When someone at your house is playing a video game these days, chances are they're trying to eliminate 99 other people on "Fortnite."
This Epic Games creation hasn't even been around a year, and tens of millions of people across the globe own it and are playing religiously.
Donald Mustard is the worldwide creative director of Epic Games and says they never expected this level of success so fast.
"Our initial 'Fortnite' offering, 'Save the World,' was a paid game and was a big hit," he says. "But when we released 'Fortnite: Battle Royale' for free, it hit and just ignited the world."
"Fortnite: Save the World" launched in July 2017 (starting at $39.99) as a third-person shooter game where a player would team up with friends to defeat zombies. When "Fortnite: Battle Royale" came along in September, more than one million players took part on its very first day.
In "Battle Royale," players can go solo or team up in a duo, a squad quad or a team of 20. Players gather weapons and loot, and build stuff (think of a more sophisticated "Minecraft") — all as a "storm circle" forces the players closer and closer together. The last team or player standing wins. Plus, "Battle Royale" is free, so, if you ask my 16-year old son, there is no reason not to play ("Save the World" will also eventually be free to play, according to Mustard).
On a Sunday, for example, Mustard says 4 to 5 million people will be playing "Battle Royale" at any given time. That's part of the reason its release to mobile will need to roll out over time. The mobile rollout of "Battle Royale" is truly unique. It will allow cross-play, cross-progression, and cross-purchase between Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS and (in the next few months) Android.
This week, wannabe mobile players can sign up for a Fortnite invitation.
"Over the next days and weeks and potentially even months, we'll be inviting people into the game," Mustard says. "We need to make sure as we start dumping in all these mobile players, that our servers can handle it on the back end." He says he is hopeful Epic can add a few million players per week, starting immediately with some lucky folks.
While other popular shooter games like "Call of Duty" and "Playerunknown's Battlegrounds" (PUBG) seem to be getting more and more realistic with eerily lifelike graphics, "Fortnite" takes a different approach. It's cartoony and there's no blood or gore. When you kill another player, the elimination looks more like an alien ship's light beam coming down to quickly teleport your enemy away.
So why do so many grown-ups from Oakland Raider Derek Carr to singer/actor Joe Jonas love the game enough to tweet about it? Mustard says the fun look and cool tone of the game was the starting point.
"I ask myself what I would want to play," he says. "From very early on, the team knew one of our design pillars would be to make a game that was living room safe."
Mustard says he wanted mom or anyone else to be able to walk in the room and have whatever was on the screen be appropriate. At the same time, though, Mustard says, "the game is still cool enough, that it's really fun to play, even at a frat house."
The game is rated T for violence, but Mustard says his team is very careful with the content it puts in "Fortnite." "I think around 12 years old is where the average age I'd let them play," he says.
Full disclosure: I have played this game with my 11-year old and think it's completely appropriate for him.
"Fortnite's" currency is called V-bucks and players can buy these with real-life dollars. A new game season starts every 10 weeks or so, giving players the opportunity to buy a Battle Pass for $10. The Battle Pass gets you 1,000 V-bucks to buy some cool skins for your avatars, or emotes (dance moves your avatar can perform). Over the course of the season, players can also earn rewards and get some pretty cool stuff just for playing. Nothing players can buy with V-bucks actually helps them win the game, though, as Mustard says, "it's just fashion."
In the game's prior season, players had to play a significant amount of time every single day to unlock all the available rewards. Mustard says when he realized that was the case, he changed that for the current Season 3. "Every week, you get a pack of quests to do," he says, "but you can do it at your own pace. It's not necessary to play every single day." That's good info for the parents of kids who tell them otherwise.
Season 4 comes out about two months from now, but watch for fun new additions like "loot llamas" before then. "We are blown away and humbled by how much people love this game," Mustard says. "We're committed to making it the best game ever and we're just getting started."