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Four Ways Gen Z's Obsession with Fortnite Raises Expectations

Business Insider published a story this week reporting Fortnite Battle Royale (owned byEpic Games), which was released just 30 days ago, has already grossed $25mm. Average daily player spending has topped $1mm on the app store, and it has 45mm active users, making it the most popular game in the world. As of April 19, 2018, according to Google Trends, people search for Fortnite three times as much as Pokemon Go at its peak, an astonishing feat given how high a bar that game set.

What’s the driving force behind Fortnite’s popularity? Generation Z. Boys aged six through 14 are obsessed with its format: being dropped with 100 other players onto a constantly shrinking map, battling each other until only one avatar is left standing, all while scavenging material from defeated players. It’s so addictive there are amusing videos on YouTube of moms sobbing hysterically they’ve “lost” their son to Fortnite.

What interests me about this game – and other apps like it -- is how it is shaping the expectations of this important demographic:

Continuous feedback: Fortnite’s developers are on record saying they want to adapt to player feedback, and they do. If you think about it, this fluidity is how/why $25 game packs keep appearing on my iTunes bill – it keeps players coming back for new weapons, tactics, skins, and prizes.

Fast development cycles: Epic Games drops new patches and updates constantly. Kids know when changes are coming – and expect them. So, gone are the days when a quarterly release cycle reaches an acceptable bar. And god help you if your date slips. It occurs to me every Blue Chip organization ought to be doubled down on moving from Waterfall to Agile.

Transparency: Modern apps keep you constantly informed of what's new or fixed or not. This is a big shift from the old development paradigm where everything was done in the dark.

Influencers/community: Influencers have been around for a while but their impact is only growing. Drake recently set a record for 628,000 concurrent viewers of his Twitch stream playing Fortnite. My kids log-on to look for recognizable faces -- they recently banded together to beat some "famous YouTubers" (their words) at a game. They were delighted, of course; but so were we because it was a rare opportunity to remind our three otherwise-bickering-boys about the benefits of Teamwork.

In my opinion, what all of this equals and/or demands is a more intimate relationship with users. Given the viscosity of large, established institutions, I posit most are not structured to deliver against these evolving expectations [of ongoing communication with stakeholders], and simply reorganizing IT/digital teams isn't enough to get there. Instead, deep cultural mind shifts are necessary. It's certainly something many are trying but it's hard work, which requires real commitment from the C-suite. What’s at stake is lots and lots of money. Epic Games is privately held so financials are unavailable but Bloomberg reported on March 20 it’s clearly stealing share because video game stocks are otherwise selling off. Activisionalone has seen its market cap lose 10%, down to $51BN from $57BN.

In short, Gen Z is already a force to be reckoned with, even though they are still a full 5-10 years away from being actual adults; it's possible they'll manage to give Bezos a hard time staying on his toes. Which has me thinking: Any company who is unwilling or unable to learn from this young cohort risks becoming a dinosaur, and in case you have forgotten, dinosaurs are extinct.