A lot of people play Fortnite. In fact, over 250 million people regularly play the online battle. I admit, I've never played, and I honestly don't really understand the attraction, but when a 16-year old wins $3 million playing a video game, I'm willing to pay attention. But right now everyone is paying attention because for almost two days no one was playing the game at all.
Until early this morning, the online game displayed only a black hole since mid-day Sunday that consumed everything--the landscape, the players, everything. As the most recent competitive season of Fortnite (Season 10) came to an end, it wasn't a surprise that the game's developer, Epic, decided it would go out with a bang, but it's fair to say this was unexpected.
Actually, while the specifics came as somewhat of a surprise, it wasn't unexpected that Epic would do something while the company performs server maintenance to load in the next season of the game. This isn't the first time the game introduced antics, which previously included a disco ball to ring in the new year in 2019 and a meteor shower back in season four.
Around 4 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, Fortnite went completely dark. No black hole, just a "servers not responding" message while people continued to wait. That waiting finally came to an end with what the game's developers, Epic, are calling Chapter 2.
You might wonder why a game company would go through the trouble, but when you remember the sheer scope of how many people play Fortnite, it's not really surprising that the company wants to keep all of those players engaged. It also helps that millions of people watching a black hole on a computer screen for hours--as absurd as that is--has millions more talking about Fortnite.
Of course, there's also a risk that if the company lets downtime go on for too long, that what is now a fascination and mild frustration could turn into a really bad experience. Someone once figured out that playing music over the telephone was a good way to keep a customer on the line while on hold. It was brilliant at first. Now, it's pretty much just obnoxious.
In the same way, the novelty of staring at a black hole in anticipation of playing a video game wears off pretty quick. You can debate whether or not people might find something better to do, but from the perspective of the game developers, the expectations are now high that after all that waiting, the game had better deliver.
Which, if you think about it, is a really interesting lesson.
That lesson is this: the experiences you create for your customers matter, even in the ordinary course of just doing what you do. If you've ever been to Disney World and waited in line, you've experienced this. Disney has turned waiting into an art form by making it a part of the experience and extending the theme of the ride throughout the queue where you wait. Instead of a two-hour wait, followed by a 90-second ride, it's a two-hour experience.
Find an interesting way to do what would otherwise be ordinary in order to engage your customers. There's plenty of great examples of this, but honestly, destroying the entire game into a black hole, and leaving it like that 39 hours is next-level even for a gaming company. Actually, getting millions of people who aren't playing your video game to watch a black hole in anticipation, while millions more talk about it, is pretty, well, epic.