READ MORE: Fortnite Creative’s creator economy represents the future of metaversal brand activations (Digiday)
Brands looking to experiment in the metaverse tend to make the online game platforms Fortnite and Roblox their steps — creating a burgeoning economy of development studios in the process.
Fortnite Creative, the in-house studio of Fortnite publisher Epic Games, has formalized partnerships with a number of third-party agencies and independent creators to keep up with demand for brand activations on the site. Digiday’s Aron Garst calls it a “cottage industry.”
It’s a workshop mode in which players can design their own experiences, similar to Roblox or Minecraft, Garst explains. The program is accessible to anyone, which gives brands the ability to create activations without working directly with Epic Games.
The most prominent brand activations in Fortnite take place inside the game’s popular “battle royale” mode. But there is only so much space, time, and manpower for brand activations of that type.
“Fortnite Creative creators are like small game studios. We have to pick up all our specialties — marketing, making trailers, graphic design — as well as contributing to level design,” says R-leeo Maoate, the co-founder of Fortnite Creative’s agency, Zen Creative. “There are not a lot of professional teams, but there are a lot of clients.”
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These activations ranged from the small (inserting imagery onto pre-existing maps that already have an active player base) to the big (building out a multiple-map campaign over the course of four months). Studios will charge tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the project’s scope and complexity.
Since brand marketers have little knowledge about how these experiences are built, questions regarding how to keep activations live or how to avoid turning off gamers are often left to agencies who have the expertise.
“There’s definitely a ton of demand,” said Team PWR’s Boomer Gurney. “We haven’t actually had to approach a brand with a pitch — but once brands reach out to us, they know we are the experts.”
Alliance has built experiences like the Nike “deathrun” maps that reward players with a new in-game skin. A charity activation for Susan G. Komen. And even a delivery driver experience for Grubhub in which players embodied delivery drivers and competed to reach customers while completing missions efficiently.
“Fortnite is immediately recognizable by a huge number of people, and many times since its release, it has been the center of the cultural zeitgeist,” says Michael Ruffolo. Ruffolo is a consultant with The Huxley Group who worked with Grubhub and the marketing agency Outloud Group to create the Grubhub Delivery Run. “Layer on the fact that it’s a rich toolset [with which] you can create just about anything. It really allows you to do some wild things no other game allows for.”
It’s working too. Otherwise, brands wouldn’t be investing. If planned well, a campaign in Fortnite (or Roblox) is not just to create a virtual place for a company to be represented in the metaverse, but about creating a unique experience for players to enjoy so that a company’s brand can spread with an organic message.
“When measuring success of sponsored streams or branded integrations on Twitch, most metrics brands consider include viewership, quality of the audience, share of voice, and more,” Gillette global VP Jaweria Ali said. The brand worked with Team Unite, gaming talent management agency Loaded, and PR firm Ketchum to create the Gillette Bed Battles map. This map saw 200,000 unique players jump on within the first two days of launch.
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“With the Gillette Bed Battles Fortnite map, we are able to gain the added layer of data around the number of unique players, average playtime per player and daily retention rate.”
However, independent agencies can’t create their own skins or import their own assets into Fortnite. They are limited by the specific toolset that Fortnite Creative provides. Companies looking to have their own characters, properties or brands inserted as assets within Fortnite must work with Epic directly.
Agencies are looking to the upcoming release of Fortnite Creative 2.0 to give them more control over how they can build brand activations within virtual space.
Fortnite Creative 2.0 will utilize Unreal Engine 5, meaning creators will effectively be able to modify the game using their own code.
“Every brand that we’ve worked with has asked about 2.0,” said Alliance art director Simon Bell. “Brands are going to explode again once it launches. They are interested in what possible expansions will be included in 2.0.”