Fortnite has conquered the game world since its launch last fall. Now it’s taking on the mobile app-store business, at least on the 2-billion-user-strong Android mobile platform.
In bypassing the Google Play store that just about every other Android app must channel through to get seen, Fortnite owner Epic Games demonstrated both its market oomph and saved itself as much as $50 million, one recent study projected.
Just as importantly, Fortnite and its chosen app-store alternative, Samsung, are bringing together the hardware, game title and distribution platform needed to make mobile gaming a much higher-end experience. It’s easy to see all this quickly morphing into a powerful new ecosystem that can undergird and subsidize a new class of mobile-focused esports tournaments. This could be good news for lots of other brands trying to reach these big, young audiences.
Fortnite is initially launching exclusively on Samsung’s app store, alongside the electronics maker’s just-unveiled Galaxy Note 9 phablet, challenging similarly powerful smartphone models from game-gear makers Razer and Asus. The Note 9 has a huge screen, up to a terabyte of storage and 8 gigs of RAM, even a special water-carbon cooling system to keep heat levels manageable during long game sessions. The other contenders have roughly the same specs.
The Note 9 and its competitors still can’t quite rival the power or experience of a tricked-out PC rig, but they don’t have to. These devices can power a new kind of compelling game experience, with its own huge fan base, just as consoles and PC gaming have each built their own massive followings built around very different equipment-cost structures and game-play experiences.
Expect Samsung to soon have plenty of competition as Korean and Chinese phone makers quickly copy any market differentiator. They may also copy the kinds of software and platform exclusives that Fortnite and Samsung just pulled together.
Exclusive offers with hot titles on one or another app store, even for a couple of weeks, may provide the kind of market edge that Sony and Microsoft have trafficked in for years in the console world. And that’s even before new challengers such as the Discord messaging app start distributing games, as they’ve said they’ll do. We’re seeing a confluence of newly powerful hardware, competing distribution platforms and popular new game experiences coming together at just the right time.
Revenues from mobile titles already account for more than half of this year’s $138 billion global market for games, according to analyst group Newzoo. We’re seeing some mobile tournaments already, but add together Fortnite, high-powered mobile versions of Players Unknown Battlegrounds and Arena of Valor, and you have an A-list of AAA tournament-ready titles that already have big followings.
Importantly, creating mobile Fortnite tournaments would merely be an expansion of Epic’s existing plans. After high-profile events in Las Vegas and at E3, Epic said it will roll out regular Fortnite tournaments in 2019. It’s easy to envision Samsung, Razer and Asus jostling to be featured sponsors, and providing the gear, for any tournament’s mobile division.
Competitive gaming on mobile devices is nothing new, but mobile devices these days are closing some of the performance/experience gaps. Just as importantly, today’s game developers are building mobile titles from the ground up with a mobile-centric mindset, rather than creating a down-converted version of a PC/console-focused build.
Mobile tournaments involving prominent titles can make gaming even more accessible to a wide audience. Just look at that successful Vegas “pro-am” tournament last spring featuring Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Some hopefuls bought into the tournament, playing against Blevins and other pros. One Los Angeles unknown actually won a match, substantial prize money and interest from some pro teams. Score!
Imagine the fan interest if a Walter Mitty-esque player can occasionally succeed against top talent, using the kind of smartphone anyone (well, anyone with $1,000) can buy and use. Who won’t tune in for that storyline?
Prices for these high-end phones are around those of an entry-level gaming PC, which still offers an enhanced experience. But it’s important for brands and entrepreneurs to remember that mobile phones can occupy multiple important functions here: gaming, communications and community. How does that triple threat transform the kind of tournament experience you can offer?
I believe we are witnessing the beginning of a massive, global install-base for competitive gaming on mobile devices. Asian markets have embraced mobile gaming for years, and I see Epic’s move bolstering the install-base for other global regions to embrace.
I can’t wait to see how esports entrepreneurs and smart brands take advantage of the new opportunities coming into view for high-level mobile gaming, thanks to what Fortnite and Samsung have just unleashed.