When it comes to figuring out a formula for a hit game that keeps players coming back year after year, Saxs Persson would know. Now at Epic Games overseeing the Fortnite ecosystem, Persson previously spent 12 years at Mojang building Minecraft into the stratospheric success it is today.
Persson hopped over to Epic in 2022 to work on the Fortnite maker’s roadmap, shepherding Lego Fortnite from a press release last year into a polished, ambitious standalone experience designed to draw new audiences to Fortnite’s free-to-play world.
We spoke with Persson about Epic’s grand plans for Lego Fortnite and its two other new games, Rocket Racing and Fortnite Festival. Knowing Fortnite’s penchant for maximalism and a steady drip feed of fresh content, the trio of games is only just getting started — but here’s a glimpse of where they’re going.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
TechCrunch: With the three new games, and particularly Lego Fortnite, is the goal to broaden Fortnite’s appeal to new kinds of players?
Persson: Battle Royale has been extraordinarily popular. And from a Battle Royale perspective we understand our players quite well. We’ve done our very best for the last six years to always make a game that feels fresh, evolves, never stands still, constantly updates and sets us apart from the competition by not taking itself too seriously. That’s always been the goal of Battle Royale.
The next ring that developed from that was when we put out Fortnite Creative and subsequently when we launched UEFN [Unreal Editor for Fortnite] in March this year – that is very much realizing that Fortnite players want to play more games, not just Battle Royale. And the more content they have, and the better content they have and the more varied content they have, the happier they are.
So if your only goal is to say, if you came to Fortnite, we would like you to consider all these different options, and to stay as long as you want to because we hope you’re going to have fun.
Our creators have done a phenomenal job of broadening, already, who plays Fortnite. Battle Royale is really important – it’s like an anchor tenant, whatever you want to call it. But if you asked players like ‘what do you play in a week,’ I think the average island played in the week is about seven, seven different islands. And they’re varied in style, aesthetics, genre… We ask our creators what they would like to create. If they want to create it, we bet there’s going to be players that want to play it. That’s been the strategy up until this far.
…In order for us to make really good tools, we have to use them ourselves. And we know that in order for us to really extend deep tools and new genres, our best bet is that we need to make some first party content that really stretches what Unreal Engine can do. And then take those tools and turn them over to creators and say now you have these capabilities.
So with that in mind, the three games we announced, Lego Fortnite, Rocket Racing, and [Fortnite] Festival all have different goals of extending the toolset in a particular direction, but also attracting new players to say ‘oh I guess Fortnite is not just Battle Royale. Really, we just need to get them over the hump of installing 54 gigabytes… and once you’re there, there should be a lot for you to do.
What do those sets of tools look like and what can people build with them?
“[With] Lego Fortnite… we’ve worked a lot on [procedural generation], we’ve worked a lot on different styles – like adding the Lego styles so you can both play as Fortnite style and as a minifig, as Lego style. And down the line we fully expect creators are gonna have access to that too.
The procedural world is really fascinating. Again, like we’ve always operated on a very static play playing field, but Lego is pioneering a whole lot of procedural tools that hopefully we can extend to creators, and a much bigger island – like we’re 20 times bigger than a Battle Royale island. So it is a massive island that we’re still working to expand. That again should benefit creators.
Rocket Racing is adding credible racing mechanics to our creators and track design editors and that sort of thing. So the game is important because it comes from Rocket League, and it’s an excellent game. And we really believe in that game. The secondary effect is creators get great vehicle tools.
And finally [Fortnite] Festival. A ton of effort has gone into music generation tools and music editing tools and music making tools and gameplay with music. And a lot of those devices, as we call them, have already been extended to creators.
So that’s the goal. Music attracts a new audience. Racing attracts a new audience. Lego attracts a new audience. Even though we know it appeals to current Fortnite players, it’s certainly going to appeal to audiences that are not interested in Battle Royale.
What about expanding Fortnite to younger players, is that part of the objective here?
We had introduced separately from LEGO but in collaboration with Lego a new ratings paradigm in Fortnite, where every piece of content is rated. That streamlines really nicely with our parental controls.It feels like if you’re a parent when you let your kid come into Fortnite, you don’t have to just slam the door wide open… you can still have at a granular level control over what your kids play.
And you can see what. So yeah, like, Lego is an E10 game, so mechanically, that opens a new audience. But I think underneath that, again, is there’s a whole suite of new features, just to be able to rate islands on an individual level. And just to really focus on like, how do we make a great experience for all ages that is age appropriate and safe?
Lego Fortnite seems to smartly dip into some genres and gameplay loops that people already love in other games. Animal Crossing, Minecraft and Valheim all come to mind, but there are quite a few.
I think all games should be inspired by something. What do we all enjoy? We really enjoy Zelda, really enjoy Minecraft, really enjoy Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley. All four of them are absolutely, in and of themselves, excellent examples of games that just have just have stood the test of time. That really, really resonate emotionally with people and we would love to add to that genre and be part of that genre.
I don’t think we’re anything in particular. Like we have aspects of Animal Crossing and a social sim… as it turns out, there’s nothing as cute as building a building with minifigs that all have jobs, and they all want to be part of your village and can [help out] with the harvest and go on adventures with you. The social sim design is very much focused on realizing the Lego fantasy, but it does feel like it has the cozy gamer aspect of it for sure, of homesteading and building and village building and investing in your people.
In a procedurally generated survival game — when you play something like Valheim or Minecraft — you have a big moment when you first open the map. It’s exciting, and you don’t know what’s around you and how dangerous it is. Lego Fortnite has that same feeling.
I think a key part of what Fortnite is is ‘what’s around the next corner?’ When we started working on procedural, procedurally generating these landscapes, there was just a lot of just wandering and just making these amazing looking things and then adding like more and more and more into it and sort of doing a true crossover between Lego and Fortnite and trying to find like what is it that would satisfy Lego players and would satisfy Fortnite players – really feeling like we understand these two IPs. And the landscape is littered with that.
I think the internal model was that Fortnite is the canvas and Lego is the paint. Basically anything you touch becomes Lego as you play, and the more you play, the more Lego-ized you make the world. I really liked that idea of landing on a Fortnite planet mysteriously transformed into a Lego figure and then, like making that into a survival sandbox — a true sandbox where anything can happen.
I love that genre is I really think it speaks to all of us, like in a very simple way that you get to set your own stakes and really the job is to not die. But everything else like thriving is completely up to you.
People who don’t follow Fortnite and don’t know about its user-generated content probably still think it’s just a zany battle royale game where 100 people fight to the death. How do you get the word out that hey, Fortnite is an ecosystem filled with lots of different things, now including these three major games we developed?
There’s nothing like YouTube videos showing the shenanigans of Lego Fortnite or your favorite streamer spending time in it. Because we think it has enormous storytelling potential for YouTubers and for and for Twitch streamers. It’s a sandbox that is made for you to essentially tell stories.
It is very much what has made Minecraft very, very successful. It is what you make it, meaning the more creative you are the better your videos and we really, really feel like the streaming community and YouTube is gonna help us tell that story for us.
Now it’s on to updates. If there is one thing Epic knows and the Fortnite team knows it’s players want content, they want updates and that is very much what the team is focused on.
All of us agreed that the best chance we have of retelling the story of Fortnite is to go overboard with content. And really show like, when Epic puts his mind to it, we have done our groundwork and we believe that Fortnite is the place that you would want to be and to spend time in, no matter what age you are, no matter what you’re interested in. There should be content that will resonate with you.