Tomorrow, Epic Games plans to retire Fortnite’s Playground mode, a limited time event that was designed to offer a more creative tool for the game’s millions of players. The move will coincide with the much-anticipated launch of the game’s fifth season. Although the free-for-all playlist was only with us for a short time, it had a huge impact. Casual players were able to practice with their friends and better understand the game, while die-hard Fortnite aficionados created meme-worthy posts for Reddit and Twitter fame.
The mode, which lets up to four friends jump into an empty map with a 60-minute time limit and a staggering increase in the drop rate of building materials, has already produced plenty of viral clips. There are the players who re-created Mario Kart with the game’s shopping carts, those who set up elaborate domino effects to destroy half the map, and groups that have made elaborate obstacle courses that bounce their avatars through the sky without needing to press a button. Many players are dropping into the mode just to write in goofy references and messages to popular streamers by drawing them into the ground, or they create absurd and impossible structures like double-stacked octahedrons the size of small mountains.
Playground isn’t without its kinks. You can’t control what items you drop with, forcing you to salvage more every time a friend knocks you out or when you simply fall off the wrong edge of a perilously constructed structure. You also can’t effectively skirmish against your friends, because you can’t select teams to, say, split up into groups of two and duke it out. Epic plans to address all that in a revamped version of the mode that’s due out later this year.
Epic’s message to players when announcing those planned changes points to an important shift for the game. It sounds like Playground is just the first step toward a broader evolution for Fortnite as a whole. “The Playground LTM represents our first step into what a full creative mode looks like in Fortnite,” the developer wrote on Reddit last week. We don’t know when it will arrive or what shape this “full creative mode” will take, but it could represent a more bold future for Fortnite that goes beyond its current competitive shooter trappings.
Because, more than anything, Playground mode feels like a true Minecraft successor. It’s a sandbox where you and your friends can mess around, get creative, and build stuff without worrying about hostile, trigger-happy players striving for a victory. It’s the perfect variation of Fortnite for those players who’ve started to grow tired of battle royale games or who never got into them in the first place because they’re so hyper-competitive and oriented around shooting guns. Typically, so much of Fortnite is dictated by other players’ responses to running into you on the map and your ability to deal with the exchange accordingly. Playground removes that barrier entirely.
For those players, like myself, who’ve become hooked on the battle royale genre, Playground represents a break in the game’s monotonous cycle. In our very first session last week, my three friends and I messed around with huge shopping cart ramps and tried to outbuild one another over Tilted Towers, resulting in the most elaborate and outrageous structure we’d ever seen in the game. We then ended our hour with a sniper showdown inside four giant pillars constructed on the corners of Loot Lake. Most of the time, killing each other was the most boring part. It was the unexpected events — like accidentally removing the floor beneath my avatar in a furious edit war or launching ourselves off a mountain in a shopping cart with an impulse grenade — that made it a memorable experience.
Let your creativity run wild! The Playground LTM is available now. pic.twitter.com/b7eRPlrnPa
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 3, 2018
It’s easy to see how much potential this version of Fortnite has, especially when taking into account Epic’s unprecedented rocket launch that occured in-game at the end of last month. Fortnite is becoming much more than a battle royale game. It’s fast developing its own internal storylines and characters, and the entire game is propped up by a massive online community that is obsessed with dissecting the game’s Easter eggs and its new alternate reality elements. On top of that, the community does the hard work of creating a trove of user-generated content that fills forum and social media threads on a daily basis.
So much of this community activity and narrative world-building and much more could be enabled in Fortnite’s creative mode, away from the competitive aggressiveness of its battle royale version. After numerous players complained of having missed the momentous rocket launch because trolls decided to ruin their game and open fire early, it’s clear the battle royale structure is becoming a detriment to Epic’s meticulous storytelling plans. (Granted, part of the fun of the rocket launch was the trust you put in other strangers to lay down arms and watch the spectacle together. But there’s only so much community good will to go around.)
If Fortnite is going to move beyond battle royale and closer to a kind of massively multiplayer hybrid game, it will have to involve a permanent, thoughtful mode that lets players experience the game at their own pace and without the battle royale genre’s harshly regimented rules. There will always be a demand for Fortnite as a competitive shooter. It’s the game’s success as a battle royale title that has propelled it to the top of Twitch, launched hundreds of well-known streamers’ careers, and helped Epic launch its $100 million e-sports circuit. The battle royale version of Fortnite may remain the most popular version of the game for some time, perhaps for its entire lifespan.
But Epic seems to recognize that Fortnite has a larger, more grand road ahead of it that involves crafting large, communal narratives and shared social experiences. It’s too early to say whether Fortnite can become the Minecraft of this generation. But a move to accommodate more than competitive shooting contests — and in a way that prioritizes creation and what makes the game so often go viral — is a step in the right direction.