Fortnite steals show at video-gaming expo E3 in Los Angeles, while virtual reality proves it’s here to stay
Despite a slow start, VR is only going to grow in the gaming industry, say experts at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The star of the show was the battle-royale-style video game set in a post-apocalyptic world
Fortnite, the battle-royale-style video game that pits players against each other in a post-apocalyptic world, was the undisputed star at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. The annual video game extravaganza also indicated that despite its slow pickup, virtual reality will not be going away any time soon.
The game is popular because it can be played for free on a range of devices including smartphones, personal computers and consoles. Nintendo added Fortnite to its Switch consoles this month.
“Battle royale is a proven and popular game style,” says Twitch eSports programme head Justin Dellario.
Fortnite, by Epic Games, is the most popular game now on Amazon-owned Twitch, with more than six billion minutes of play in April alone, according to Dellario. It became an eSports phenomena after the release late last year of a free “Battle Royale” mode that lets up to 100 players vie to be the last character alive on ever-shrinking terrain.
The game was crafted to be easily picked up by players, and includes goofy stunts, such as riding rockets or shopping trolleys, says Celia Hodent, who worked on user experience at Epic Games before leaving late last year.
“There is no recipe for making sure a game is a huge hit, but now you have specific ingredients you use,” says Hodent, author of the book The Gamer’s Brain. “What you are talking about is more a social phenomenon; when something is very popular then more people want to play it.”
Elsewhere, if there’s anything that this year’s E3 also confirmed is that virtual reality is here to stay in the gaming industry. The platform is in its infancy – it’s been available for sale to the masses only for about two years – but it’s continuing to take giant steps.
With showings at E3 from companies leading the way in virtual reality like Facebook’s Oculus and Sony’s PlayStation VR, developers are banking on virtual reality’s growth. Sony alone showcased 14 games for its VR device at the conference.
But developers and analysts acknowledge that virtual-reality gaming has its challenges: as developers experiment, their ambitions move faster than the technology.
“In virtual reality, you’re basically coming up with everything from scratch – everything’s brand new,” says Michael Hampden, lead game designer for the upcoming PlayStation virtual-reality shooter Blood & Truth. “Obviously there’s a lot of challenges around making sure the experience is comfortable. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s been an opportunity so far.”
Lewis Ward, a video-game analyst at market intelligence firm IDC, says virtual-reality headsets haven’t met sales predictions so far, but as the experience improves, sales will go up.
“There’ve been several million of those headsets sold globally, which is probably not what people expected,” Ward says. “Overall, it’s a steady, slow burn toward sales rather than an immediate pickup.”
Development is getting faster, Ward says. “We’re at the beginning stages of a long-term investment in virtual reality. The technology is finally at a place where you can deliver a pretty solid experience at an affordable price point,” he says. “What needs to happen moving forward is taking time to figure out how to take advantage of the capabilities of virtual reality and see what it can do.”
Incorporating virtual reality into a game affects everything: the way players interact with the game, visuals, storytelling and more. What worked when developing flat-screen games may not always work for virtual-reality games, according to some developers.
Aside from the 360-degree view, playing in virtual reality is an attempt to bring the player as close to the real feeling as possible.
Looking around requires actual head movements rather than the flick of a joystick, and in the case of Blood & Truth, holstering a pistol calls for moving your hand toward your waist rather than simply pressing the X button; reloading a gun makes you reach for your ammo on your chest before placing new rounds in the weapon.
Because players are more physically immersed in a game than ever before, these smaller motions represent a fresh opportunity, Blood & Truth senior producer James Oates says.
“Things like moving and traversing, we can now reinvent for virtual reality,” says Oates. “What we found is that people like the action and the virtual reality is amazing, but some of those drama scenes where you’re one-on-one with a character makes the ‘cut scene’ – something you may want to skip in a traditional game – so much more immersive.”
With many virtual-reality games designed as a more immersive first-person experience, Hampden says developers have to get creative with storytelling. “One of the main challenges is that we can’t control where you look,” he says.
“Imagine if you’re making a film and everyone in the audience had their own camera and can point it wherever they wanted during the film. It’s the same kind of challenge we’ve got, so we’ve got to find ways to draw attention and draw your eye,” he says.
Additional reporting by Ethan Millman of the Los Angeles Times