Fortnite, Football And Soccer, And Their Surprising Similarities
In the last few weeks, I’ve listened to two very interesting seminars in an online sport economics series that I organise. Just before Christmas, Roger Titford presented work looking at the boom in football, or soccer, in the late 1800s in England, documenting its meteoric rise to a national sport in a short space of time, and last week Georg Stadtmann of the Europa Universitaet Viadrina presented on Fortnite, the online video game that has gained huge popularity since 2016.
The instinct is to say that Fortnite has nothing to do with football, or soccer. And I’ve cheated a little with the headline, using both football and soccer, but of course all ball games have their common root in groups of people kicking some kind of object around. But the point is that the development that took place in football in England in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and undoubtedly for what Americans call football in America around that same time, bears quite a few similar characteristics to that of Fortnite’s rapid development. Perhaps the only difference is that the latter happened over a year or two, whereas it took football a little longer.
Fortnite is, of course, an e-sport, and e-sports more generally are expanding at an impressive rate. Influencer Marketing Hub suggest double figure growth in viewership for e-sports over a number of years now around the world. Stadtmann’s talk delved into a number of the marketing techniques employed by Fortnite in particular, but surely employed by many growing industries – attempts to retain customers via a freemium model, and attempts to apply subtle pressure to convince people to purchase products related to the output (in Fortnite, skins, perhaps in football or soccer, season tickets and other kinds of memorabilia).
In both cases, there was a commercial opportunity. In the nineteenth century football appeared to emerge; people became more aware of the game, and began to demand it with their increasing amounts of leisure time. So enterprising football club owners developed stadiums, which offered comfort for spectators in watching a match, but also exclusivity – fans could be excluded from observing a match, and hence a fee could be charged for entry.
Football clubs in England generated loyalty, and huge support over a short space of time. This was one of Roger Titford’s semi open questions: how was it football emerged as such a dominant leisure pursuit in such a relatively short period of time in the late nineteenth century? It surely had something to do with the nature of the game, but also other social factors of the time – increased leisure time for factory workers thanks to government regulations over working time.
After the initial growth though, clubs needed ways to extract income from their loyal fan base – season tickets and merchandise being the next steps, after that initial stadium development.
In the twenty-first century esports have appeared to emerge – faster internet connections, especially better mobile data connections, have enabled peer-to-peer gaming in a way previously unimaginable, and people have become aware of these games, demanding more and more of them. Similarly, games that appeal command a loyalty, and playing online helps that grow yet further.
And yet, once everybody is playing online, how do game manufacturers maintain revenue streams? Stadtmann discussed how games like Fortnite offer skins to players, different outfits for their avatars to wear, which make no difference in terms of actual game outcomes, but have social value amongst the peer groups of gamers. Fortnite offer aggressive discounts, and put gamers under time pressure to make decisions.
All of the kinds of techniques that have been the mainstays of enterprising commerce over the ages, from football or soccer back in the 1800s, to e-sports of the 2000s. What will be next?
Published at Fri, 15 Jan 2021 01:55:04 +0000