#54: Clash of heroes

My wife fancies Tom Hardy. It’s fine — doesn’t everyone? If I’m honest, I fancy Tom Hardy a bit too. From time to time he reads the bedtime story on UK kids’ channel CBeebies, sat there with his dog, wearing a hat I could never pull off and some knitwear that probably cost a year of my old Edge salary. We will sit and watch and my wife will simper and, quietly, imperceptibly, I will simper too. Goodnight to you too, Tom.

I say all this because, well, firstly: pub lunch. Secondly, Tom Hardy is now in Fortnite, thanks to a tie-in with his imminent Venom movie sequel. Despite my simpering adoration for him and his big coat, this is not going to persuade me to play Fortnite. But such is the rate at which Epic is hooking up with personalities, movies, brands, fashion houses and so on that it is only a matter of time until they run out of Gen Z catnip and are forced to come for miserable old sods like me. Maybe finally, in 2025 or something, I will be playing Fortnite on the daily, going to an in-game Pavement gig as Tyres from Spaced decked out in a chunky RRL cardigan and some Red Wings. That’d be excellent, now I think of it. I’d do that in a heartbeat.

Collabs aren’t a new phenomenon, though admittedly in the old days we called it ‘product placement’ and it was something to be sneered at, rather than welcomed. I first became aware of it in games through my beloved Puzzle & Dragons, which has been in the collab business for almost its entire time in existence. It’s an absolute madhouse now: looking through my current teams I see characters from Marvel, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, ShinraBansho Chocolate (not sure) and Yu-Gi-Oh, and I assure you the well runs much deeper than that. It is an unmitigated mess.

I might roll my eyes at it all, but that does not mean I cannot recognise its genius. Fortnite and Puzzle & Dragons, two of the great successes in their respective fields, struggle like all free-to-play games with user acquisition. The bigger your existing audience, the harder and more expensive it becomes to grow it further. Collabs are, in this context, just brilliant. Not only do they give you a very direct route to a specific new fandom or demographic, but also another way to monetise the players you already have. Layer in a bit of FOMO — these characters will only be available for two weeks! — and you’re properly off to the races. 

It works, clearly, but it takes a certain type of game to pull it off: one with absolutely no defining personality whatsoever. How weird that Fortnite’s greatest asset should be its blandness, the charisma vacuum that enables it to play host to Harry Kane, John Wick and Rick & Morty without anyone going, hang on, this is a bit daft. It has made Epic a gigantic pile of money, yes. But it rather makes a mockery of Epic boss Tim Sweeney’s long-desired push for a Fortnite-powered metaverse. Our shared virtual future, when it arrives, will need to be boring as fuck by design. Much as I’d like a way to escape our nightmarish reality, I think its replacement ought to aim a little higher than that.  


MORE!

  • I assume you are all caught up on last night’s Nintendo Direct. Chris Pratt aside, I was most concerned by Nintendo’s belief that adding N64 and Mega Drive games to Switch Online is justification enough for a price increase (albeit as an optional expansion, rather than a higher base price). While there was some good stuff on show last night, I’m getting a bit of a will-this-do vibe off Nintendo at the moment — a sense it is more excited by its extracurricular activities, its theme parks and movies and so on, than its games business. I hope it’s only temporary. 

  • Wait, no, here’s another one: it appears that players in the EU will be getting the 50Hz PAL versions of N64 games as part of their expanded Switch Online subscription. Good heavens.

  • In China, some 200 companies have agreed to self-regulate their games’ adherence to the tough new restrictions that Hit Points has already covered at some length. Self-regulation helped Japanese mobile-game developers escape the beady eye of the government when it went after gacha mechanics, and is probably the logical endpoint of western governments’ ongoing investigations into loot boxes. 

  • There appears to be some confusion over the future of Titanfall, after a Respawn community bod said the studio “[doesn’t] have anything in the works”. Then the studio’s Twitter account — run, presumably, by a Respawn community bod — insisted the series was “the very core of our DNA.” I mean, yes, in the sense that EA cancelled Titanfall 3 and made the team turn what they had into Apex Legends. But I can’t see EA greenlighting a return to Titanfall while Apex continues to soar, much as I’d like to see it happen. TF2 was the business.


You’re all caught up! I trust you’ve had a good week. Mine included the first of many Zoom calls for the new developer interview series coming to Hit Points next month, exclusively for paying subscribers. If that sounds like something you’d be into — and if you value the way a fun little digest of current game-industry events plops into your inbox three times a week, free of ads and SEO and all the rest of the bad bits of the internet — a paid sub costs just 14p per day, and comes bundled with my eternal admiration and respect. Have a great weekend, and I’ll catch you on the other side.