How The Company Behind The Billion-Dollar ‘Fortnite’ Game Was Started By A College Kid In His Parents’ House
Fortnite is the most popular video game on the entire planet right now. Halfway through 2018, the battle royale survival game has absolutely exploded, going from 40 million players in January to a whopping 125 million gamers only six months later. The free-for-all game is so gigantic that they have pro-am matches that feature celebrities such as Drake, DJ Marshmello, Paul George, Desiigner, Joe Jonas, Joel McHale, Demetrious Johnson, and Pete Wentz. The biggest game in the world has some humble beginnings since Fortnite‘s developer, Epic Games, was created by a college student in his parents’ house.
In April alone, Fortnite reportedly generated nearly $300 million worth of in-game sales. But nearly three decades before Fortnite was the juggernaut game, the Potomac Computer Systems company was founded by Tim Sweeney. In 1991, Sweeney was a 21-year-old studying mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland.
While living in his parents’ house in Potomac, Maryland, Sweeney was able to create his first game titled ZZT in 1991. Potomac Computer Systems’ first video game took Sweeney more than a thousand hours over a span of nine months to create ZZT as he programmed the game between classes and his lawnmowing job. Sweeney’s other business venture arose when he borrowed a tractor from his dad and started his own landscaping company where he made about $25 an hour. To purchase the action-adventure puzzle game customers had to mail a check to Sweeney’s parents’ house and they would receive a computer disk.
Sweeney, who has been programming computer games as a hobby since he was 11-years-old, added Mark Rein to be the company’s vice president in 1992. Rein, who is from Toronto, Canada, was brought on to do sales, marketing, and deal-making. Nowadays, Rein is still in that position and he is the owner of NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
In 1998, Epic MegaGames released Unreal, a massively successful first-person shooter that spawned a franchise of eight games, the last of which, Unreal Tournament 3, was released in 2007. But more important than the actual games was that Epic MegaGames created the Unreal Engine, which was so state-of-the-art at the time that it was declared the “most successful video game engine” by the Guinness World Records.
Other game developers noticed how tremendous the Unreal Engine was and paid Sweeney’s company to license the engine. The current version is Unreal Engine 4 and the four different game engines have been used in hugely popular games such as Duke Nukem Forever, the Bioshock series, Magic: The Gathering – Battlegrounds,, numerous Tom Clancy titles, Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Borderlands series, the Mass Effect franchise, the Mortal Kombat series, Sea of Thieves, and PUBG.
In 1999, Sweeney simplified the company’s name to Epic Games and moved the video game developer’s headquarters to Cary, North Carolina. Epic Games is still headquartered in Cary where they employ more than 700 people.
On November 7, 2006, Gears of War was released, which was developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Studios. The third-person shooter was an instant success, selling one million copies in its first two weeks, becoming the fastest-selling Xbox 360 game ever. By November of 2008, Gears of War had sold 5.88 million copies worldwide and was the second most-played game on the Xbox Live. Microsoft was eager to get more Gears of War games from Epic Games and there have been six sequels or spinoffs of the hit game since. The Gears of War franchise has sold over 22 million units and made over $1 billion in revenue by January of 2014. There are also plans for Gears of War 5 to be released in 2019. Epic Games sold the Gears of War series to Microsoft for an undisclosed amount of money in 2014.
At the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards, Epic Games announced a brand new game called Fortnite that was described as “a world where you explore, you scavenge, you build and ultimately you survive.” Fortnite was finally rolled out on July 25, 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Now, the free-for-all game has become a multi-platform behemoth as it has spread to iOS (where it makes $2 million a day), Nintendo Switch, and Android this summer.
The free-to-play video game using the Unreal 4 Engine has turned the video game industry upside down. The game’s Battle Royale mode is being copied by numerous game studios and the free-for-all survivor gameplay has been adapted by juggernauts such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
There has even been a partnership between Epic Games and Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and gamers are making $500,000 a month playing Fortnite. Epic Games just announced that they will launch the Fortnite World Cup in 2019 where they will offer $100 million in prize money.
Fortnite is currently on pace to gross approximately $3.5 billion in 2018 alone. A far cry from when a 21-year-old created the Potomac Computer Systems company and was mailing physical copies of his first video game.