This year, Fortnite’s big Halloween update included an unwelcome surprise: a redesign that aggressively pushes players toward creator-made experiences and spending money in the in-game store.
The biggest change is on the “Play” tab that serves as the game’s lobby. In addition to showing you things like your current game mode and which friends are in your party, you’ll now see a partial row of icons on the bottom of the screen, tempting you to scroll toward them to see what they’re about. If you do, you’ll see a horizontal list of what appears to be previous modes you’ve played and some suggested ones for you to check out. Keep scrolling down and you’ll find seemingly infinite lists of recommended experiences, many with garish thumbnails that feel like the kinds you’d see on YouTube.
I understand why Epic made these changes. Epic started letting players make their own games and experiences in 2018 with Playground mode and, a few months later, the more robust Creative mode. Earlier this year, it took the reins off user-made content with the beta launch of the Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN), which offers many of the same tools you can find in Epic’s popular Unreal Engine. But while creator-made experiences, at least as of March, accounted for about 40 percent of playtime inside of Fortnite, based on what I’ve seen from Epic’s public metrics for Fortnite experiences, a lot more people are playing Epic’s battle royale or Zero Build modes at any given time.
(As I wrote this on Wednesday morning, battle royale and Zero Build had more than 316,000 and 142,000 players, respectively. The highest creator-made map player count that I could see exceeded 27,000, but many more were in the hundreds or thousands.)
Putting more non-battle royale experiences front and center will probably encourage more people to check them out. That could kick off a virtuous cycle: if more people try other experiences, that might mean creators can make more money from Epic’s recently launched payout system that rewards things like player engagement and how long people spend time in games. If creators make more money, more of them might start making Fortnite experiences that Epic can recommend to players. This could insulate Epic as the core battle royale modes inevitably decline in popularity — especially if playtime in creator-made maps ever dramatically exceeds engagement with Epic’s own experiences.
You can see how this feeds into itself to help court creators (which Epic is also trying to do with new features like creator profile pages to market their work). If there’s a lot of stuff to play in the game, it helps Fortnite compete with other metaverse-y platforms like Roblox (which itself has a UI that’s a seemingly infinite list of icons).
The changes, especially with the shift to the item shop tab, make sense for Epic’s business, too. Fortnite isn’t making the money it once did, leading to layoffs and price hikes for Fortnite’s in-game currency, and Epic is clearly trying to do something about it. Even though the item shop only features Epic-made virtual goods, item shop sales are connected to Fortnite’s creator economy, too: money spent on things from the shop is used to help fund the creator payouts.
But for the average player who just wants to drop into a match of battle royale or Zero Build, the changes introduce extra friction to a layout that has remained largely the same for years. The UI updates have proven to be unpopular with many fans on the main Fortnite subreddit. One highly upvoted thread is titled “EWWWWWWWWWWWWW WHAT IS THIS NEW LAYOUT genuinely WHO at epic games thought this was a good idea?? this looks absolutely disgusting.” Another took a more muted approach: “What the hell is this.” One funny post even equated the way things look to what you’d see on a smart TV.
I’ve asked Epic if it plans to make any adjustments to the UI changes. But I wouldn’t be surprised if these changes are here to stay — so you might want to get used to sifting through more player-made maps and scrolling a bit farther than usual to check your battle pass.