Yesterday, Fortnite announced a “Concept Royale” competition. Players can submit skin ideas, and two winners “will have their concepts turned into in-game Outfits in Fortnite, and will also each receive a $2,500 cash prize.” At first glance it doesn’t look like a bad deal, but $2.5k for a design developer Epic can then use in perpetuity isn’t great.
To be clear, Epic hasn’t specified exactly what will happen with the winners’ designs. “Both Outfits will make their official debut this December during Fortnite’s to-be-announced Winter 2021 event,” Epic wrote, but the contest’s description and rules don’t say what form that will take. Will only the winners be able to sport their designs? Or will players be able to get them too, either by spending V-Bucks or as free rewards for participating in the event? Kotaku has reached out to Epic for clarification and is awaiting reply.
In mid-2020, Epic Games was valued at $17.3 billion, and data from the recent Epic v Apple trial revealed that Fortnite made over $9 billion across 2018 and 2019. The specific numbers don’t matter so much—the point is, Fortnite makes Epic a lot of money, much of which comes from in-game purchases via the game’s currency, V-Bucks. Epic stands to make far more than $5k off the two winners’ designs if it sells them.
Even if the outfits are free, the event will certainly attract players who might spend money on other items in the game’s shop. That $2500 might seem like a great windfall as a contest prize, but when you consider that it’s basically glitzed-up spec work, and you think about the money Epic could make when, as per the contest’s rules, participants give it free rein to do what it likes with their designs, things start to feel a lot less lucrative. As one player on Reddit wrote, “This seems like it’s intended for them to pay for cheap labor and have ownership and profits of a skin.”
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Fortnite’s had a rocky history with integrating other people’s work into the game. Early in the battle royale’s life, it attracted ire for seeming to steal dances from their creators, in particular the work of Black creators. The game has run afoul of fan creations before, though it’s also incorporated many fan-created skins into the game in collaboration with their creators. Recently, Epic’s gotten better at crediting folks, with many recent dances being promoted with creators’ names attached on social media and in-game. I’d hazard to say the whole situation’s improved over the years, but as long as Fortnite still has legions of eager fans happy to create art for their favorite game for free or cheap, there’s still a lot of room for problems.