Epic Games Darren Sugg Discusses Fortnite And ESports

The lead designer of the new free-to-play PC game, Fortnite, explores the PvE and PvP gameplay experience.

The lead designer of the new free-to-play PC game, Fortnite, explores the PvE and PvP gameplay experience.

Epic Games has spent the past two years creating its first free-to-play PC game, Fortnite. As the game has evolved from its original conception, the team has crafted an interesting strategy hybrid that sends teams of four players out to scavenge for resources to build a fortress that will withstand an onslaught of monsters that attack through storms that sweep in day or night.

That player versus environment (PvE) gameplay is being integrated into the player versus player (PvP) experience, which is still being fine-tuned. Currently, five players take on five players, scavenging and building up their fort while trying to take out the enemies. In the mix of this combat, storms will roll in unleashing monsters of all sizes. Since these monsters aren’t on anyone’s “side,” strategies change on-the-fly in this game.

One of the things we wanted to do was find something that felt like it was uniquely Fortnite, and since the storms are part of the low-level DNA of what Fortnite is, we wanted those storms to be part of the gameplay. So storms will roll into a PvP arena spawning lots of creatures and throw even the best strategy into complete disarray, or turn a win into a loss or vice versa, depending on how you’re using it. Sometimes a Smasher attacks the opposing team’s base and blows open a hole that lets your Ninja sneak in and tear up their base. That’s a cool gameplay exchange that can only really be done when there’s a threat that exists for both sides of the field because it can really change the dynamics of the game from moment to moment. We definitely know that’s cool, and we know that the building and shooting and combat that we have when mixed into a PvP game is also fun. We have the low-level stuff all working. Now we have to figure out what our unique mode is for Fortnite.

Although Gears of War 3 was tested in eSports by Major League Gaming, the developer hasn’t embraced pro gaming with its titles to date. That could change with Fortnite, which serves up team-based gameplay that’s fun to play as well as watch. I was able to get hands-on with the PvE and PvP gameplay at Epic Games recently and watching the developers play was entertaining.

We’ve had a lot of conversations about how eSports would work. How far we’re going to carry that torch is still pretty unknown. The thing that’s interesting about eSports is that you can make a game that exclusively exists just for eSports. That’s tough enough already. So sometimes every now and again we start talking about it. We wonder if we’re starting to bite off more than we can chew in that space. We’re still too early in the prototype phase to call which way we’ll end up on the other side of that.

One thing that has been solidified is the gameplay experience for players who want to invest their time into the free-to-play game. Epic calls this concept free to win.

If it has to do with influencing gameplay in a meaningful way to make it fair for people with time and people with money to interact in the world. It was a little dodgier three years ago in the primitive world, but game companies are starting to get it and players are starting to understand free-to-play. It’s become this nice, more harmonious place. We are super sensitive to that because the people in the building who have been very vigilant in providing the player perspective on that. Players don’t want to feel like this game is ripping them off. From Tim Sweeney all the way down, we’re going to make sure we provide value at every step when people engage with the game because if the game stops being fun because of a business model, then everybody loses.

Epic has been good at winning over gamers with its PC (Unreal Tournament), console (Gears of War) and mobile (Infinity Blade) games over the years. The free-to-play space is a different game, but one that the independent developer is taking seriously. Just the amount of development time that’s gone into the game to date, and the evolution of the gameplay experience thus far, shows they’re serious about Fortnite being a long-term success. It also bodes well that they’re not touting eSports as a feature for the game. It’s something that, should it happen, will occur because of the gameplay experience itself.

About the author

John Gaudiosi

John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN. He's EIC of video game site Gamerhub.tv.