Dear Epic Games, I’ve figured it out, I’ve cracked the code after days, weeks of thought experiments, research into human psychology, data science, and pulling real actual numbers from your actual player base. I’ve uncovered the truth of why people are so hooked on Fortnite; why you, the player, are still playing Fortnite. But first, I have a song for you: A B C D E F G H I… you’ll get more of that later for reasons that will become clear. Today, we’re going to pick apart piece by piece the complex, multifaceted genius, and honestly frankly, lucky formula that makes Fortnite and, in many respects, other games super DUPER popular, and why you like them so much. Let’s get started. Fortnite first got on my radar a little bit before it got super popular, and it-iiiIIT was still popular– don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t quite to where it is now. At the time, I predicted that Fortnite would have like a quick strong surge in popularity, and then died, like a lot of trendy games did at that time, and BOIII was I wrong, incredibly wrong. This game has a passion that won’t quit– LOOK AT THIS Google Trends graph! Eventually, I just I-I had to know why, I HAVE to know WHY, and the answer is actually a bunch of things that epic games did on purpose, and a few that were done by mistake. At the end of the day, we’re gonna prove together that Fortnite is the culmination of decades, maybe even hundreds of years of human psychology, Game Theory, and statistics to form one of the most modern iterations of games designed to get you hooked. And just a quick primer, I’m gonna avoid using the term “addicted” here because– well, addiction is complicated! Our models for addiction and what makes people addicted are constantly shifting, and one person’s addiction is another person’s “just a good time.” A lot of this episode also build on concepts MatPat has already gone over in great detail. Like, dopamine pathways and randomization and skinner boxes from these episodes. Have you even watch these videos on that? It’s totally fine you don’t actually need to watch them to understand this, BUT you SHOULD DO it eventually. And if you have watched those videos, we’re gonna be digging deeper today, WAY deeper, deep into your psychology, and lizard brain. And we’re going to arm you with the knowledge of the tactics game designers are using on you, so you can walk away from this ONE step behind the game developers instead of ten. The first thing you have to recognize is that human beings are irrational by nature. Yes, even me we don’t analyze numbers odds chances and our experiences from a grounded point of view This is probably most emblematic in what’s known as the gamblers fallacy Which is also known as the fallacy of the maturity of chances, and it could be described. Thusly you flip a coin What’s the chance of it landing heads or tails? 50/50 or 1/2 Okay So it lands tails. What’s the chance that if you flip it again and land heads still 50/50 or 1/2? But the way that we assess the situation moving forward Is that because you know that in a hundred coin flips? Roughly half the flips should be heads and flipping a coin and it coming up tails Increases the chances that the next coin flip will be heads, which is total nonsense The universe doesn’t have a checkbook upon which it balances coin flips Sid Meier addressed this fallacy in a 2010 gdq Talk on the psychology of game design where he also Mentioned three specific things that he does in order to make sure people want to keep playing his games One create a sense of linear progression to make the player Constantly want to play one more turn and three make the player feel Above average in single-player games. This is pretty easy You add an RPG element you make a tech tree you ascribe points or levels to pass through give power-ups You tweak the AI so it’s just challenging enough that you don’t always win But you do always come out ahead with a net gain and then you give them a sense of accomplishment And goals to aspire to that make them keep wanting to come back but in an online game, especially one that’s pretty much exclusively PvP how do you do this? Very very Carefully now let’s start with the easiest a sense of progression Now there is a place for tech trees and RPG elements in online games but usually they’re relegated to single player games unless you’re playing and say World of Warcraft but for tonight and Overwatch both have progression in them and it comes in the form of the experience bar a bar that honestly almost Literally does nothing aside from creating an anticipation for a reward, which we’ll get into more later but filling that bar getting a reward from it and in the case of Overwatch and fortnight getting more skins and ways of expressing yourself That’s all the sense of progression that you need and we like progression. We like completing things This is exactly how fortnight gives you this sense of linear progression Even if you’re the first person to die fortnight you get experience points You push that bar a little bit closer to your reward and then there’s all the tasks They give you to try to accomplish fortnight is filled with little bars that fill up that you’re never quite done with and as a result they linger in the back of Your mind forever due to two different but related psychological effects There’s eager Nick and the othe seon kina affects the zr nick effect is pretty simple and you’re probably experiencing it right now Remember when I started to sing the alphabet song earlier in stopped? That’s the Zeigarnik effect which states that humans are more likely to remember Uncompleted and interrupted tasks way more than ones that are completed That’s why while you can level up and complete a level and overwatch or fortnight, or I don’t mean to harp on those two But they’re just my favourites right now. You’ll never complete every single bar There’s always one more daily task one more task for the current holiday or you’ll never get every single skin spray character icon and gold weapons never kill every single orc captain In fact shadow of Mordor is a great example If you go online and look up people who branded every single or captain and war chief They said the games stopped being fun because there was nothing to do So it’s in a game designers best interest to never let us complete everything you can of course but if you get every single object in a game like overwatch, you’re by far the minority j k l m n o The offseason Keena effect is a complimentary psychological effect that states that humans have a tendency to pick up incomplete tasks without prompting and often without Thinking about it and already you can start to see how creating a sense of progression and games like Port night of trying to get That one skin or the next level or complete that one task design goal? Number one it starts to set up the pieces for design goal. Number two Creating a feedback loop of just one more which can be explained in one word slow You know, what flow is you experience it all the time. Sometimes we call it being in the zone It’s when you’re just kinda living fully immersed in what you’re doing acting sorta without thinking but at the same time what you’re doing is all you’re thinking of this is the Ideal state that games want you to be in this is the perfect zone of playing without Thinking about anything else building settlements in Fallout 4 or murdering orcs and shadow of Mordor exploring star systems and elite dangerous mining minerals and Minecraft everything professional speedrunners Do all of these things are examples of flow and I’m totally sure that you guys have your own experiences with it as well basically It can be described as whatever the opposite of getting over it with Bennett fadia’s which is one of the major reasons people hated it So freakin much well by creating a series of tasks and goals that will remain forever Incomplete game set you up to automatically pick them up without thinking where you invariably get into a flow This is reinforced by the use of Skinner models Which matpat and various others have talked about in great detail before but I’ll touch on briefly here Skinner models also known as operant conditioning models are circumstances described first by BF Skinner and is an extension of classical also known as Pavlovian conditioning the key differs between Skinner and Pavlov models is that Pavlovian conditioning is Reactive while Skinner conditioning is proactive you ring a bell and a dog salivates in Pavlovian conditioning meanwhile, you train a dog to ring a bell himself in Skinner conditioning and the way this flow this repetition of behavior is reinforced down to Rewards and this is where fortnight really starts to outshine his competition in a pretty major way and elevates them from simply good game designers to borderline geniuses because BF Skinner when studying operant conditioning and how to say make a mouse get into a flow of hitting a button a K playing a game for a reward that the optimal sweet spot for getting that dopamine pumping was randomness a consistent reward would destroy the mouse’s flow because the sense of anticipation and the Associated dopamine rush went away because the outcome was already predicted and this is where you probably think I’m gonna talk about Lou boxes but no fortnight doesn’t even have those instead of Conveniently packaging your operant conditioning rewards and one easy to target place They’ve spread them all Over the game the items available in the stores the sets but most importantly the random items in the map itself Constantly provides you with little hits of dopamine as you play the game. Will there be a good gun in that house? Will there be another person the game is filled with thousands of little bumps of gamer crack as you play the game Constantly reinforcing that sense of flow and your incentive to continue playing the game it is brilliant P QRS TUV W someone into are taken care of create a Reinforced operant conditioning loop by giving people a sense of accomplishment while providing endless goals and random reward systems but what of number three how in a game that’s honestly so randomized where every character is perfectly balanced because they’re literally Mechanically identical that is effectively a gala. Terian. How on earth do you do number three? how do you make every player feel above average in a Meritocracy and it’s here that the incredible luck and the incredible genius of epic games. Really really shines through because stumbling upon the formula I think was a complete accident but Capitalizing on it by scaling it up and perfecting it whether you think it’s evil or an inspiration. It’s freaking genius and the reason is Surprisingly simple every game of fortnight is secretly two games in one. There are some verifiable facts that are Impossible to deny when assessing a game like fortnight for every kill there must be a death and there can only be one Official winner in the number one spot but if you want your players to feel empowered to feel like even though they’re not the best Of the game there at least better than those bozo losers next door That means that most people need to be doing more winning than losing and it’s here that the two games in one really really shines I took a survey on my discourse server a group of people that broadly Represent the average gamer and I had everyone give me the stats for where they placed in their games of fortnight and the results Astounded me even accounting for errors in self reporting with over 200 games worth of data points the average gamer finishes a game of fortnight on average in the upper 34% how on earth is that possible because the average person is playing Predominantly one game of fortnight originally. I was thinking about splitting the games into two categories skilled and unskilled I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that So instead I’m gonna call it high risk and low risk Because while your actual skill level may place you more into one category than the other it’s not super relevant for right now high-risk players have Probably been playing the game for a while have developed an immunity to this sort of high that people get finding random items killing people and placing high lead So they are more likely to try to get more items and more victories as fast as possible They congregate in the highest population areas with other high-risk players Immediately get into fights and honestly most of the time place really low meanwhile The low-risk player is dropping in at the edge of the map and slowly creeping toward the center of the game as a storm I shrink as they are doing this their chances of running into other people is Low, and while it increases as they move closer and closer to the center of the circle It will never be as high as it is for high-risk players, but aren’t high res players die immediately You might ask and they are because this is all a numbers game to them instead of a long epic tale of survival And the tragedy of the human spirit against overwhelming odds like The Hunger Games They are playing hotline Miami where they die over and over and over again but iterates Incredibly quickly by the time I’ve reached the center of the map and there’s 20 people left High-risk people have already gone through five games and this is the brilliant part because players from both groups most of the time feel like they’re breaking even because while the high-risk players Are dying frequently they are for one thing mostly immune to that feeling of disappointment them It’s a slot-machine lose lose lose lose lose lose lose losing is a part of their flow when they do well when they win Oh man that hit of dopamine is so good and the kind of beautiful thing is is that they die so that the low-risk players can feel good because Most of the time the low-risk player is going to already place in the top 50% by the time they even see another person barring some random death here there and this Inflates the confidence of the low-risk player, even though they for all intents and purposes lose every single match They can at least say wow I mean it to the top three or even the top 20 and you feel like you’ve won over a lot of other people almost every single person that plays Fortnight ends up walking away feeling like they’re better than average and Epic Games has done their best to maximize This the player base erupted in an uproar when they introduced the idea of skill based matchmaking Where low skill players would match with other low skill players and while they backpedaled on it a bit. I Guarantee you if they have not implemented it yet. They definitely will in the future They’ve already started it with input based matchmaking where people playing on Controllers are matched with other people playing on controllers mouse and keyboard with other people on mouse and keyboard it goes on and on and this isn’t about Increasing their competition. It’s not about game bounce. It’s not about respecting a meritocracy It’s about enhancing and pushing a user experience Epic Games was able to keep up with the almost Unbelievably high growth of fortnight because they use Amazon Services, which scales to their needs but also allows them to process user data on a scale never before seen in the gaming industry epic games processes and tracks 92 million events per minute and over 40 gigabytes of user data Per minute at peak use and they gather in store over 2 petabytes of user data per month per month That’s 24 petabytes of information per year all about you where you go Will you kill when you get out when you stop playing the game all this data? They parse with the powers of data science analytics Statistics and most recently machine learning to tweak their formulas to crank user experience to the maximum threshold Possible. It’s incredible and a little scary honestly, but this is the future of gaming for better or worse Pandora’s Box is wide open now. You can look at this one of two ways You can look at it as corporations gaining more and more power and tools and take control of our lives So we spend more and more time on their platforms so they can control us and ultimately our wallets or you can look at it As game developers using technology never before available to anybody else to bring us the maximum satisfaction possible and these two perspectives aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive the world is complicated, but hopefully Now you understand a little bit more about how Fortnight and other online games work to entertain and/or Control you and at the end of the day, I think that’s what’s most important that you be as informed as possible So that you can make your own decisions Sincerely, Austin x y and z, now I know my ABC’s next time won’t you sing with me? You’re welcome