In what’s becoming increasingly common for Fortnite, the game is fusing with one of the biggest pop culture properties around. This time around, it’s Lego. But the launch of Lego Fortnite is also much more involved than the typical tie-in — and the start of what seems like a new era for Fortnite.
Lego Fortnite is a survival crafting game that’s available inside of Fortnite starting today. It’s sort of like a Lego version of Minecraft, only instead of downloading a whole new game, you just select a tile from the Fortnite menu the same way you would when you hop into battle royale.
I was able to play around 30 minutes of the game earlier in the week, and it’s very impressive, if somewhat familiar. Players are given a large, procedurally generated map to explore — Epic says that it’s 19 times larger than the battle royale island, which just got a refresh — and you can play in a creative mode, where you build whatever you like, or a survival mode, where skeletons, wolves, and other baddies come out, and you also have to worry about things like hunger and deal with extreme heat.
So far, so Minecraft. The big appeal here, though, is not only the Lego aspect but also that it’s available freely within an already very popular game. In fact, Lego Fortnite is just the first of a trio of games coming out inside of Fortnite this week; it’ll be followed by Rocket Racing on December 8th (from the creators of Rocket League) and Fortnite Festival on December 9th (from the studio behind Rock Band and Guitar Hero). The idea is that Fortnite will become more than just the game where players fight to the death on a colorful island. It will be a platform full of all kinds of games, sort of like a more tightly controlled version of Roblox.
“We’re trying to demonstrate a different way to think about a gaming ecosystem, that can hold both the smallest of creator games to the biggest of our first-party games, and anything in between,” Saxs Persson, Epic’s executive VP, tells The Verge. (He was also previously the chief creative officer and VP at Minecraft studio Mojang.)
According to Persson, Lego was the right initial game to further several elements of the Fortnite ecosystem. One is the ongoing desire to build a metaverse, or a virtual space with persistent identities. When Lego and Epic first announced their partnership, the stated goal was to “build a space in the metaverse that’s fun, entertaining, and made for kids and families.” Persson says that’s where the minifigs come in. Epic says that, right now, more than 1,200 Fortnite skins have a Lego variant available (with some offering a higher level of detail), so players can take their favorite outfits across these experiences. “The minifigs that we’re showing, and the idea that you can be different people in the metaverse, is really important to us,” Persson says.
Another element is age ratings. In the lead-up to the launch of Fortnite: Chapter 5 and Lego Fortnite, Epic began introducing age ratings for all experiences in the game, including those made by users. Lego Fortnite, for instance, is rated “E10+” while battle royale is rated “Teen.” The Lego collaboration “enabled us to further our idea that Fortnite wasn’t just a Teen game,” Persson says. “It’s an all-ages platform where you get to decide the right content for the right person, and parents feel in control of what their kids can play. And they can live natively next to each other without feeling like we’ve lost the narrative that anybody is welcome.”
The process has already run into some hitches, like when Epic blocked some outfits from child-friendly experiences, only to revert the changes. “We have a great community that will let us know within seconds if we get it wrong,” Persson says.
The final piece of the puzzle is the user-made experiences. Starting at GDC this past March, Epic has been making a bigger push to expand the Fortnite Creative ecosystem, with Unreal Engine-powered tools, a revamped creator economy, and a YouTube-style redesign to push player-built games. And according to Persson, part of the goal behind all of these new Epic-developed games inside of Fortnite — Lego included — is that they will also eventually trickle down to creators, thus expanding the game’s overall ecosystem.
In a press release for Lego Fortnite, for instance, Epic says that “the two companies are also using Unreal Engine to build digital twins for thousands of physical Lego elements, and are working to make these available for creators across the Fortnite ecosystem in both UEFN and Fortnite’s Creative tools in 2024.” (Also coming in 2024: “several more Lego themed games inside Fortnite.”)
“The goal is absolutely that anything we do benefits creators over time,” says Persson.