Any of my gaming friends can tell you that I’ve recently sunk the bulk of my gaming time into Epic Games’ Fortnite – an Early Access co-op sandbox survival game, described by Epic’s founder as “Minecraft meets Left 4 Dead”.
The game has attracted quite a bit of development since its early access launch earlier this year.
This includes praise for its fun gameplay, but also criticism over its microtransactions, bugs and more recently, its Battle Royale mode.
But I don’t view many of these as a threat to the game — rather, there is a more prevalent problem that is turning many gamers away from the title.
To give some context, I will first explain the current major criticisms of the game and why I don’t think they’re the biggest issues facing the game.
Then we can get onto the main topic — an issue that is killing the experience for many players…
What Are The Main Criticisms?
The game recently made headlines because the developers of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Bluehole, complained that Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode was too similar to their game.
Many have dismissed Bluehole’s criticism considering that the battle royale format is a game genre and not IP. There is also the fact that PUBG is only one of the more recent battle royale games in a string of other releases (H1Z1 King of the Hill, DayZ, The Culling, etc). While PlayerUnknown was the original Arma 3 modder who inspired the genre (which is based off of the plot of a Japanese novel titled Battle Royale), and he had a role to play in the H1Z1 game mode and DayZ, The Culling and other non-PlayerUnknown games have seen a release before PUBG.
But this issue has been discussed extensively across reddit and gaming forums.
Rather, my concern about the game has nothing to do with Battle Royale. Nor does it have anything to do with the microtransactions.
Some people have labelled the game as pay-to-win, despite the fact that it’s a co-op game and therefore no one wins over other players. Battle Royale, the PvP mode, has no link to microtransactions, and therefore purchases cannot affect the gameplay for that mode.
The microtransactions do speed up progression for some players, who are able to buy loot boxes with in-game currency and therefore access more weapons and heroes.
However, this in-game currency is easily earned by doing dailies and certain missions. As someone with a standard edition of the game and no money to spend on buying in-game currency, I have a balance of over 1300 V Coins just from doing daily quests. In my time in the game, I’ve easily already spend over 5000 V Coins without having paid for them.
The bugs in the game, while an annoyance, are a non-issue for me. Anyone familiar with Early Access knows that the product is still in beta (or sometimes even alpha). The game can be buggy, but it’s incredibly superior to most Early Access offerings and the devs release frequent updates.
As development continues, I believe more end-game content will become available, along with a more stable version.
So if my concern isn’t about the microtransactions, the PUBG criticisms or the bugs, then what is it?
A Problem That Will Drive More Players Away Than Anything Else
Fortnite is clearly marketed as “better with friends” – and this holds true for most multiplayer games.
However not everyone can play with their friends. Sometimes it’s clashing schedules, sometimes your main missions don’t line up and sometimes you’re just #ForeverAlone.
Like many other players, I have played solo, with the game matching me with other solo players to create a party.
The matchmaking system is fine and you often get decent people in your team. But one problem is becoming more prevalent, especially as more players spend time in PvP rather that PvE.
This problem is farmers and AFKers. No, not your Old McDonald type. Rather, the players in Fortnite who simply farm materials and loot during missions and do not contribute to the main objective.
This takes many forms. People who don’t rescue survivors in missions where that’s the only objective. Or players who don’t help build forts to protect your objective. Some not only ignore the build phase, but don’t even show up for the defence stage and just carry on looting.
As missions become more difficult, this becomes a bigger problem. It’s frustrating enough to be carrying other players who don’t contribute, but when you fail a mission after half an hour of effort and using all your resources, the nerd rage is real.
I love this game. I mean I looooove it. But even I quit with a headache and a stiff neck after stressful missions which I fail because farmers didn’t help even when asked nicely.
I recently stopped progressing my main campaign, as it requires me to do “Play With Others” missions in a 45+ zone. I’ve already tried and failed to find decent parties where players contribute. In the meantime, I’ve just given up.
What makes this even more frustrating is that players have the option to host a private match, where they can farm uninterrupted and alone and keep all their loot.
Rather, farming in public matches is a problem of greed. The players don’t only want resources and loot, they want the XP and rewards that come with a successful mission, even if they didn’t contribute.
And there is limited recourse for frustrated players. You simply have to leave the match or just accept it. The report functionality is extremely limited, requires you to remember the player’s username and falls under the general feedback functionality.
And that’s where the threat lies — Epic Games needs to do something and provide some kind of option to players who are tired of this.
What Can Fortnite’s Devs Do?
The devs have taken some steps towards fixing the problem, but it’s far from adequate.
The Fortnite team published a code of conduct on the game’s site in September, while community manager Nathan Mooney posted an announcement condemning AFKers in the game’s official forums.
But there is more that can be done.
Better functionality for reporting players
One of the first things Fortnite devs can do is refine the report functionality on both the PC and console versions of the game.
The best option would be a function that allows you to select a team member and report them. This functionality could also be included through selecting the player’s name in chat.
On PC, you are able to view the recent players who you’ve joined in matches. Allowing a report function would help remove the burden of having to remember the player’s username letter for letter. After all, you might remember the general name (e.g. like SuckyMcSuckFace) but not remember the numbers that many users include in their names (e.g. SuckyMcSuckFace245).
On PlayStation 4, you have to open a feedback form and manually enter the player’s name and the reason for reporting the player. This actually takes some time, which really deters users from reporting.
The October 12 patch saw reporting functionality made much easier for their Battle Royale mode. A report player option now appears at the end of the match. It’s time devs implemented a similar solution for the PvE mode of Fortnite.
Consequences for not contributing
Currently, there are literally no repercussions for players who don’t contribute to the main objective of a match. In fact, until an October patch, players who accidentally disconnected and reconnected would receive Level 1 loot despite contributing. This means you lost more rewards for accidentally disconnecting and reconnecting — but if you spent the whole mission AFK that’s fine. The bug has now been fixed for those who gets disconnected, but nothing has been done for AFKers and farmers.
The devs have said that they are going to introduce a karma system, the beginning of which we’ve seen in the thumbs up button at the end of a match. But so far it doesn’t seem to have much of an effect and on PS4 it’s often sometimes buggy.
Another concern is its focus is on positive feedback.
The concept of positive feedback is good — but it’s not one that the average consumer puts effort into. Just look at tweets at company profiles on Twitters — people are more motivated to send complaints, rather than compliments.
Therefore, you’ll likely only give a thumbs up to someone who went above and beyond in a match in a noticeable way. Players who did their part are less likely to receive a thumbs up — and because there’s no thumbs down, they’ll likely be lumped in with slackers.
Kick function for parties
There is also no kick function in matches. This is tricky, as the kick function can often end up being abused in games. For example, a few years back in Guild Wars 2, party members were sometimes kicked from a dungeon by a group of friends who then went on to sell the party slot to other players so that they could get the dungeon rewards.
But devs have found ways to prevent this from happening. So Fortnite’s devs could too.
You could curb unwarranted kicking by requiring a party vote and require the user to select a reason.
Basically, something needs to be done, as the problem is creating an unpleasant experience for even the most diehard fans of the game.
Will Something Be Done?
It’s difficult to say whether the devs are focusing on these types of concerns from the playerbase. Patches have recently been heavily focused on Battle Royale — with the report functionality in the PvP mode already being more advanced that the older PvE mode.
But it’s likely that if they don’t begin to focus on these types of concerns, the money for the game, which currently only comes from purchasing the PvE mode and its microtransactions, will dry up quickly.