Fortnite creators are making studios to build ambitious — and branded — worlds
Last year, Fortnite developer Epic Games launched a major collaboration with fashion house Balenciaga. In addition to a collection of skins decked out in Balenciaga gear for sale, Epic also promoted a Balenciaga-themed zone for players to visit. It looked like a virtual city square fell into it Fortnitebut at the heart was a recreation of a Balenciaga store.
It’s an impressive world and it almost feels like something is out of the Fortnite battle royale island. But it was actually made by only three makers who are full time? Fortnite Creative experts who founded their own company to build in-game worlds for brands.
“The fact that I can now build games with a team of almost 10, and we all do it for a living, is pretty impressive to me,” said Kasper Weber, a Fortnite creator, said in an interview with The edge† “I don’t think my parents would ever think that would be a thing.”
Weber is the co-founder and CEO of the company Beyond Creative. “Beyond builds unique experiences within Fortnite† says the company on its website† “We bring our customers’ ideas to life using the powerful Fortnite Creative platform.” The company lists an impressive roster of customers, including Verizon, the NFL, Nvidia, AMD, and even Chipotle.
Beyond Creative isn’t the only company doing this kind of work. I spoke to three other groups of people working remotely in full-time teams to create branded Fortnite Creative worlds. TeamUnite is responsible for a whole in-Fortnite RPG based on the movie the Norman† Alliance Studios worked on Grubhub and Tomb Raider-theme worlds, among others. Zen Creative collaborated with other creators on a recent concert with Brazilian rapper Emicidathat took place in a series of shifting virtual locations.
The Fortnite Creative maps aren’t just impressive ways to build virtual worlds, though; making it has proved very lucrative for the companies I have spoken with. According to Simon Bell, co-owner and art director at Alliance Studios, a contract can range from “four to six figures,” depending on the scope of the work. And he estimated that projects can take anywhere from two weeks to six months, depending on what the team needs to do. “It’s certainly been a very successful road for us,” said Mackenzie Jackson, co-owner and creative director of Alliance Studios.
Creators can probably enforce such large contracts, in part because players are playing more and more Fortnite Creative cards. According to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, “about half of Fortnite User playtime is now in content created by others, and half in epic content,” he said in an interview with Fast company† Epic Games declined to be interviewed for this article.
But the Creative makers also depend on income from Epic’s Support-A-Creator Program† With this program, qualified groups or individuals are given a “Creator Code” that people can enter in the Fortnite article store. All purchases made while that code is active support the group or individual the code represents. (Creator codes can also be used in Rocket League store and the Epic Games Store.)
For the Fortnite groups I’ve talked to, the Creator Codes can be an inefficient way to monetize because they need to find ways to convince people to enter the code. However, in some cards I’ve played, there is a prompt at the beginning that allows you to use the code with just a few button presses. But creators don’t get much of the share of what’s bought. In Fortnitecreators earn 5 percent of the value of in-game purchases made with their creator code, Epic says on its website†
In an FAQ, Epic describes a few examples of how the payouts might work – and explicitly warns creators to “expect modest results”:
DOES THIS PROGRAM MAKE CREATORS RICH?
Expect modest results. The amount you earn is scaled by the number of players who choose to support you. A Fortnite example, if your in-game supporters spend 50,000 V-Bucks in-game, you would earn $25 USD. An Epic Games Store example: if your supporters buy $100 worth of games, you’ll earn $5 (at the Epic-funded base rate).
And to be able to withdraw money from the system, you must have earned $100 in a 12-month period.
Brand deals seem like a more effective way to build a business for the creators I’ve talked to so far. “I’d say branded deals are more sustainable right now,” said R-leeo Maoate, director at Zen Creative. “Sometimes we have gaps that we don’t get as quickly” [many people playing our maps], which leads to less revenue. So we try not to rely on Support-A-Creator. We rely more on branded deals.”
Some teams talked to me about how they wish they had more options to monetize. Currently, the Support-A-Creator code is the onlyFortnite way for creators to make money, but competitors like Roblox and Meta let creators monetize things like custom virtual items.
Maoate also spoke about how your experience appears within Fortnite can make a difference. “You must be [on] the main front page discovery page to make something of an income,” he said.
Despite being several years old, it seems that we are still in our infancy with Fortnite Creative. The mode is released in December 2018, but Epic updates it regularly to add important new tools and features. For example, Johnny Lohe, one of the co-founders of Alliance, told me how Epic recently added the ability to modulate water levels† And many of the groups I interviewed discussed a major expected upgrade they called “Creative 2.0.”
Epic shared a short preview of the improved tools in its 2020 year overview video for Unreal Engine† “These are the same tools our developers use to build the game themselves,” Epic’s Zak Parrish said in the video. “Our goal is to bring you the same kind of power, the same toolset, that we use to… Fortnite for you season after season.” Epic also demonstrated a scripting language creators can use to customize their creative experiences in even more granularity.
The tools may arrive soon, Sweeney said: until Fast company† “Later this year we will release the Unreal Editor for Fortnite — the full possibilities you’ve seen [in Unreal Engine] opened up so anyone can build very high quality game content and code… Fortnite without having to make a deal with us – it’s open to everyone.”
And there are hints that Epic may be introducing more monetization tools as well, also based on comments from Sweeney. In response to a series of tweets in April, discuss Fortnite’s 5 percent bribes for creators, sweeney tweeted: “Epic is already working on Fortnite Creator Economy versions 2 and 3. Expect some major changes over the course of the year.”
He followed with a short tweet suggesting that Epic has bigger ambitions. “It’s a longer road to the open metavers,” he said† “The next few steps will be fun, but are not the holy grail.”