The popularity of Fortnite has been transformative for Epic Games. But with huge success has come rivalry with Valve, gamers unhappy with exclusivity deals, rumours of stressful working conditions and many unanswered questions. Later Levels has joined forces with Dan from nowisgames.com for An Epic Debate, in which we’ll be giving our opinions and thoughts on the company over the coming week.
Disclaimer: I’m not an Epic Games. Let me make that clear for transparency right from the start of this paragraph. Dan mentioned in his post on Wednesday that he doesn’t like having to have yet another store application on his PC, disagrees with the company’s strong-arm tactics and resents not having a choice to buy a game he wants on Steam; and I can see where he’s coming from. As he’s doing himself, I’ll be exercising my ability to make a choice by avoiding the Epic Games Store and voting with my wallet.
On the other hand though, I find myself agreeing with Ben on certain aspects too. I understand I might not like certain decisions but they do make business sense because competition can be positive. As my blogging-partner-in-crime pointed out on Monday, Epic is trying to get a foothold in a market dominated by Steam since 2004 and has the bank-balance to be able to do so. They’re challenging Valve to change their ways by offering developers a more favourable split of the revenue, and that’s great for all the indie creators out there.
Although the three of us have different opinions, there’s one thing we can all agree on: that crunch is never good and shouldn’t be a part of the development process. Recent news articles have highlighted how the company’s employees have been under extreme pressure to work grueling hours to maintain Fornite’s success in a hostile environment, where completing overtime is expected even though it’s officially voluntary. Crunch is destructive. It hurts both mental and physical health, damages relationships, and should never be forced on people.
But putting terrible working practices to one side for a moment, and as much as it pains me to say it, Epic does get the blunt end of the stick occasionally. Every time the dangers of playing video games are discussed by the media, politicians and even our royals, Fortnite seems to make an appearance. I remember watching an episode of the ITV News last year where Correspondent Martha Fairlie reported that the game could be ‘dangerously addictive’ and is exposing our children to all sorts of terrible risks.
Time for another disclaimer now: I’m not a fan of Fortnite either. There’s nothing enjoyable about the gameplay for me and it’s a rip-off of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) anyway. I’m fed-up of arranging tickets to expos and then finding the exhibition hall filled with numerous stands featuring the title, when it’s free-to-play and already available to the public. At Insomnia63 last August we counted five separate areas, and that’s not to mention the fact it also made several appearances on the BYOC timetable for the weekend.
But regardless of my feelings towards the title, it’s important to set the record straight – particularly when a slow-news-day results in unjustified reporting. Fortnite isn’t going to bring about the downfall of our children, especially not if parents are aware of what their kids are doing. News reports back in the early 1990s would have had you believe that seeing Mortal Kombat on the Game Gear was going to cause me harm; but almost 20 years later, I’m still involved with video games and think I’m doing alright when it comes to functioning as a member of society (maybe).
At the EGX Rezzed event in April, I had the pleasure of attending a discussion by Dr Pete Etchells called The psychology of gaming addiction. He feels that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) formal classification of gaming disorder was too pre-emptive and that moving from research to disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than is currently available. I was shocked to hear that various papers have indicated that as much as 46% of the population could be addicted, so there’s a danger we’re over-generalising along with a risk of abuse of diagnoses.
It’s studies like these which get politicians and parents declaring that Fortnite will ruin us all; and public figures who feel they need to wade in on the discussion aren’t helping either. While at an event at a YMCA in London last month, Prince Harry said: “That game shouldn’t be allowed. What is the benefit of having it in your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible. It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down.”
All comments like this do is reinforce the negative stereotypes about gamers and their hobby that we’ve been working so hard to dispel in recent years. It’s even more frustrating when they appear to have come from someone who’s far removed from video games or seems as though they’ve never played a single title in their life. I’ll tell you what, Harry: spend a day playing and if you can tell me you didn’t take something positive away from the experience, then we’ll chat your idea for banning Fortnite.
The things that grinds gears the most about all of this is how it feels as though the title is used as a scapegoat to cover up a lack of parenting. Let’s take a comment from that ITV News report as an example: “It takes away from precious study time.” Give a child a choice between homework and gaming, and I bet I can predict with a startling degree of accuracy which they’re going to pick. If your kid is meant to be studying but is instead playing – and you’ve provided them with the means to do so – then perhaps it’s not Fortnite which should be blamed.
It’s important for parents to be aware of the risks of any title. Whether it’s free-to-play or purchased, online or offline, multiplayer or single-player; it’s up to you to understand what your child is playing and find out whether the content is suitable. We shouldn’t be leaving it up to an age-rating on the packing, a poorly-researched report on the evening news or someone who has limited knowledge of video games to do our parenting for us.
Yes, parenting is hard. But blaming Epic and Fortnite is far too easy.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.