UGC: how Fortnite (& Roblox!) are leading the next wave

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

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User-Gen Content & the Fortnite Creative effect..

The recent announcement that Epic is pooling 40% of Fortnite’s net revenue for both first and third-party creator content, alongside the roll-out of Unreal Editor for Fortnite, is a milestone for the evolution of UGC (user-generated content) for PC/console games.

Sure, plenty of other games have UGC. But by GameDiscoverCo estimates, Fortnite is still the #1 game by DAU on both PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems - and very high on PC, too. Alongside Roblox and Minecraft, it now represents the trifecta of ‘massive games that actually have an active, monetizable UGC scene’.

So when we wanted to talk about these large-scale UGC trends - some might say ‘the real metaverse’ - we reached out to Josh Ling of Metacrab. Josh was director of biz ops for Uplift Games, creator of Roblox smash Adopt Me, and also co-led the dev team for famed Minecraft server/UGC host Hypixel. And here’s what we talked about:

How big a deal is the rev share announcement on Fortnite Creative? Are we seeing a lot of Roblox & other modding and dev teams running (not walking!) to start making content for it? Or do you think Epic-created levels will still dominate long-term?

Josh: It’s a big deal. Fortnite is a money printer, and Epic committing 40% of that printed money back to creators is a huge sign of faith from them in UGC content's ability to drive engagement and revenue, long term.

While lots of Roblox devs are considering (or already create) Fortnite content, for most it’s a “wait and see” situation. It’s hard to know how much time to dedicate to learning a nascent platform when the payouts on Roblox and Minecraft and elsewhere are already locked in. But the hype is there…

While Epic-developed modes like Battle Royale will always be hugely popular, I think they’ll quickly find themselves outpaced as they compete against their own community to create content players want. Trust me, nothing beats 10,000 people making 100,000 weird things for a million people just like them.

How much do you expect big, deep new games to be created for Fortnite Creative - vs. just new maps and novelty ideas? Do you think the breakout ideas will come from amateur teams or pro devs?

Josh: UEFN’s promise is huge, but the tooling is currently underbaked. It’s missing major systems like data persistence and input control. Epic’s roadmap promises these features and more, and once they ship we’ll see a much wider variety of games covering all sorts of mechanics and genres. But for now it’s mostly reuploaded Quixel Megascans you can build a fort around.

On Roblox, it was mainly amateur teams that succeeded at the start, right?

Josh: There are several non-native companies, some investment-backed, taking Roblox seriously. But the platform as a whole is still skewed towards native developers who grew up on the platform.

Some of those ‘on-platform’ devs have formed professional studios, with serious offerings. While it’s possible to do, I think it’s quite hard for outsiders to make original, engaging content for insider audiences they were never a part of.

You were involved with Adopt Me for a good while. And I noticed that even a few years after it started, the game is still in the Top 10 for most-played Roblox games - How much do the most-played Roblox titles change?

Josh: The top 10 list on Roblox does shift around a lot, though there are some constant entries. Games like Adopt Me! and Brookhaven have been popular for years. Others have blown up, had their moment, then faded. In that sense it’s no different from the mobile or Steam charts…

There have been a couple new additions to the list recently, games like [horror title]Doors and [‘donation game’ originator] Pls Donate that are fresh experiences. And some older games experience newfound popularity, like Blox Fruits - which was created in 2019, but blew up in 2022 and is now regularly a top 2 game. It’s hard, but possible to break in - and the content mill is fickle everywhere.

Do you see other game platforms coming along to threaten the reach of Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox and also offer ‘creative mode’ options? (Seems like platforms like Core and Dreams have concentrated on the creative part, but failed to get the users on board.)

Josh: Short answer - no. Long answer - no, but.. there are many competing platforms trying to do UGC plays. Many have great tech, experienced teams, cool propositions. Almost none have large playerbases. Everyone is struggling to answer the same question: where are the users coming from?

Minecraft and Fortnite were massive international phenomena before they became platforms. Roblox has a 19 year headstart. And all three have millions of dedicated players. How do you compete with that?

Dreams had great content and some best-in-class tooling and it’s being shuttered. It’s not impossible for a new platform to spring up: I would love that! It just seems more likely that a new, popular game would pivot into becoming a platform, based on precedent.

Handy chart of Switch’s entire hardware arc via Pierre485 on Twitter.