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Fortnite Moved Away From Live Events To Focus On The Metaverse

An interview with former Epic CCO Donald Mustard explains why Fortnite's priorities shifted away from in-game events

Some Fortnite Lego characters fishing off a pier
Epic

Over at his newsletter Game File yesterday, Stephen Totilo, our former boss, ran an interview with Donald Mustard, Fortnite’s former boss. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in it, including an intriguing explanation for why Fortnite stopped doing as many live events.

The interview runs the gamut from the earliest ideas for Fortnite’s popular battle royale mode (according to Mustard, there’s a battle bus because a school bus passed the Uber he was riding in when coming up with the idea) to why that abomination Peely exists (to troll Mustard’s brother, who hates bananas). Mustard talks at length about his passion for Fortnite’s live events, which were once season-ending mainstays. But by the time of Mustard’s departure from Epic in September 2023:

…the big shared events, the ones that were so novel to all of gaming and that Mustard was so proud to use to tell a bigger story, have faded away. Most seasons come and go without them.

“It was resources,” Mustard says. He wound down his work on Fortnite in 2022. The last season he oversaw was “Vibin’,” the game’s 21st.

By mid-2022, Epic was committing to build Lego Fortnite and Fortnite Racing, the new expansion of Fortnite into a proper multi-game metaverse that would go live in December 2023. “To build all this stuff, it takes so many people and so much time,” Mustard says. “Basically, the event team was starting to be needed to work on other stuff. And it was devastating to me because I'm like, ‘This is actually the magic.’ And not everyone at Epic agrees with that.”

It’s not so shocking that live events faded away due to resources; the pandemic repeatedly impacted one season’s closer, and I felt like live events grew more infrequent after that. But the explicit connection to Epic’s metaverse ambitions surprised me, as did Mustard’s feelings about it; he’s long been a champion of Fortnite-as-metaverse, and according to the interview, was passionately responsible for some of the crossovers that I’d argue led to Fortnite’s current state as a marketing exercise. But as much as I personally disliked Fortnite’s unique characters taking a backseat to Star Wars and Marvel guys, at least all of them were in the game, coming together in events that felt memorable and ambitious. While Fortnite’s new modes are fun, and while I understand the business case for branching out as the game’s popularity inevitably wanes, I’ve long missed Fortnite’s weirdest, most unique days–events like the black hole that took the whole game offline, or the wild fan theorizing about the cube or The Foundation. Fortnite feels more like a vehicle for–god help me–IP these days than it does its own video game. 

Speaking to Game Developer at GDC, Epic executives basically confirmed this, talking openly about the fact that recent partners like Lego and Disney don’t actually care about Fortnite. Epic EVP Saxs Persson said, “In truth, do they [Lego] care about Fortnite? Not really. But they really, really care about the ecosystem we've made.” Persson calls Fortnite “a blank canvas,” which seems to me like a sad way to describe the game that, at least for a few years, basically changed the world.

The idea that live events, some of the coolest things Fortnite did, would more or less fade away–they still happen, though I didn’t even realize the most recent one was going on–in favor of deals with companies that don’t even care about Fortnite is a real bummer. I’m with Mustard on this one: they were manifestations of Fortnite’s magic, rather than Disney Magic™.

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