovery news round-up..
After that double dose of insight, let’s finish off for today by looking at the game discovery and platform news we missed since the middle of last week:
The Nintendo Direct showcase that ran last week has a handy PR summarizing it, and as GameDeveloper.com noted of the line-up (Princess Peach: Showtime!, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remake, F-Zero 99): “Although there was plenty of quality on display, it's hard to escape the feeling that Nintendo is keeping some of its big guns in reserve” for the rumored 2024 Switch 2 reveal.
We never really covered the blockchain/Web3 game space, because we never ‘got’ it, and it wasn’t material for PC/console end user revenue. Jon Jordan continues to do so over at GamesTX, and his graph (above) shows the funding headwinds in the space. (It’s trending down more than ‘generalized’ games investment.)
An indicator of how undersupplied (due to hardware shortages!) PlayStation 5 was in 2022, at least in Europe? The latest German H1 game hardware sales numbers show that “PlayStation 5 stood out the most” compared to H1 2022, “with its sales in the country tripling.” (!) Meanwhile: “Xbox Series sales decreased, while Nintendo Switch sales saw a slight increase.”
The folks at Freedom Games have announced Redhaven, which is a ‘DIY’ console porting framework for indie devs that includes remote access to console devkits (!), functional and cert QA, lotcheck/cert help, and select publishing/biz services. Haven’t really seen this approach before - interested to see how it works out.
Xbox things: looks like a senior Xbox staffers’s LinkedIn profile listed over 30 million members for Game Pass briefly, before getting reverted to the ‘official’ 25 million; the Xbox Game Pass Core ‘full’ game list rolled out, with the ‘formerly Xbox Live Gold’ legacy service getting 36 games. (And: “We plan to update the Game Pass Core library 2-3 times a year.”)
A small clarification from last week’s Unity piece: Steve Augustine correctly pointed out that Unity’s share price woes are only partly down to “the post-COVID game/tech stock bubble” dying, but are also related to ads & ATT changes on mobile platforms - MobileDevMemo explained more back in Jan.
Sony’s State Of Play showcase was also held last week, and beyond lots of third-party goodness, the signature first-party title was probably Insomniac’s Spider-Man 2, which is looking great, and for which YouTubers like SkillUp were also given hands-on play opportunities. (Nothing on the new ‘live service’ games here.)
We’re not sure the ‘cracks in the HoYoverse’ mentioned in the article title are that big, but we dug this Naavik deconstruction of Honkai: Star Rail. MiHoYo’s titles like Genshin Impact are huge stealth incursions into ‘trad’ console games, despite being F2P and mobile-first, monetization wise. (They need watching like a hawk!)
The Circana (ex.NPD) August 2023 U.S. game hardware/software results are upon us, and notable: “PlayStation 5 dollar sales fell by a single-digit percentage in the month when compared to a year ago, while both Switch and Xbox Series declined by a double-digit percentage.” EA’s evergreen American football game Madden NFL had a big launch, with non-IAP spending growing by “a double-digit percentage” vs. last year.
Esoteric microlinks: cultural learnings from the people featured in ‘fake texts’ in Apple marketing material; how the ‘cosplay’ hobby is becoming a multi-billion dollar industry; this Japanese urban legend of a PlayStation game that haunted its dev (tw: self-harm) is chilling.
Finally, after 3D art YouTuber Pwnisher set up a ‘boss fight’ 3D challenge, the Top 100 animations from the competition got showcased on his YT channel. These aren’t real games or bosses, sadly, but the ideas visualized on-screen are exquisite. Please enjoy:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]