Other games with long tails have raked in mind-boggling dollars that even film franchises like Star Wars and The Avengers can’t match, but last year’s reported $2.4 billion revenue haul for Epic Games’ Fortnite may be poised to shatter earnings records in an industry that’s used to superlatives.
SuperData, the gaming analysis wing of ratings standard-bearer Nielsen, revealed in a 2018 retrospective that add-ons and in-game purchases for Epic’s free-to-play juggernaut propelled Fortnite to claim “the most annual revenue of any game in history.”
It’s a staggering second-year encore for a game that earned a reported $1 billion between its July 2017 release and May of last year, and it far outpaces the roughly $1.2 billion per-year average of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V — the most profitable single media product of all time, with an estimated $6 billion in revenue since its Oct. 2013 debut.
Unlike GTA V and its more recent Rockstar cousin, Red Dead Redemption 2 (which earned $516 million during the two-month window it was on sale last year, via the same report), anyone can play Fortnite without spending a penny on the base game. Fortnite instead makes its money from in-game transactions that allow players to tweak the look of their characters, customize their dance moves, and other upgrades that don’t affect the outcome of a battle.
The allure of free-to-play doesn’t show signs of abating anytime soon, according to SuperData’s research. “Free-to-play titles amassed 80 percent of digital games revenue in 2018,” the report states, adding that “premium” games that charge an initial access fee also sold strongly in 2018, and don’t appear to be hampered by their free-to-play competition.
Across the board, “2018 was the biggest year for digital games and interactive entertainment. Ever,” SuperData reports. And with titles like Fortnite, Red Dead Online, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 just getting started, alongside established ongoing titles like GTA Online, The Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV, PUBG — and tons more — it’s not a stretch to think that same statement will apply yet again, once 2019 is in the rear-view mirror.