Live service games are taking the wrong lessons from Fornite

Fortnite is a gaming success story that is paradoxically underreported, underrated, and misunderstood by the many new games as a service (GaaS) that try to emulate its feature set. Mainstream hype about Fortnite (e.g., billion dollar Disney investments, musical collaborations with Lady Gaga) obscures a primary reason the game continues to crush virtually every would be competitor in its path: it nails its fundamentals beautifully.

Every time I boot up Fortnite, I have enormous flexibility to play how I want. Within its multiplayer shooter core, there’s an immense variety of skins and other customization options. The artistry isn’t always for me, but the cosmetics set a consistently high quality bar. When I start a multiplayer match, I can chase the XP goals I’m in the mood for, whether combat-focused, exploration, or a mini battle pass narrative story. Skill based match making strikes a good balance; I can challenge myself by purposefully landing in frenzied hot zones or begin a match far away from the action to take things at a slower pace.

Fortnite also respects my money and time. Its battle pass doles out decent, reasonably varied rewards at a faster clip than most of the competition. Even half finished, I end up earning enough V-bucks to allow me to buy a future battle pass at a reduced rate. The time to kill is reasonably high compared to other popular shooters like Call of Duty or Apex Legends, which gives me a competitive opportunity to react and fight back against better players. Matches rarely last longer than twenty minutes.

The entire package also benefits from looking and running great on my Series X. Developer Epic uses Fortnite as a testbed and showcase for its popular Unreal Engine. For over a year, thanks to an upgrade to Unreal Engine 5, it has been one of the best looking games on the market thanks to fully dynamic global illumination alongside high quality reflections and shadows, all running at a locked 60 fps. Few other console games today match its visual offerings, especially within the shooter space.

Flexible gameplay, high end graphics, and decent matchmaking, alongside reasonable time and financial commitments, aren’t revolutionary strengths but bread and butter fundamentals that would improve the success rate of almost any game. Yet we’ve seen so many GaaS that miss these qualities. We get battle passes of terrible value, with a la carte paid customizations that are ugly and overpriced (Mortal Kombat 1, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League). XP goals that ramp up too quickly and can be highly regimented (Overwatch 2). Spotty matchmaking. Graphics that are functional but can appear janky or otherwise dated (The Finals).

Bizarrely, many studios behind these live service games lean on fresh gameplay mechanics or popular IP as an excuse to coast elsewhere. Warner Bros. Games bet the appeal of DC superheroes would sell the games as a service inspired Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League and Gotham Knights. Arkane Studios took their extensive experience with first person immersive sims (Dishonored, Prey, Deathloop) and tried to fuse the genre with a GaaS looter shooter in Redfall. Based on the development and marketing investment, the studios expected the revenue to flood in for these three games, but they immediately flopped. Critics slammed the games’ generic, repetitive gameplay; none of the three titles could muster more than a 68 on OpenCritic. They rapidly fell off sales and active player charts.

Alarmingly, the GaaS trend shows little signs of slowing down. According to, 95% of studios are working on or aim to release a live service game. Sony plans to release six multiplayer live service games by 2026. Warner Bros. Games is apparently doubling down on IP and live service games. I predict most will fail and further sour GaaS’s reputation among gamers.

My argument isn’t to suggest that GaaS is a universally bad idea or that Fortnite’s appeal doesn’t leave room for strong competitors. But newcomers need to get the basics down cold. Make an excellent battle pass before snapping up a Marvel partnership. Polish core gameplay before fretting about its sheer originality. Ensure the player base doesn’t get bored.

As pessimistic as I am about GaaS overall, several games will sweat the fundamentals and breakthrough over the next year or two. They will be major financial hits and prove GaaS can live shoulder to shoulder with the more traditional “one and done” revenue model; to date Helldivers II appears to be one potential example. But for every success story, we’ll have to wade through a bloodbath of failed Fortnite, Destiny, and Overwatch clones to get there. In light of the industry’s sky high layoffs lately, here’s hoping this transitional phase to sort out GaaS success will go as quickly and painlessly as possible.