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Fortnite was 2018’s most important social network (theverge.com)
161 points by Tomte on Dec 25, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments

>This thing is here to stay, as a new kind of social network.

I have a seriously hard time buying "socialization in online games" as new. In fact Fortnite is a lot less like a social network than other online games, because the interactions are more sporadic and disconnected than for example a raid group in classic WoW cira 2007.

I think the biggest difference is that now it's mainstream.

Back in the early 2000's online games were played by a faction of the population that plays them now. They were fringe, and having "online friends" was consitered to be weird and strange by most (I heard this plenty as my 2 closest friends I only met in person for the first time at my wedding in 2014! After having known them for almost 10 years at the point, and I heard plenty from even family about how it was "a bit weird").

That feeling has changed over the last few years, and now "online friends" are just friends, and the games themselves are actually almost the secondary reason many people play them. The primary being to hang out with their friends online.

How do people end up finding friends online? I spend 90% of my time online, I post on forums, but I didn't end up making even one lasting online relationship. It seems like a fun thing to do though, how does that usually happen?

I don’t think the types of relations as described above are a result from primarily text based conversation, but years of gaming with the other person until 3 a.m. and while doing so, being on Teamspeak, Discord and the like. Talking to the person really makes these connections much deeper. I once started using in-game voice chat and simply asked the person something, and just from hearing his “yes” I could tell he was the same nationality as I and could even pin down the region from his accent, so the conversation started and became quite interesting.

Not saying this can’t be happening through forums, but I’d say it’s less likely and slower.

The other difference is that there is some authentication. I generally don’t play with a mic and I have some “friends” I enjoy having very minimal text chat, but mostly because they are good players. I do t consider these significant because I don’t talk. If I did, they may be surprised I’m a middle age Aussie guy, up way too late playing with the US. The authentication that voice offers makes it far more personal.

It is pretty easy. Back in WCIII, I had my clan when we used to do semi pro matches. I even ran a bot called Ghost++ for my clan so that we could have "LAN" games even when I was gone. Now that I play DotA, people usually add me after a game (I am pretty decent at the level I am rated since I watch a lot of games but don't play often). Hell, you can go on the DotA 2 subreddit right now and post in the "make a team" posts.

Like others said, voice chat also makes the connection much faster. Get on Ventrilo (RIP), party chat, or discord!

In my case IRC, I started hanging around a programming channel related to a particular framework, over time we all pretty much moved off that framework for various reasons but a core group of us just spun a new IRC channel and moved over there.

It's now my digital watercooler (I'm the only dev at work), interestingly many of the other regulars are sole devs or small company devs where they are the lead dev.

How old are you? Like, serious question: if is a generally reported experience that people start to suck at randomly making friends as they approach 30.

Age does sound like a likely explanation. When I was younger, I made friends online pretty much the same as offline: Some people I just got along with very well, at some point hung out and talked with them more consciously (online or offline or both).

Now that I'm older, that barely happens. Online or offline, even while I do meet new people and some friendship forms on some level, a certain distance remains and things often stay confided to a particular function (lunch group at work, people in an online group).

I first tried to fight it, but now I suspect that I'm just more interested in furthering the relationships that I already have, instead of making room for new ones.

I was thinking about this recently and decided it's probably another culprit: we're less tolerant of unexpected and different things as we get older.

That seems kind of essential for younger-esque 'Hey, stranger who I know nothing about? Want to spend a lot of time together?'

But they suck at it because they lack the time due to other adult obligations (kids, spouses, work, etc).

Battles, and Hard Work. Someone mentioned WoW below, it was the first widely popular MMORPG, the scale was dozen times larger than any previous MMORPG. And to get good or the fun, you have to join Raid and Guild. There were no quick way to do it, no Pay to win like we have today. Everyone joins and help each other in the Guild if you want to grow. And through having the Same Goal, overcome the impossible battles you have and hours spending time in Teamspeak ( Do they still use it today ), you form friendship.

It is much easier to have friendship when everyone have the same goal.

Many of my best online friends I have through having shared a faction in an online game. Working as a team with them led to the initial favorable views and relationships with each other which I think is vital, which then grew into out of character friendships which went beyond the game.

Hmm. Counterpoint. First, I don't doubt that making friends online is now much, much more common. But I'm surprised at the "weird and strange".

I made some friends online as early as the 90s, in IRC for example. Some of them are such good friends, we still talk to each other every day. But I personally never remember anyone, neither family nor any of the friends that I did not meet online, giving the impression that they find this "strange" or "weird". And the majority of my friends I did not meet online. Few of them are much into computers, or active online, so I don't think there's some kind of bias.

Even when we directly talk about it, e.g. "How did you meet X?" - "Met him online", I don't recall any surprise or judgement. Come to think of it, it's not really very different from "met in a classic car club".

Having met my fiancée online, for contrast, is a bit different. Probably because it does not leave much room for a meet-cute story, and is a rather intentional thing (two people seeking a relationship) instead of a beautiful coincidence. I don't think people care very much about the "origin story" for friends on the other hand, unless it stands out on its own.

I grew up in Germany, if that matters for context.

Slight tangent: if Fortnite has really become as mainstream as the term suggests, I'd expect that the "met online" kind of relationship would be mostly a thing of the past: if almost everybody is playing, playing with people from your physical sphere becomes a possibility and once that becomes the normal thing to do, hooking up with strangers on the internet might become quite exotic again.

Friendships that start online and stay online (without ever involving meeting IRL) have been a minority interest. I can't say whether that's changed now.

It used to imply a decision to spend time interacting through a screen (either in real-time or over email or usenet) rather than socializing in physical space. The people who made that decision, consciously or unconsciously, for whatever reasons, were a self-selected group, and a significant fraction of them would not have identified as mainstream or neurotypical. To judgemental people in the mainstream, that equals weird and strange.


I have had a lot of online friends. I do not think of myself as part of some self-selected group. I'm medically handicapped and I was a military wife. For those and other reasons, I happened to spend a lot of time online and it's become a habit. The internet has been very life enhancing for me.

If I were hail and hardy and had not ended up socially isolated for various reasons, I doubt I would choose to spend so much time online. But I made the best of the hand dealt me and this is where I ended up.

From some perspective, that's probably true of a lot of internet devotees. If you are, for example, not neurotypical, the internet may work better than face-to-face interactions.

I also think it's not all that nice to tell a relative their interests are "weird." I kind of feel like someone who would do that probably would come up with excuses to be othering no matter the details of your life.

Again, I just don’t have the impression that the origin story of a friend matters very much to anyone else than me and my friend.

I have friends that I definitely would call “mainstream”, and some of them you might call judgmental. However, their perception would rather apply to the person, how they present themselves and behave, rather than to how I originally met that person. That factor is bound to be just a passing interest (“How’d you met by the way? Ah.”). If at all, because come to think of it, you already have to have formed some opinion, or somewhat care, about said friend to go as far as asking such a question.

Ask yourself whether you’ve ever wondered with more than just fleeting, and therefore inconsequential, interest about how your friends have met their friends, the ones that you don’t have any strong feelings about yourself.

Which, again, also seems to be a bit of a different story with the people you’re dating.

I think when Klathmon said "online friends", they meant friends who only communicate online. That's the scenario my reply addressed.

You haven't exactly made it clear what kind of relationships you are talking about, but it sounds like you might be thinking of predominantly IRL relationships that just happen to have started online. That is a totally different ballgame.

Not sure. I don’t know! There’s one person that I have never physically met, but talked with almost every day for decades now. He’s however in the same (very small) group as other people I also talk with every day, but have seen a handful of times. They will definitely be invited to my wedding, but given how he happens to have met the others a handful of times, just not me (by sheer coincidence), that maybe lessens it.


Habbo Hotel was and still is pretty much one of the prime examples of a social network type game at least to me. Their downfall is not adopting to mobile quickly enough and the insane exploitations that happened by adults to teens there and also by teens who wrote software to exploit the servers.

It had profiles a la MySpace sorta with stickers, music players made, and even a comments section. Groups were similar. Recently they have been ditching their old web pages for profiles and groups in favor of focusing more on the general game client.

You would add friends, message them, instant message with them. Throw parties or create in-game invented games to play. People were literally social, to the point of e-dating and other things. People went to jail over Habbo Hotel. I have an online friend who was arrested in England and questioned for allegedly doing a DDoS attack on Habbo Hotel.

Then theres VMK and Club Penguin. Those were more social based games. I can also see Neopets and Gaia Online considered as such.

WoW was not as widespread as fortnite is. A lot of spotsman and celebrities are streaming it making it more widespread than other games ever were. Plus the existence of twitch...

Fortnite has 80 millions players[1] vs WoW with 5.5 millions at its peak[2].

[1] https://www.polygon.com/platform/amp/fortnite/2018/9/20/1788...

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/276601/number-of-world-o...

> WoW with 5.5 millions at its peak[2]

You're using the peak from the graph which omits the first 11 years of WoW (graph starts at 2015, WoW launched in 2004), the description to the right of the graph states the peak was 12 million in 2010 (though of course that's still far less than Fortnite's)

That says WoW had a peak of 12 million.

Sounds about right, even when WoW peaked it still felt niche compared to fortnite.

I didn’t read anything in TFA that wasn’t already present in, say, Halo 2 ten or twelve years ago. I still play weekly with people I’ve played with for over a decade. Got a job interview at a major software company via a contact from the Halo crew.

But that’s just one example. :%s/Fortnite/wildly-popular game with party chat/g

I think the thing that makes Fortnite a game changer in this space is its ubiquity. It's free and cross-play on almost every platform, from phones to high end gaming PCs, and almost every console in-between.

I feel like a big enabling factor these days is the disappearance of scheduled TV programming, either broadcast or cable. Without that to put everyone on the same page, games like Fortnite get a chance to fill the vacuum.

That's a nice hypothesis. I don't know if it's true, but I vividly remember talking about last evening's TV movie in the school courtyard, or in the locker room before PE (I guess because there you had a lot of "involuntary social time" to fill), and how big of a factor of socializing that was. Being long out of school when streaming on the Internet became big, I always wondered what replaced that piece of commonality.

disappearance of scheduled TV programming, either broadcast or cable.

That's an interesting thought, something that's crossed my own mind before. Are the numbers there to suggest scheduled TV programming is declining, or do the shows that get best ratings and reviews and pop culture buzz these days just happen to be shows on streaming platforms/alternative media?

I actually don't have the answer, I'm just probing the thought, so to speak.

I would love if Netflix et al would add some type of "social movie watching", where you can voice chat with someone while watching a synced video stream.

A friend and I used to watch movies together over Skype by counting down before pressing play. It worked very well, but only for local files; on a streaming platform, the slight delay between pressing play and the video starting ruined it. Get (close to) perfect sync was important, as otherwise, one of us would react to moments slightly before the other. Pausing in the middle, etc was also annoying.

P.S. Even watching events which are live, but streamed over the internet via HLS doesn't work well. We've tried it for e.g. Apple keynotes, and the variable delay of HLS ruins the experience.

I do this all the time with Netflix syncing extensions. If not that we use video syncing tools like Syncplay and sync-video. Native support would be incredible, and I think it’s supported on the Oculus Go’s Netflix app.

Netflix (or Microsoft?) actually built this in the Xbox 360 days. It seemed to be fairly popular but was discontinued in 2012 or so.

I embraced Netflix and similar services because I was tired of dealing with people talking in the movie theater.

An app that brings the awful theater experience home to your Netflix would be peak Silicon Valley.

Obviously, this isn't something you do for movies that you want to watch in silence. And often, we weren't necessarily talking—we'd just hear each other laugh, or gasp, etc.

I embraced Netflix and similar services because I was tired of dealing with people talking in the movie theater.

Partial solution to this problem for me was to go to movies early in the week, as early in the day as possible-though I realize it's not a solution for everyone, I'm a remote worker with a lot of schedule autonomy.

I love the onDemand nature of streaming services, but am still a dork for the big screen "event" feeling of catching a movie fresh after release. Just...as you said, minus the talkers.

No love for Linux though :(

Watch/ask some kids about how they play Fortnite! I’ve seen them just hanging around chatting and dancing (especially younger kids).

neopets.com was one of the most visited sites on the internet in 2000 and many of its features were very web 2.0 like

>a raid group in classic WoW cira 2007.

After Blizzard releases WoW Classic this summer, I already know what will 2019's most important social network be :-)

wow had at it's prime 5 million subscriptions.

Check the player count of fortnite from November...


WoW peaked at 12 million during Wrath of the Lich King.

thanks for pointing that out. i actually remembered reading a headline of ~8 million at the beginning of WotLK, but when i checked statistics just now, it was pinned to 5 million.

The statistic i checked started after Warlords of Draenor, however... and i didn't notice that

More like 12 million, but your point still stands.

Fortnite is free and it works on all platforms, WoW costs like $50 every two-three years and $12 a month and works only on computers.

Fortnite is not 'here to stay', at least, not as a mainstream product. It occupies the same position in the market that Minecraft did 6 or 7 years ago for pre-teens. In time, the bulk of Fortnite players will start going to parties, having to study for exams, and trying to talk awkwardly to girls, and the userbase will fall off a cliff.

If it really is like minecraft then it will still be here in a decade. Minecraft had 74 million active players last december out of the 150 million copies sold over the games life time. That is a stagering retention rate for an industry that is all about the next big things.

Its not even close to what it was back 5 years though.

It's higher than it was 5 years back. The article states it's the all time record for Minecraft.

You're right, but publications have to write glowing articles about these trends because it's easy traffic and will get clicks, especially from older (non-teenager) users who feel out of touch with the youth 'zeitgeist'.

The sheer volume of articles written about Pokemon Go and the future of AR in 2016 was mind-boggling, especially as the popularity of the game peaked in less than a year.

Minecraft is still fucking huge though.

And as they grow up. Other younger children will grow into being into it and wanting to play.

Minecraft is still very popular among certain age groups. Some age out as others age into it.

My wife is very good about keeping up with old friends from back home; me, not so much.

Over the past year, I've been semi-consistently playing weekly fortnite sessions with three old friends, and it's been great. It's something we all do and laugh at while we're on a group phone call together, and it's good for an hour of relaxing and talking on a Sunday night.

The fact of it being free is important because none of us play outside of these gatherings (making the large-download updates problematic when they show up.)

I played Eve Online (way too much) a decade ago and there developed some friendships that are as real as any I've ever had.

Fortnite I've only played with my son, for an hour or two a week. Sometimes a friend or two of his will join us but usually its just the two of us. Its been pretty cool to share this, but I'm a little skeptical that overall its really representing something new. Yes, maybe its more mainstream, but it is also much more limited than other environments, because you can only have four people in your party. What if your buddy group is five or six? There is really no practical way to play together.

I'm more inclined to see this as:

Fortnite is super popular among humans.

Humans are very social animals.

Fortnite sees a ton of social activity.

I used to play a lot of EverQuest with friends. At some point we realized it was like an elaborate chatroom - a place to hangout just as much as it was a game.

This is a big part of why Minecraft was worth buying for 2.5B. Minecraft provides an endless wilderness to explore, modify and hangout. Particularly powerful with kids since that's something they're no longer allowed in the real world.

I would say the same thing was the case for a game like World of Warcraft.

The big advantage of game-based social networks is that they have a purpose which means they have a constructive goal which is shared among the players, plus they have rules for how to win.

I would rather that my kids spend time in Fortnite than on Facebook.

I believe fortnite is popular because battle royale suits the streamer model of high community interaction during the buildup phase, and then opportunities to display significant technical prowess during the late game.

If streaming starts to lose popularity, fortnite will too.

I haven't played Fortnite, but from what I know it took a somewhat resurgant form of gameplay (battle Royale) and added some innovations to great success.

I can see Fortnite having a multi year run, but gaming is a completely different medium to a traditional 'social network'. Maybe this says something critical about social networks, mainly the fact that a successful social network must be oriented around passive consumption rather that active participation.

I'm sure folks watch Fortnite videos online and live streams, but I get the sense that a large number of folks have spent more time playing that watching. You cant really say that for most other social networks, especially when you remove 'power' users such as influencers and brand accounts.

But even traditional social networks change and shift and dont really last the same way. Facebook has had some lasting power but it has decreased and died in many ways. Vine. Snapchat. And many other things have taken huge chunks of mine shares. While Facebook owns or buys some of them. Most more traditional social networks I'd argue also aren't really lasting things either. They are probably longer half life and slower churn than a gaming social network but other than the half life they suffer same problems.

True, eventually these platforms will either die or innovate to the point where their original implementations seem distant.

My bigger point is regarding the nature of a gaming platform vs. a more traditional feed based app as effective social networks (when it comes to lasting power and monetary ability mainly), even the best video games have a flash in the pan nature that makes it difficult to see the MAU increase in a way we've seen with feed based networks.

It’s interesting to me in that it gets people together as a product of a combined interest rather than just united in over-sharing.

That said I feel like most game based social networks seem more transitory than the purely “social” networks. Not out of any inherent inferiority but more just as a product of the general nature of games

Title should say Discord instead of Fortnite tbh. Nobody needs to be explained the gargantuan presence of Fortnite but where there's a game of Fortnite, there's a Discord server.

I find that gaming serving as a social space is not a new concept in any capacity.

Games as a social space aren't new.

Games that attract nearly everyone, even in just some age groups, to one social space are rare.

You won't be joining say...an "EVE Online" discord unless you have bought the game and want to play it. Fortnite is as free as Facebook and is at critical mass for many groups. It ends up becoming the lingua franca of gaming socialization.

League of Legends and GTA5 come off the top of my head not including other examples mentioned here. Culture phenomena videogames have come and gone, this time Fortnite just has a bigger marketing campaign.

Discord is definitely not even a space dedicated to games either (I don't think your EVE example holds up), it's just where people gather to play games and end up using it for everything else too. Everything you've mentioned still definitely applies to a Discord account, free like free beer and the envy of so many other chat platforms.

CSGO added a Fortnite/battle royale mode ... I wonder if it had any impact...

the "bigger" play for CSGO will be the "free-to-play". I'm trash as CS, but it's my game of choice. Valve has been doing a ton to keep the game fresh this past year

that's great to hear, I didn't realize it was now free to play (I like that the skins don't improve your gameplay but still give them a revenue source...)

I started being scared when I found many kids having tics from Fortnite steps.

I have a nephew who will mess with his brother, and play these at random from a Bluetooth speaker in their house. It is interesting, and is probably already making for an interesting study somewhere.

I used to play a lot of CoD back in the day and definitely noticed an increase in my twitchiness with regard to things moving in my peripheral vision.

Nintendo, also in 2018, removed the "taunt" dances from their most popular online game. The only way to communicate is now to teabag.

'My favorite' != 'most important'. I'm glad the author is having a good time combining socializing and gaming but this is a nonsense article.

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