Fortnite has a real contender for the battle royale throne! Everybody loves a winner. But heavy lies the brow that wears the crown. Whenever there’s a top dog, a clear, undisputed leader, for all the love and praises that are heaped upon them there exists a real excitement about the prospect of seeing them dethroned. Whether it’s Mike Tyson in his prime, Skyrim in the ARPG space, or Fortnite among the battle royales.
Indeed, things can get very Game of Thrones-ey real fast, even in the gaming world. Everyone’s eyes are on your back. Everybody’s waiting, whispering about the day the undefeatable titan falls — hoping for it; lusting for it. There is a special surge of excitement whenever a new contender makes a big splash. Quick are many to wonder, “will this be it? Will this be the next Fortnite?”
And today that contender is Fall Guys.
- What is Fall Guys?
- The Tipping Point
- How Did Fortnite Get SO Popular?
- How Does Fall Guys Stack Up?
- The Wild Card
- The Final Verdict
What is Fall Guys?
Did you know Fall Guys was almost named Stumble Chums? Thank goodness that didn’t stick.
If you’re wondering what Fall Guys is, you might’ve been self-quarantining a little too hard. Sitting at number 3 on the Steam Charts right now with well over 100K active players at any given moment on Steam alone, Fall Guys is taking the gaming world by storm.
The genesis of Fall Guys came in the form of an offhand comment by Mediatonic Lead Designer, Joe Walsh, about how another game in development reminded him of Takeshi’s Castle and Total Wipeout. The comment apparently set off an explosion of ideas in the minds of the Mediatonic team, ideas subsequently given life by in-house concept artist Dan Hoang who first drew the poorly endowed Jellybeans haphazardly racing across their colorful, airborne obstacle course.
You’ve probably started hearing about it already. If you haven’t, we’ll give you the short of it: Imagine you’re the world’s most unathletic humanoid jelly bean, and then imagine you have to run a Ninja Warrior/Total Wipeout style obstacle course against 59 other equally awkward beans while tripping, falling, grabbing and diving over each other in a mad race to victory. It is colorful. It is chaotic. And it is supremely original.
But does Fall Guys have what it takes to dethrone the king? Well…
The Tipping Point
For anything to become a fixture of public consciousness, it needs to reach what sociologists call the “tipping point,” a moment where it transcends its status as a niche spectacle for a few and becomes something everyone must-have.
In 1984, the first consumer fax machine came out and boasted modest, but steadily rising sales every year for a couple years. Then in 1987, sales suddenly skyrocketed. Within a couple years household Fax machines became commonplace in nearly every home across the world. But, if nothing had changed dramatically in the marketing or function of the Fax, where did that sudden quantum leap in popularity come from?
There were suddenly enough fax machines that everybody who didn’t have one had a good reason to get one.
Fortnite did the same thing.
When a game becomes popular enough that most of the people you know are playing it, there’s a strong impetus for you to take the dive yourself — even if just to participate along with everyone else. We’re not talking about a pre-release hype train. We’re talking about when word of mouth starts spreading a game like wildfire.
Like a Fax Machine in the 90s, the tipping point is where it becomes inconvenient not to have it.
That’s what Fortnite did. It became popular enough that, like a snowball rolling downhill, it’s growth propelled it’s growth, becoming so absurdly popular that it became a staple of pop culture. Its thumbprint was quickly being seen everywhere in the way of real-life emotes and dances in all of the wrong places, so it just made sense to at least try the game.
And that’s where the second ingredient in a mega-hit comes in. It has to be actually good. All the hype train does is drop people off at the actual product, where it will then live or die by its own inherent goodness. In the case of Fortnite, the game itself was great. It was… well, amazing. New and unfamiliar mechanics, a unique art style, and intense, creatively-rewarding gameplay? A potent mix. Indeed, Fortnite got you hooked on its own merits, and then you’re the one doing Fortnite dances at your high school graduation ceremony and putting it on youtube, further fanning the flames of popularity.
Fall Guys has to do the same thing. It needs to become so ubiquitous that anyone who hasn’t played is practically forced to by society; by their friends, by pop culture — whatever the driver is. If all of your gamer friends are suddenly playing Fall Guys, what are the odds you stick to whatever moderately sized MMORPG you guys were playing? When your in-game friends list is suddenly empty because Fall Guys is draining away the playerbase, where do you naturally find yourself next?
Let’s break down what helped Fortnite satisfy these requirements, piece by piece, and then see if Fall Guys has the makings of another ultra-mega-hit.
How Did Fortnite Get SO Popular?
The root of its success, the foundation upon which the gleaming Epic Games palace is built, is the core gameplay. It’s addictive, fluid, creative, fast-paced, and awesome. The core building mechanic provides a very high skill ceiling on top of the fundamental shooter gameplay most people will be familiar with, giving lasting satisfaction for noobs and veterans alike.
Everybody started playing Fortnite, not just the streamers and pro-gamers. Drake, Travis Scott, a Jonas brother, and Chance the Rapper are all known Fortnite fans. We’ve seen UFC Fighters playing Fortnite before heading into the Octagon. NBA, MBA, and NFL hall of famers playing right up until game time. Once Fortnite reached its tipping point and you had A-List celebrities aboard, it’s popularity could only further explode.
An Attentive Developer
Plenty of games burn bright and burn out fast. Just ask Evolve. And a hype train can quickly derail without a crack team of engineers monitoring the systems, tweaking and enhancing it regularly. From technical issues, to old content fatigue, players can quickly grow bored or frustrated if glaring problems are left unaddressed or new content isn’t pushed out regularly. Epic Games updates are big. Season 3 left the map that made the game famous almost unrecognizable and added a few daring mechanics. A good dev has to be quick with the bug fixes and daring with new content that’s novel but doesn’t feel like a defacing of the game’s core.
Being Free-to-Play never hurts your popularity. People like free. It’s pretty easy to sell something for free. And especially when you consider just how much game you get for free with Fortnite, you have a pretty substantial value proposition for would-be players.
And it’s funny, because many might have forgotten why Fortnite is free in the first place; the game we refer to as Fortnite today is actually the “Fortnite: Battle Royale” spinoff of the original game, Save the World, that was, and is a paid game. Epic Games just happened to hit a platinum vein while mining for gold.
Related: Is ‘Fall Guys’ Free To Play?
As opposed to the gritty, bloodspattered realism of its biggest battle royale rival, PUBG, Fortnite sports a more cartoony, high-chroma visual style that softens the edges and makes it more palatable for a wider range of players by age group and taste. The stylized graphics do nothing to diminish the intensity of the TPS combat, and for many tastes is simply better-looking — just look at how many other games have adopted almost the exact same art style for their own concepts.
One of Fortnite’s biggest boons is its unprecedented cross-play. Not only is the game available on literally all of the platforms, for free, but it also allows you to make cross-platform parties and anybody with an iPad can play with their friends on Xbox, PS4, and Switch and bring their cousin along on their OnePlus. This allowed Fortnite to capitalize on the tipping point and open its doors wide enough to let just… everyone in.
Related: Is ‘Fall Guys’ cross-platform?
How Does Fall Guys Stack Up?
Despite being a battle royale, Fall Guys does its best to prevent becoming “another” battle royale by distancing itself from the shooters and addressing the inherently repetitive by doubling down on the game show feel. Instead of routine matches, games consist of several elimination rounds from a variety of random mini-games, adding an element of hope and chance whenever you enter a new match. This, combined with the game’s relatively even mixture of uncontrollable chaos and skill make for a brand new experience every time you play the game.
On top of all that, the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake is that the game is fun, win or lose. The awkward, ragdoll physics and unpredictable hijinks have made Fall Guys the party game, ensuring that you’ll always have fun for every moment and experience less frustration than a royale where you get a lucky loadout, encounter nobody, and then get headshot by an unseen enemy.
One of the keys to the overwhelming success of any modern game is through streaming. Games that aren’t just fun for the player, but for an audience, have an advantage in the quest to capture the zeitgeist. And the key is for that traction to be organic. The system can be gamed to produce artificial attention through Twitch Drops or special integrations like Hyper Scape, but it is only through pure, authentic fun that the attention can truly snowball. Sure, Epic Games has about as much reach as any of the other massive developers & publishers, but Fortnite generates its own landslide of organic attention. The celebrities that play and post are all organic notches in the Fortnite Belt.
And right now Fall Guys is the fifth most-streamed game on Twitch right after Among Us, League of Legends, Fortnite, and GTA V — averaging only about 3/4 of what Fortnite’s running. No small feat, and an incredibly positive sign for Fall Guys. To already be one of the Twitch heavyweights less than a month from the release is just wild.
Whereas other games, like Rocket Arena, used a lot of paid sponsorships with big YouTubers that came off as inauthentic and cardboard, Fall Guys has streamers coming to it and creating content because of the two ingredients of a tipping point — everybody’s playing and it’s really freakin’ good. That’s why Fall Guys has hundreds of thousands of players on Steam at any moment and Rocket Arena has something like 150.
But, novelty is a tightrope walk; it’s something that needs to be constantly, and carefully cultivated with new content. And it’s always risky. Changes to any game will always rub some portion of the playerbase the wrong way and the hallmark of a good dev team is the ability to hold their finger to the wind and accurately gauge which way the winds of desire are blowing. It’s a critical skill, one that makes or breaks a game.
Balancing, debugging, security, content creation — multiple balls have to be juggled at once and, to keep a great game great in the long run.
Currently, Mediatonic is dropping one of those balls. Security. Fall Guys is having a tough time with hackers. A lot of players are resorting to scripts that let them either skip the departure countdown, teleport, or buff their movement speed to cheat their way to victory. And there’s a real incentive to do so: the winner of the match takes home a Crown, which can be used in lieu of the paid currency, Kudos, on cosmetics and emotes in the shop.
That said, it’s too early for the frustration towards the hackers themselves to meld into resentment towards Mediatonic just yet. But, if left unchecked, the anger towards hackers will become resignation, and anger towards Mediatonic for failing to address the problem.
But Fall Guys’ excellent gameplay has certainly earned them Mediatonic some goodwill from the playerbase and considering that even they didn’t see their overnight success coming (to the point their servers were nearly shattered like a DBZ scouter) either, they can be afforded some time to grapple with the gargantuan popularity of the game.
Not only is the game well-executed, with consistent execution and player experience, but Season 2 was just announced on August 27th with a whole slew of new content for players to get ready for, including a new medieval motif. So, as long as they deal with the hackers, Fall Guys seems to be well-positioned. Money doesn’t buy you inertia, but it can certainly help keep the ball rolling.
Not Free — But It Doesn’t Seem to Matter
It isn’t free, but this somehow doesn’t seem to have put a dent in the game. It’s sitting up with Dota 2 and CS:GO in the Steam Chart’s top 3 right now, both of which are completely free-to-play games.
Fall Guys doesn’t look anything like Fortnite despite a shared appreciation for high color saturation. The concept art by Dan Hoang is an example of excellent form and function, a delicious mix of eye-popping colors and pleasing shape design that allows Fall Guys to be a visual treat without disrupting the chaotic gameplay– no easy feat when you have 60 players on screen, and players need to be able to read what’s going on and enjoy it. Plus, the fact that the game has absolutely no violence beyond slapstick hijinks is a major feather in Fall Guys’ cap and one that makes it much more palatable to both parents and gamers of a wider spectrum. Fortnite is considered the more cartoonish of the Battle Royales but still features literal gunplay, with headshots and death and all sorts of not-so-kid-friendly elements. Thus Fall Guys clinches the same, if not more extensive, broad appeal that played a role in Fortnite’s success.
Unfortunately, Fall Guys is not cross-platform at the moment. There exist only the Playstation and Steam versions and both of them are, as it stands right now, mutually exclusive.
However, this alone does not spell the end of Fall Guys’ quest for the BR throne. Lead Designer Joe Walsh recently confirmed that the team is actively working on cross-platform support and that crossplay is merely a matter of when, not if.
What remains to be seen is whether or not Fall Guys will be showing up on Xbox or Nintendo Switch.
There’s some good news on the mobile side of things — Bilibili, an entertainment company in China, recently acquired the rights to publish the mobile port of Fall Guys in China. This means that the game is likely still a ways away from being released, especially outside China, but it implies that some developer over there is working on bringing Fall Guys to mobile — which makes perfect sense, given the game’s relative simplicity and the fact that it could bring millions and millions of new players in.
The Wild Card
Even with all the wind blowing at its back, Fall Guys might still need something a little… extra to truly give it the final edge it needs to take out the king.
And that edge might have come in the form of Covid-19.
Some have attributed some of Fall Guys’ sudden, rip-roaring success to… well, the lockdown. Everybody’s stuck at home, quickly developing posture problems, and looking for a way to escape — what better than a new, candy-coated battle royale game that has comedy and chaos as the pillars of its appeal? It’s an established fact that the gaming industry has seen a big boost since the world was grounded by the universe for not washing its hands, and thus what was already bound to be a successful game in Fall Guys might have been bolstered significantly by being in the right place at the right time.
The Final Verdict
Fall Guys is the strongest contender in a long time. It’s enhanced by complete originality, genuinely fun game mechanics, and strong, organic momentum from the community. Its main selling point is its fun, and the art style and tone has universal appeal.
Only available on the PS4 and Steam, its biggest hurdle will be expanding to other platforms while maintaining crossplay and creating new content. Its unique accomplishment is the overwhelming popularity it achieved in such a short period of time despite being a paid game. What happens next is entirely up to Mediatonic. They need to iron out the hacker problem, get crossplay enabled between the platforms, and expand to the other consoles ASAP.
Because, if they do, we might finally be looking at the game that knocks out Fortnite.
What do you think about Fall Guys? Does it have the goods to become the new King of the Battle Royale or is it just destined to become a one-hit-wonder like many would-be Fortnite-killers?