Thursday, August 2, 2018

Lesson #296: Copy Proven Ideas for Quick Success--A Fortnite Case Study

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/02/2018


& Comment

The best ideas are not always the most original ideas.  As we have learned in my past post, copy-catting others' proven ideas, perhaps in different markets or ways, may be the quickest path to success.  And, nothing illustrates this point better than Fortnite Battle Royale, the video game made by Epic Games, which my son introduced me to this year.  To me, Fortnite appears to have pulled a page right out of the The Hunger Games movie playbook, copy-catting it into a huge success.  Allow me to further explain.


The Hunger Games was a top selling film from 2012, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence.  The movie was based on the best selling book by Suzanne Collins.  To date, more than 17.5 million copies of the book has been sold worldwide (grossing $169MM in book sales for this first of three books in the trilogy alone) and the hit movie has grossed another $752MM in sales worldwide on top of that.  I would say that was a pretty huge success for the author, the book publisher and the movie producer.


Here is The Hunger Games plot as copied from Amazon's book description:  "Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning? In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV."  Now keep this firmly imprinted in your memory, for what is to follow.


Launched in 2017 (five years after The Hunger Games--about the amount of time it takes to develop of video game of this scale), Fortnite Battle Royale has become one of the highest grossing video games of all time, set to have over $2 billion in sales this year (yes, billion with a "b").  They sold over $300MM in the last month alone, suggesting it is now on a $3.6BN annual run rate!!  Here is the game description, as copied from their website: "The battle is building! Fortnite Battle Royale is the free 100-player PvP mode in Fortnite. One giant map. A battle bus. Fortnite building skills and destructible environments combined with intense PvP combat. The last one standing wins."  Sound familiar!!??  It is basically the same plot as The Hunger Games.


In both The Hunger Games and Fortnite Battle Royale, a bunch of contestants are entered into a fight to the death with a last man (or woman) standing in both cases. The contest is set up in a way that the battle takes place within a fixed geographic space, that gets manipulated to be smaller over time, forcing the last remaining contestants to battle each other at some point.  Both drop the contestants into an unknown environment and make them race to find the closest and best weapons.  And, in both cases you have no visibility into where your competitors are coming from, so you can be unexpectedly attacked from behind at any time.


There are many advantages of copy-catting.  First of all, it de-risks your venture based on the proven learnings and investments of others.  Why experiment with a new idea that has a 90% chance of failing, when you can double down on a proven 10x return winner.  Secondly, you may be able to take a great idea in a good market and make it a great idea in a huge market.  Look what happened in this case study--a $169MM book become a $752MM movie become a $3.6BN video game all with basically the same blueprint.  Let this be a lesson to the book and movie industries, perhaps the video game industry is where you can really create the most wealth (at least with products targeting teenagers).  In just a short period of time, using what I feel is a copy-catting strategy (that I doubt they will ever admit), the founder of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, has just become the newest member of the billionaire club!!  Not so bad for a couple years worth of work, retooling someone else's playbook.  I am surprised The Hunger Games hasn't sued Fortnite for copyright infringement.


So, for all you entrepreneurs out there, looking to become the next unicorn billionaire, your path to success and wealth does not need to be a unique one.  Look for proven ideas that you can repurpose into your own.  And, in the process, you will materially accelerate you product development curve and growth trajectory.  At the same time, if you are working on a great idea in one market, perhaps it will be a much bigger idea in a different market.  As an example, I bet Marvel is happy they transitioned from a low revenue comic book company to a huge revenue movie production juggernaut ultimately acquired by Disney for $4BN.  So, who is ready to help me start building my Revengers video game, a Fortnite-style fight to the death between Avengers-style superheroes of your choosing set in a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur setting!!  Sounds like three home runs in one, to me!!

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