Epic Games vs Apple - Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite / The Branding War

Andreea Encuțescu

Brand Experience Designer

14 aug, 2020

Technology is advancing very fast, so are the people, especially the younger generations.

Branding is the bridge between these that’s always in a continuous change. It needs to adapt, retain, and attract the younger generations so that the companies stay relevant for longer periods of time.

Epic Games vs Apple

Here’s the context:

Apple has removed Fortnite from the App Store after an update added a way to buy in-game currency without Apple getting a 30% cut.

Epic Games knew this would happen beforehand. So, they used it as a marketing strategy to create a big fuss, providing evidence that Apple is a monopoly, and attracting more customers through the free exposure they get right now from the press.

But why do I compare it to Apple’s branding?

Because every company should take a closer look at the branding of gaming companies and learn from them. They are the ones that have to deal with the new generations first, after all.

Fortnite revolutionized how marketing is done

In 2018, Epic Games, the developer, started to bring the in-real-life events into the game. Because Fortnite is a game heavily based on skins that their players love, they saw an opportunity for growth as this is the way they make money for their free-to-play game.

Firstly they introduced soccer skins and interactive pitches to celebrate the World Cup in summer 2018. Then they did an Avengers crossover where players could collect the Infinity Stones and become Thanos.

Fortnite generated $2.4 billion in revenue in 2018, the highest annual revenue of any game in history.

Why did this work?

They focused on mainstream entertainment properties — soccer, football, and Marvel. But most importantly, they knew their players would be excited by this by allowing them to be a part of the story, being it a superhero or football player.

In 2019 Fortnite focused a lot more on bringing the IRL entertainment into the game. In February, they held a Marshmello concert into the game, players dressing up in costumes similar to the electronic musician. The Marshmello concert was attended by 11 million players, with millions more watching the show on Twitch and YouTube.

The Endgame release was also promoted on Fortnite in April, players having the options to dress up like the Avengers. Then, John Wick made his way into the Fortnite universe, and Epic has also partnered with Nike’s Jordan brand to deliver branded content to the game.

Fortnite is now one of the biggest games ever with 350 million players.

How Apple revolutionized marketing before

Let’s see some differences between the advertising from 2020, and the one from 1997, and 1984 respectively.

1. Fortnite’s ‘The end’ (Blackout) vs Apple’s ‘Think Different’

In 1997, Apple brought Steve Jobs back after being fired from the company and had to revive Apple with only 90 days of money left.

  • They went from a nine-page ad they previously used when launching Lisa, to two words: Think Different.
  • The campaign featured some of the world’s time-honored visionaries. It was very bold at that time as, in advertising, there were mostly photos of products.
  • They showed the commercial during the Super Bowl 2 times. And, also, through printed posters, billboards, newspaper ads, magazine ads & painted walls.
  • Within 12 months, Apple’s stock price tripled.

On the other hand, in 2019 Fortnite did something unpredictable, something that wasn’t done before.

  • They completely shut down their game for two days, leaving the user staring at a black hole when opening the game.
  • They live-streamed everywhere, even crashed Twitch servers with over 1.6 million viewers. While on YouTube they had over 4.5 million people watching and 1 million on Twitter.
  • When the game finally came back online, debuting a new “Chapter 2” that included a brand-new map and challenges, the world was ready.
2. Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite vs Apple’s 1984 Macintosh Commercial

Both shorts reference George Orwell’s novel of the same name, including the idea of a uniformed and homogenized population controlled by a totalitarian government.

Back in 1984, Apple was presenting itself as the revolutionary force that’s going to take IBM’s monopoly down.

  • It appeared during the Super Bowl, attracting attention immediately while ending with:
“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

Today, Epic mocks Apple with its own commercial and wants to take Apple’s monopoly down, representing the good force we all need.

  • Epic is showing the short on loop on Twitch, Youtube & Twitter.
  • They invited their users to watch the premiere of the new Fortnite Short together in-game in a specific location.

The short ends similar to Apple’s short, but this time with:

“Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming “1984.”

What can brands learn from this?

I am not saying that one is better than the other. I am saying that branding is constantly changing, and the biggest hit will be in a few years from now.

Gen Z will push, and they already are, how things are done when it comes to marketing. They are harder to please, they demand change, and they are born with technology. Branding is changing as fast as technology does.

Here are some of the things branding & marketing need to expect:
  • Customers will require the same level of ‘fandom’ to the brands they choose in the next years as they do now with the games they play
  • Brand & user experience will require a big focus on so that the customers will be retained for a longer period. The experience needs to make them feel good about themselves.
  • Technology, digital, or such terms, won’t be used as they are now. The new generations will see them like clothes — convenient — and will want everything to be brought to them through it.

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