Understanding the Success of Fortnite: A UX & Psychology Perspective

Fortnite is one of the most successful video games in history, and this success fascinates and confuses many people who have made efforts to account for how a game could have become such a phenomenon so quickly. As the former Director of User Experience (UX) at Epic Games, where I worked on Fortnite from 2013 to late 2017, I would like to share the different steps that were taken by the Fortnite team to build what would later become the phenomenon we now know, through the lens of UX. Having a UX mindset means, in a nutshell, offering the best experience to the target audience of a product, service, system, or video game. A UX approach pertains to the usability of a system, its ability to engage its users (especially if the purpose of the system is to entertain), but also ethics and inclusion considerations (such as if the product is respectful of users and if it’s accessible). My background in psychology, my occupation as a UX strategist, and my personal work on the game likely bias my perspective since we are all susceptible to unconscious biases. However, this analysis, unlike those that have been proposed thus far, is a firsthand account that was presented in several Game Developers Conference (GDC) talks that I gave before Fortnite was released, and in my book The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (2017). 

The Fortnite team had a precise vision and collaborated very closely with the UX team to deliver a game that would be true to this vision and that would appeal to many different types of players. My contention is that the success of Fortnite is partly linked to their efforts in adopting a UX mindset. My goal here is to explain how to develop such a game UX mindset and build a UX strategy to help game developers around the world delight their players more efficiently with the games they are crafting. This is especially crucial for independent developers who have fewer resources yet still compete with the thousands of games released every year. 

I will detail here the three most important steps to develop a game UX mindset, which were taken during the development of Fortnite:

  • Understanding the player’s brain
  • Following a game UX framework (guidelines to usability and engage-ability)
  • Applying the scientific method & establishing a UX pipeline
Simplified diagram showing how the brain learns
Simplified diagram showing how the brain learns
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Developing UX Practices at Epic Games


GDC Europe 2014 / MIGS 2014 talk

I’m sharing here my slides from my GDC Europe 2014 presentation, which I also gave at MIGS 2014 (How we are using UX Practices on Fortnite). Since I didn’t find any good slide sharing plugin (speaking of bad UX…) I just added all the slides in jpeg and put my speaker notes below.  😉

The content of this presentation is a mix of academic theories, Ubisoft Design Academy training about usability, and my own experience interacting with game teams. The following is certainly not set in stone – it’s a constant work in progress – and I’d be very interested to get your feedback.

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