It's easy to forget that Fortnite, in the months following its release, really wasn't that big of a deal. What catapulted it into the phenomenon it is now was the addition of a battle royale mode post-launch, a move that showed both how brazen Epic was prepared to be but also how ambitious the developer was about updating the game. With its subsequent success Fortnite is now one of the biggest entertainment properties on the planet, and Epic has shown itself capable of leaning into that in an almost unprecedented manner.
I say 'almost' because individual games have had updates that made big changes over time: heck, Final Fantasy XIV destroyed its own world to reset the entire thing. But Fortnite's towering scale and the resource Epic can put behind development has made this a game that receives constant additions and balance updates and then, once a year, flips the table.
Some developers and publishers, with a hit of this size on their hands, would incline towards the 'if it ain't broke' model of support. But when Epic began the 'chapter' model it built up towards destroying the island, and had the bravery to add entirely new mechanics alongside a new setting. Obviously Epic has the designers and money to do this, but still: changing or adding to the fundamentals of something so widely popular is bold and, whatever you think about Fortnite, arguably the defining feature of its post-development.
It would be remiss not to mention that there is another cost beyond money: Crunch. In the earlier years of Fortnite's success Epic was allegedly bad at managing its developers' workloads and over-reacting to complaints. "If a build went out into the wild and there was a negative reaction, then someone at the top would say, 'We need to change that,'" an employee told Polygon in 2019. "And everyone would be pulled in from what they were doing, and people were told to cancel their plans, because they were going to crunch until this was done. It was never-ending. It’s great for supporting the community and for the public. But that comes at a cost."
Epic may have completely changed its processes and whatnot since then: But clearly it was a problem at one time.
The full title for this year's changeover is Chapter 3 Season 1: Flipped! Fans got a bit of service with the confirmation of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as the 'Foundation' character, though the headline character addition is Spider-Man - and while Fortnite is certainly guilty of just absorbing anything and everything, Spidey arrives alongside a game-changing swinging mechanic.
Essentially chapter 3 does what chapter 2 did, all over again. the map has been overhauled, new mechanics like sliding and the swinging have been added alongside a bunch of new weapons, and there's a bunch of new lore in the game's ongoing storyline. Here's the new map.
The Daily Bugle is now on the map, and Spider-Man's in it (if you buy the battle pass of course), and folks are already having fun with the swinging.
Wtf the web swinging in fortnite is insanely good??? pic.twitter.com/GHMu9V2bkcDecember 6, 2021
Finally it's worth mentioning how Epic did it: a cataclysmic event called The End that was frankly pretty amazing. I don't play Fortnite regularly but I do like to log in occasionally for the big events and this was one of its best yet, a bespoke set-piece that got bigger and more explodier until (spoiler alert) the chapter 2 island basically... turned over?!?
Purely as a visual spectacle this is really something. No other live service game out there is being developed at this pace, and is prepared to go for these massive changes that, let's be frank about it, could go wrong. Spider-Man's web shooters may arrive on December 11 and screw up the balance and cause a controversy, players might hate the new map or demand certain things back: all of this is possible.
Epic knows this of course, and the fact it's still prepared to gamble and gamble big is surely one of the main factors in Fortnite's enduring popularity. When Epic CEO Tim Sweeney is banging on about the metaverse, or the latest dodgy-looking character addition comes out, it's easy to roll your eyes at Fortnite. But the way this game is being developed gives it a chance of staying front-and-centre for many years to come.