How can "free" games like Fortnite earn billions?

Sick of Fortnite yet? More than 125 million gamers worldwide beg to differ. The addictive battle game has been dominating the gaming world ever since its release in September last year - and shows no sign of surrender.

But there’s much about Fortnite’s surreal success that puzzles the uninitiated. Like, how does a “free” game manage to generate a staggering US$1 billion in revenue in its first few months?

Exactly how have Fortnite’s developers rigged the game to encourage spending? How common are these tactics? And what other forms of “monetisation” are being used to persuade online gamers to part with real-life cash?

retro money

Fortnite Battle Royale - the free-to-play version of the Fortnite franchise - really is free. Sort of.

Downloading the game, technically referred to as a “cooperative shooter,” costs nothing. So those 125 million players (and counting) have not been compelled to pay a cent, rupiah or yuan.

But sooner or later, pay they do. According to analysis by The Independent, the average spend per player is $AUD 82.00 - with 69 percent having made an in-game purchase.

So what are they buying?

Fortnite’s “free” mode operates on a season-pass basis, inviting players to level up on one of two different tracks by completing challenges to earn experience.

One track is free - as in actually free. It’s called a silver pass. The other - gold, naturally - requires a “battle pass” that is good for a single season or roughly 70 days, and costs around US $9.50.

Why would anybody need this? Because it grants bonuses after a player’s first level up - usually a new costume and some experience enhancements - and continuing rewards for each level thereafter. When a new season begins, a new pass is required.

All charges on Fortnite are paid in “V-bucks” - the in-game currency that is purchased with real-world money, at the exchange rate of US$1 per 100.


But wait. There’s more. Power players - or simply those who’d prefer to save time - can shell out 2800 V-bucks (about AUD$40) on a “battle bundle” to unlock 25 instant level-ups.

Fortnite taps into two additional revenue streams as well. The first is cosmetics. For the uninitiated, this does not mean eyeliner and foundation but rather a variety of costumes, “skins” and accessories. (Turns out gamers are every bit as vain as the rest of us.)

This “aesthetic content,” as it’s sometimes called, doesn’t affect gameplay but is still highly sought.

Then there’s Twitch - the hugely popular livestreaming service for gaming aficionados. Fortnite’s developer, Epic Games, has signed a deal with Twitch for an undisclosed sum.

So there you have it. Ten dollars here, 40 there - multiply it by millions of users, and pretty soon it adds up to a cool billion.

There’s nothing exactly underhanded about such monetisation strategies. They are not nearly as predatory as the “loot boxes” that have historically featured in many popular games and have been widely criticised as psychologically akin to gambling.

addict kidimage credit: gadflyonthewallblog

That said, younger players can still find themselves in over their helmets when it comes to in-app purchases - especially when goaded by peer pressure.

One school administrator told Family Zone of a “cyber crime ring” of Year 10 boys, who hacked a teacher’s computer in order to award themselves good-behaviour reward points redeemable at the school store. Fortnite credit cards were among the items sold there.

The students purchased hundreds of dollars’ worth of these cards before the school caught onto the scam.

And when interviewed about why they did it, the leader of the pack protested, “But I couldn’t help myself, sir. I’m addicted.” The others nodded.


If you’re worried about your child’s Fortnite habit, your first step is a simple one. Sit down and talk. Find out more about the game, and how your child is playing it. Have a go on it yourself. If you’re still worried, consider using parental controls to help manage the situation. With Family Zone’s world-leading digital safety technology, you can limit Fortnite - or even block it completely. To learn more, or to start your free trial today, visit us at

Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, in app purchases, Fortnite, distraction

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