They did it, they really did it.
I was extremely skeptical when Epic Games announced that Fortnite’s rocket launch would not be some sort of world event added in a patch, where suddenly players log in and find the thing sailing through the sky instead of nestled on its launch pad. But rather, they claimed that the rocket would launch across all games, on every platform, in every match, at 10:30 AM PT today.
From a technical perspective, this seemed like something tough to pull off, but even if it was possible to do something that crazy, a collective, singular event across every game, it seemed destined to crash Fortnite’s servers at the very least, as its huge playerbase all tried to queue up for a view at the exact same moment. Fortnite is not exactly the most stable of games on a good day, constantly dealing with patch issues, mode removal and other server problems. This seemed like it was asking for trouble.
But in the end, the event went off without a hitch. Players gathered all around the rocket, or floated down from the battle bus, or celebrated a Victory Royale and…
- Saw the rocket launch from the villain base in Snobby Shores
- Saw a booster fall off of it and land in Anarchy Acres
- Look like the rocket was about to nosedive toward Tilted Towers, before warping through a series of portals, the last of which opened up a giant, permanent crack in the sky that will almost certainly lead into season 5’s mystery theme
Before the launch, I joked that the Fortnite rocket would be our generation’s moon landing, but honestly, there was something incredibly cool about this entire process. The buzz of an entire community waiting for this thing to launch. In-game, watching people lay down their arms and simply stand by one another to watch the launch as it drew closer, even though everyone was easy pickings if someone did decide to murder people (though I’m sure this happened in some games). There’s the awe of experiencing this yourself in the game, or watching it instead through the eyes of your favorite streamers who reacted in real time with hundreds of thousands of viewers in chat, trying to process what exactly it was they were seeing.
I have simply never seen an event like this in gaming, a truly collective moment in a community that comes down not to something everyone experiences on their own time, but something that happens to the game in a can’t-miss, one-time-only experience at a specific point in time. But even if you did miss it, the collaboration of the community continues with tens, hundreds of thousands of screenshots and video posted of every angle of the launch and resulting chaos to social media. It’s truly something to behold.
I cannot really compare this to anything I’ve ever seen in gaming. There are “collective” gaming moments in the sense that everyone can relate to what it felt like to experiencing the final twist in the original BioShock, or playing through the haunting ending of The Last of Us or making that fateful choice between Kaidan and Ashley in Mass Effect. But again, those may be shared “moments,” but depending on the player, they could happen hours, days, months or years apart.
Some MMOs have “world events” but again, nothing quite like this, and on this scale. Granted I haven’t played enough WoW to know if anything compares there, but I can’t imagine that’s the case. Elsewhere, I think we can say that there are live, shared moments when it comes to big esports wins, but that’s a different category than what I’m talking about here.
Epic has created a new class of player experience with Fortnite. They are moving beyond “this is a fun battle royale” title, and fundamentally changing how games work and are experienced by their players. This is a recent development too. I bet Epic would have liked to be able to slam the comet into Dusty Divot last season in a live event like this, but perhaps they didn’t have the capability. But now that they do, we’re likely to see a lot more “must see” events like this in the game, and hopefully in other titles too, if competitors can follow suit.
I am pretty in awe of what happened here today. In terms of both the craziness of the event (the portals! The sky crack!) which was not what anyone was expecting, but also the technical chops to pull something like this off flawlessly, and how closely it bound together a millions-strong community. It really was something to behold, and I will never forget it.