One of the most talked about issues that continues to be discussed in regards to the video game industry is how publishers and developers should be expected to handle toxic gaming environments. These kinds of domains are typically cited as a byproduct of antagonistic users flocking to online multiplayer releases in droves to grief other users in one way or another, with the sandbox survival title Fortnite Battle Royale being just one example of a game that hosts myriad players at once and could allow for such conduct. According to Ben Lewis-Evans, a user experience lead researcher at Epic Games, the company intended to stymie a specific type of negative in-game behavior in the free-to-play title by turning its friendly fire feature off.
This much was revealed in an interview with the outlet Polygon, as Lewis-Evans explained that Epic Games launched Fortnite Battle Royale with friendly fire enabled, as the company “understood that it was an important part of the genre up to that point.” However, the user experience lead researcher revealed that Epic eventually decided to turn it off after receiving multiple reports from players, as “People were saying, ‘People are killing me for my stuff’ or ‘People are killing me just to troll’”, with the feature being disabled so that the studio could determine as “an experiment” to “see if it is negative.”
As detailed by Lewis-Evans, Fortnite Battle Royale’s developers theorized about how turning friendly fire off would affect other aspects of the game. What’s more is that the studio decided that if fan feedback was negative for the feature being disabled, it would be enacted once more. Should the survey data and response to the decision be positive, though, friendly fire would be removed for good. Epic’s user experience lead researcher explained the team’s thought process on the issue, saying:
“We had theories about what could be impacted by [turning friendly fire] on and off, but you can look at things like, ‘Did people play more field games? ‘Were they playing more with friends? ‘Was the number of accidental deaths going up or down? ‘How do you tell what’s a general team kill?’
“Another problem with team killing is that the player thinks it’s genuine, but it’s accidental. It doesn’t matter if they were, though, because the emotional impact still carries. If you think someone did something on purpose, it doesn’t matter if it was accidental. It affects your experience.”
According to Lewis-Evans, this form of hindering negative behavior is a means to solve disruptive playing through game design by allowing users to participate more directly in development choices through increased transparency, such as allowing them to vote on potential changes. In the case of Fortnite Battle Royale, Lewis-Evans states, “One of the good things that I’ve been a proponent of and that’s kind of been picked up is looking to game design as a solution to this rather than just reporting [players]. We turned off friendly fire and then the friendly fire toxicity problem goes away. 100 percent solved, there is no problem. That’s solving it by design.”
Negative player behavior aside, Fortnite Battle Royale still has plenty of other issues that need to be addressed, for as the game’s success and popularity continues to grow and attract huge audiences, it will undoubtedly require fresh design choices to enable better stability and establish a greater allure across its myriad platforms. After all, not only is the free-to-play title available on PC and consoles, but also Epic Games recently launched an iOS version in limited availability that is intended to have cross-play capabilities. So, it will be interesting to see how fans will see Fortnite later on down the line as it continues to evolve.
Fortnite Battle Royale is available now in early access for iOS devices, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.