This past Thursday, The Game Awards 2021 happened. It was a messy, ad-filled event that did, every once in a while, give out some awards. But before Geoff Keighley was in charge of The Game Awards, he was running Spike TV’s Video Game Awards. And in 2011, a decade ago this weekend, his old award show debuted a trailer for a new game called Fortnite. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
In December 2011, Fortnite developer Epic Games was in a very different place. Today, the company is seen as a Valve-like technology company that cuts deals with other devs, runs its own PC game store, and licenses its popular Unreal Engine to other teams around the world while fighting tech giants like Apple and Google in court.
Back in 2011 though, Epic was mostly known as the studio behind Gears of War, Unreal Tournament, and the Unreal Engine. And back in December 2011, the company was coming off the release of Gears of War 3, and while it would help develop Gears of War Judgement alongside People Can Fly, it was clear that Epic was entering a new chapter as it mostly left the dudebros of Gears behind.
Enter Fortnite, a colorful experiment. It felt like the company trying something new, moving away from Gears and Unreal Tournament and towards the future.
Though at the time nobody, outside of Epic, really knew what this new game was. Hell, in a post-show interview, even Cliffy B and Epic don’t exactly seem to fully understand what Fortnite is. Nobody, I’d even guess inside Epic, could expect what this project would eventually turn into—one of the most popular online videos games ever created.
In that initial trailer, the seeds of Fortnite’s survival mode can be seen. The building of structures, the gathering of resources, and the waves of nasty monsters that attack players; it’s all there. Just, a bit different. And of course, while this mode still exists today in 2021, it would be silly and inaccurate to call what this trailer shows off modern Fortnite. That wouldn’t come until September 2017, when Epic launched a battle royale mode built off the foundation of the neat, but never super successful survival game it had spent years working on.
Battle Royale was a direct response to the sudden explosion in popularity surrounding games like Player Unknown’s Battleground, which was released in March 2017. It wasn’t meant to be Fortnite, just a way for Epic to use some of the assets and resources they had built over the years to possibly bring in some new players via a free-to-play release across console and PC.
Of course, nearly five years later and Fortnite’s online battle royale mode is now the game, with the survival mode still around but not nearly as supported or popular as the PvP mode that helped bring about crossplay across consoles and popularized the battle pass system we see in so many games today.
And now, 10 years after that first teaser trailer, Fortnite remains incredibly popular, bringing in celebs like The Rock to participate in its mega-sized in-game events. Fortnite has helped make Epic a very rich company, allowed them to launch an actual Steam competitor in the form of the Epic Game Store, and changed the entire video game industry, for better or for worse. Not bad for a weird experiment with a bad logo shown off at the VGA’s on Spike in 2011.