Epic Games paid $320 million to over 25,000 creators in the last 12 months and during that time saw UGC content capture a whopping 35% of total Fortnite engagement. That means there are over 1 million players engaging in UGC content on Fortnite during peak hours. With other top franchises like GTA and The Sims currently working to build out their own UGC platforms in time for planned launches in the next couple years, it’s the perfect time to look back at how and why the biggest video game franchise of our time decided to go all in on UGC. 

Our host, David Taylor, sat down with Zak Phelps, the former Senior Director of Product Design on Fortnite Creative, along with Michael Ha (AKA Birdo), the creator of Minigame Box PVP, a top 10 Fortnite Creative experience. The crew covers the origin story of Fortnite Creative, the early days of building a leading UGC platform, and what it’s like building on Fortnite Creative five-years into its existence. Special thanks to Creators Corp for suggesting Naavik connect with these two great Fortnite minds. 

This episode is brought to you by CleverTap Gaming, the all-in-one platform for creating personalized player experiences. Visit https://clevertap.com/gaming/ for more details.

This transcript is machine-generated, and we apologize for any errors.

David: Welcome to the Naavik Gaming Podcast. I'm your host, David Taylor, and today we'll be exploring the second largest UGC games platform in the world Fortnite Creative.

Epic Games paid 320 million to over 25, 000 creators in the last 12 months, and during that time, saw UGC content capture a whopping 35 percent of total Fortnite engagement. For perspective, there are over 1 million players engaging in UGC content on Fortnite during peak hours, with other top franchises like GTA and The Sims currently working to build out their own UGC platforms.

in time for planned launches in the next couple of years. It's the perfect time to look back at how and why the biggest video game franchises of our time decide to go all in on UGC. Today we'll be covering the origin story of Fortnite Creative, the early days of building a leading UGC platform, and what it's like building on Fortnite Creative five years into its existence.

I'm excited to be joined by Zak Phelps, the former Senior Director of Product Design on Fortnite Creative, along with Michael Ha, a. k. a. Birdo, the creator of minigame box PvP, the top 10 Fortnite creative experience. This is going to be a super interesting episode for entrepreneurs and general managers alike as we dive into how to build a successful UGC game platform and how to be successful as a creator on said platform.

So we have one of the original visionaries of Fortnite Creative and one of the top beneficiaries of that vision with us today. Let's kick it off with a bit of intros, starting with Zak. Zak, what was your path to Fortnite Creatives?

Zak: Yeah, thanks, David. Yeah, so I've been in the games industry 25 years nine of those, just under nine of those years were at Epic Games where I initially joined in a more production role as executive producer on what ended up becoming Fortnite Save the World.

And so in that role, I spent two to three years working with the team and building outside of the world and launching that at the same time, right as we're getting ready for launch, basically Battle Royale was taking over the world. And so we decided Epic decided at that point to spin up a Battle Royale team.

That team built an amazing game. It launched. It took over the world and at that point the thing that we just spent Seven years getting out into the world. I knew it was going to be a little bit of a subnote in history so took a step back and Put together a initial pitch for what do we do next?

What's the next big thing that we could do with Fortnite? And working with uh, lol von We put a pretty cool pitch together for what ended up becoming Fortnite Creative You and then I spent basically four and a half to five years working on that. And I most recently left Epic about a year, a year and a few months ago to pursue my own opportunities within that space.

David: Awesome. I mean, It's pretty, pretty amazing that you were the early, visionary of what would become this massive platform today and super excited to be chatting with you. Birdo, on your side, take us through sort of your, your journey to Fortnite Creative.

Birdo: Yeah I've been a Fortnite content creator for five years, but that was like my side hustle.

My real job was being a software engineer. I worked for Kaiser Permanent Day, then Microsoft, and I actually really like my jobs. Not many people say that, but I love my 9 to 5. UEFN came out, and I didn't start making maps right away, but I saw it, and then actually, I, I got in because like, one of my friends, That has no coding experience, made a map and it blew up.

And then he showed me his paycheck. I was like, Oh my gosh. And then I started learning verse and it was so simple and um, really simple APIs and I started like liking it, started making maps, they did okay. And then, yeah I made another map with my friend Dagwummy and it just blew up and then I I had to quit my job. That's where we're at now.

David: That's amazing. I'm sure Epic loves to hear that in terms of seeing the incentives and getting people to come over and invest in making content and then, said content ending up being a big driver of engagement on the platform.

Birdo: Yeah, exactly what you said at GDC. There's three epic employees that came up to me and said, they saw my Twitter post of me leaving Microsoft and they just love it because that's what they do for, that's like why they're working like that is to give the sound like, like you said, a prime example of what they want for people.

David: Yep, and that's not a dig on Microsoft. My current employer, just for the record. But it's hard to turn down the type of numbers that I think Birdo is seeing.

Birdo: No I loved my job. I got a free gym, free 24/7 gym, free basketball courts, free lunch, free breakfast. I loved my job. I can't stress that enough.

David: So if you're not going to get into UEFN, go work at Microsoft like me. Awesome. So thanks for that background. Super cool to hear your story. I'd love to learn more about the details. But for now, let's take a step back in time, pass it up back over to Zak. And Zak, can you just remind the audience like, what did Fortnite Creative 1.0 look like? Because we have entrepreneurs who are building UGC game platforms. We have franchises who are interested in potentially dipping a toe into UGC creativity. Into the UGC world, so I think there's a lot of interest in understanding like what is that road map to what UESN is today and so could you take us back in time into what was Fortnite creative and what did it look like?

Zak: Yeah, so initially, when we put the pitch together we take a little hard look at Minecraft create, the creative booth at Minecraft. We're taking a look at Roblox. It took a look at a lot of different spaces. The initial version was, how do we get to market as fast as possible?

We knew Fortnite was blowing up, we had a huge audience. And we knew some portion of a creative product in the market space was going to increase engagement. We wanted to keep people engaged inside Fortnite and give them new tools and things to play with. And so, the initial version actually the LTM team at the time put together a, basically what was called, Playground and playgrounds was just, it was just the battle royale map and you could go onto it and spend as much time as you wanted there.

And that actually spawned a lot of the initial thoughts for what ended up being coming creative, which is, hey, what's an MVP look like where you can just come onto the battle royale map, you can build a couple things, you could save it. And then you could reload it later. So that way, players could, players at that time were coming in with their friends, they were building kind of 1v1 little spaces, but they would have to go, they'd say, hey, we're going to go media tilted, we're going to do this, they would actually have to destroy everything in that space, build a little 1v1 space and then take off.

And it's like, we can do way better. We can build something relatively quickly that allowed people to save and reload, reload their content. We got a prototype of that done, later. Relatively fast. We then decided that we wanted something a lot more robust. So as we came into December of 2018 let's see battle royale launched 2017 end of 2017 Pitched came together march april may time frame we got the green light and so then december 2018 is when we released the first version of creative Which was literally you could load in on your own little custom island You Where you could build stuff, it would save, it would persist and you could invite your friends to come play with you.

And we had a minimal set of game rules essentially you could start and stop a game so that way you could reset the island. And that, that was it. There was no, at that point we didn't have publishing yet, we didn't have any way to really be able to share those experiences. Everything was built in game through the in game tools.

It was very minimal. And then the goal was just iterate very fast. Going from there, it's like, how do we iterate to the next set of capacity, next set of capacity? With the goal being it's like opening up as much as possible for players and creators to be able to do.

David: Got it. And so it sounds like you guys were prioritizing maybe speed to market in terms of what features to push out. Yeah. I've talked a bit about the trilemma for every UGC game platform. There's sort of balancing between accessibility, ease of creation, creation, speed, and and depth of gameplay.

Like how much, the variety of choices that you can make and how far you can go in terms of like game progression. I'm curious when designing Fortnite creative, was there a lens that you've looked at in terms of thinking about your target audience and what types of tools they would be willing to engage with?

Zak: Yeah, I think for the most part, yes, absolutely. And so the key phrase in my mind is that it wasn't really, it's really more about capabilities. Providing as many capabilities as we could as fast as possible and not worrying as much about, The overall accessibility of those tools or how they need to be used.

Relying on the fact that social media other creators the fact that we had a really big audience that have an infinite amount of time on their hands. And so people will experiment and figure things out that we never expected from the tools, but they'll also figure out what we intended from the tools, either through documentation that we could provide, or just through them experimenting and then sharing it with their friends.

And so we knew from the start, that's the most important thing was making sure that people could do as much as possible, as fast as possible even if it made it more difficult to kind of figure it out. So targeting depth of gameplay first now at the same time, there's a balance to that because as you get into more complex things, you get, there's more challenges of making those things available to the users to use in a robust, dependable, reliable way.

And so we all, we also may just make sure that it's like everything could be as robust and dependable as possible. So that's a lot of the trade offs that we had in the early days were because we're more trained off for consistency not necessarily accessibility.

David That's really interesting because.As someone who's been studying the space for a couple of years now and who was looking at it before UEFN launched. I would have thought that accessibility was a top priority, right? Cause you've got a primary, primarily console user base. So you've got to design tools that can be used by a controller.

And you know, just drag and drop tools inherently are pretty easy. So yeah, as much as you weren't focused on accessibility, I think you guys did a pretty good job

David: of making it accessible. A lot of creators that I've spoken to over the years said that they got into Fortnite creative.

just because they wanted to make new maps to play with their friends. They were not thinking about these things blowing up. They were just like, yeah, this will be fun for me to, create a new experience for me and my friends.

Zak: Yeah, and I do want I think that point, David, is really good. I think that experience is more because there was, there's, early on, there was basically two paths that we had planned to go down, and we knew that we had both paths.

One was going to be in game, Being able to create things in game and that experience we wanted to make sure it felt game like so accessibility wasn't important But making sure it felt like a game was important And so and that making sure that felt like a game led to some accessibility choices that we made the other side though was UEFN, which was we knew we wanted to provide a path into Unreal Engine and some of the more the more broad tools that would then encompass to be able to allow people or people to make deeper and more robust games.

David: Got it. So can

you give us some examples on key features that you guys prioritize early on and what are some, also some features that you sort of were like, we would love to do this, but it's not the right time.

Zak: Yeah like early on features was basically we just made a list of game types that we were like, we know people will want to play these.

And we know people will want to make these and so 1v1 uh, Deathmatch Capture the Flag, like we just made a big list and we talked to a bunch of YouTubers at the time, a lot of people that were in the space and we were like, hey, what games do you guys, Prop Hunt, what games do you guys want to play?

And then what we did is we just broke those games down, made a list of okay, what are the ingredients necessary that we need to Provide to creators to allow them to make these game types. And we just basically started seeing where the commonalities were and they just start prioritize that list and just moved down through a team settings device was a pretty early device that we worked on something that would grant you an inventory item or create a spawner in the game.

So you could grab an item and use it someplace that spawn, you can choose where the players spawn, like really basic things. But things are necessary. To allow people to create in game experiences. Some of the things that we prioritized low still to this day, Creative still doesn't support I believe unless they've added it recently, but it's undo.

It's the most, it's like the most commonly asked for thing. It's like, hey, just give me the ability to undo the thing I just did. And it just doesn't exist in Creative at the moment. And that really just ended up coming down to Amount of complexity to make a good complete solution to that problem versus the 60 to 75 percent it like making it work 70 percent of the time it's really easy.

70 percent of the time solution. It's a really hard 99 percent of the time solution. And and so we just continually knocked out, knocked that down the road. Partly because we're seeing really good success from graders.

Birdo: How badly would you like a Command Z function for you? Well, In create in UEFN, it's all good.

Yeah, it's for sure. And create 1.0. Yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about. Like when you're replacing a device, like you're stuck with it, yeah. No, I do, I avoid 1.0 as much as possible. Like as much as possible. Actually never use it ,

David: We're gonna get back more into that actually. I have some questions about that, but before we get onto that, I'm curious, like back at one 1.0, like. once it launched, were there early challenges your team faced and then also I'm curious, what were the signals that you were really on to something like,

Zak: Yeah early challenges are mostly dealing with a creative like anytime you put that initial product out there, that initial game, and you start getting a community built around it.

We were fortunate because Battle Royale and Fortnite was so big. There was a community that came in and used all the tools right away. And from the usage of those tools, we got a really solid community that was very interested in what we were doing. And they immediate, it's like as soon as you have a community, you now have people you need to serve.

And provide them with amazing tools and good experiences, and you want to keep that momentum. And that was Probably the biggest challenges is was just listening to the community, understanding what the motivations were internally for what we want to accomplish longer term and trying to balance all those factors to make sure that we could keep the community engaged while we were building for that longer term vision.

And so some of the. Some of the key signals were forums, we spent a lot of time with Reddit, Discord a lot of interviews that we had with creators if Birdo had been there at the beginning like I would have talked to him within probably 24 hours of his map launching like I talked with creators, like as soon as we launched, I was talking with creators on a weekly basis.

And tracking down people doing cool stuff and seeing how we could support them and what we could do better for them. So that was a huge signal. And then there was data signals as far as the number of hours people were creating the types of games that they, that people were creating that we looked pretty closely at.

And then just internally, it's like, how did we feel about the product and what were the things that we were excited to enable and the different game, different types of games that we thought would resonate within Fortnite. And a lot of people to do cool stuff.

David: That's super interesting.

I'm curious about the sort of engagement side because I took a look at Fall Guys creative construction when that came out and it seemed like there wasn't a ton of engagement in UGC content from a player perspective but they've continued to invest in it and it did make me wonder I wonder how much of this is just, for that small segment of players who are creatively inclined.

Does it radically increase their engagement because now they can do more than just play they can also be creative And there's that is that engagement worthwhile just in and of itself.

Zak: Look, I think so I think the so one any time part of for tonight creative in some ways and a lot of these games in my mind is like you have a game that somebody loves and they love deeply and they're playing it a lot and giving them Some way to engage deeper with that product, whether it's to, whether it's monetization opportunities, things to spend money on that allow them to show their love of that product or a new way for them to spend time with that with a game, I think is incredibly important and creative ends up being a unlimited.

It's like an infinite amount of time. Like you can spend as long and as deep as you want in crafting and manipulating something to, to your heart's desire. And so, um, anytime that. That you can provide a depth of space in that way. I think it, it really deepens the opportunity for someone that wants to be creative to then spend a lot of time with your game.

From a lot of the things I've seen within the communities, whether you look at like Garry's Mod portions of Roblox, but I think Garry's Mod is actually probably a better example. But Minecraft like people spend large amounts of time in those modes. We saw the same thing within 4i Creative, like once.

Once that was accessible, there were people that were very dedicated to that mode and they'd spend more time in that mode than they would necessarily playing Battle Royale. It's not necessarily a large percentage of the audience. But I think it's a big enough percentage that if you if a developer can provide a creative experience, I think it's worth doing especially if they can find ways to facilitate those experiences, then getting reintroduced back to the community.

So I think, I mean, like the classic Warcraft 3 mod tools or, game experiences are a perfect example. Even StarCraft if you talk to people that play StarCraft Arcade they're, they love StarCraft Arcade. They're so deeply invested in that tool and that space and, but it's a small community it's niche.

It's like, you have to find somebody, but then once you start talking to them, they will go on for hours about how the, either they've created something or the games that they played within that within that ecosystem. It's super interesting.

David: I mean, I know you're probably not at liberty to say the numbers, but just as a rule of thumb, it seems to be that like 1 percent of total of your total player base ends up being your creator base on a UGC platform.

Zak: I would say that it's probably, I think I think from the things I've seen, it's a little different. Like I think 1 percent ends up being like the tip of the spear. Like those are the people that. Other people end up seeing and end up getting creating content that a lot of people consume. I think that 1 percent is a generally A good number when you've created tools that allow people to express play with each other.

And so it's more like a sandbox environment where people can go play with their friends without a goal of creating something that somebody else consumes. The numbers are significantly bigger interesting.

David: I wonder if since. It's gone from Fortnite Creative 1. 0 to UESN. Yes, the number of casual creators has actually decreased because the barrier to entry has grown with all of the capabilities that have been introduced.

Going back to sort of that trilemma problem.

Zak: Yeah, I think any time you deepen the amount of skill that's necessary to use the tools, you're going to get a smaller and smaller audience that ends up using those tools to be able to do something interesting. Like it's just, that's just it's just going to happen.

And the, I think the key with Fortnite is that it's such a massive audience that even if it's one out of 10 million does a phenomenal thing like Birdo, it's going to make a huge difference to the overall. Experience of all those other players inside of fortnight. And so, so that's where it's like the Birdo example is exactly what.

Everything was, everything from the start was counting on Birdo. But it's pretty much it's that's where we were. It's like, we, we knew a Birdo existed in the world. We weren't sure who they were, where they were at, what they were doing, but we knew if we built the tools and allowed enough expression.

That eventually the, Birdo would appear, he would make something really interesting, develop, put a ton of time into it, love it to death, his love and passion would show through those tools into gameplay that then would engage that bigger audience

David: I think this is a perfect time to sort of transition over to birdo and ask him a bit about his experience on uesn i'm curious, you know just to level set You know, we've been talking about the difference between uesn unreal editor for fortnite and fornite creative 1.0 Birdo, can you just give us a quick breakdown of what this introduced so that this came into being last year in march epic made a big You announcement at GDC that they were unlocking a ton of creative potential for creators on their platform through tools that integrated Unreal Engine and Fortnite Creative.

What did that actually look like in terms of the tools available and what was now possible with that introduction?

Birdo: Yeah, no, when they introduced UEFN looking at Unreal Engine, when people use that, it seems so daunting, but UEFN, this is a good thing. It felt like a dumbed down version of Unreal Engine, which kind of, it's like a simplified version, so anyone could use, and it was like, so easy.

There's a ctrl z, there's an undo, there's lots of tools, you can use coding but in your first point, too in the last point, you said that I also saw a lot of creators complain they couldn't adapt from Creative 1. 0 to this. I still see creators they don't, they aren't like me, instead of using UEFN, they'll use Creative 1.0 as much, and then UEFN as little as possible, because they are struggling to adapt, and also they don't like using code, but that's how I see it. I don't know if that answers your question.

David: For you as a technical creator, was it difficult for you to sort of onboard to, to diverse scripting language?

Birdo: No, not at all. It's really simple APIs. Everything's there, all the documentation. But I for me with the coding background, I think it's really simple. And I think anyone with a coding background could pick that up. I think the real learning curve, like my friends, they're like, oh, can we get into UEFN?

Can we do this? Like the real learning curve is playing fortnight and I played fortnight every day for five years. So like how you use these devices, how you use the item games or how you use these mutator zones. That's something that you like have to be playing fortnight and be in the creative space to understand like what these devices can actually do to their most potential.

Because other, but other than that, it's like very simple APIs in theory.

David: Yeah we, we talked about on this podcast before just the importance of having people who are native to the platform building, you see a lot of. Non native, either professionalized game developers or agencies trying to come onto the platform thinking that they can compete with kids and make better games.

But ultimately I think being the target audience yourself is really helpful in making sure you're designing things that people actually want to play.

Birdo: I'd say that's one of the biggest success factors for me and my partner Dag is we literally just play every day. So it's like, when we think something's fun, it's probably fun for everyone else.

Like it's, and like you said, there's so many big studios. I came in, thought they were going to make a big scene and like their trailers, everything looks amazing. Like I've never seen that. Wow. You like, look up like this is super cool. Okay. I'm leaving right when you go in their game. This isn't fun.

Yeah, it's. It's happened many times yeah.

David: So I think, given that you have that perspective, I would love for you to just take us through your creative process from the seed of an idea all the way to live operations of a successful game. What did that look like for you?

Birdo: Yeah so for, I guess I'll just go with our minigame example. We were making some maps and then there's a big trend on box PVPs and superpowers. So we were And um, and at the same time they also took away LTMs, which is like to build up creative, so people wouldn't play the LTMs creative.

And then we're like, we want to bring LTMs back. And then, so we were like, alright, let's do LTMs on a round system. Whatfor and I had OneShot. I'm sorry, Blitz were some more catch some really popular LTMs. And then we realized there's only like, 12 really fun ones in theory.

We're like, alright, let's make our own LTMs. And that's where the minigame idea is. And then, at the same time when we thought of that, we're like, wait, this is genius, because we're not limited to a set of anything, we can literally just make a new minigame every week. And then we're like, why hasn't anyone done this?

And then right when I thought of that, I was like, alright, I gotta work on this, and I spent Two all nighters like or three and just like I need to push this out. It turned out both our videos blew up and that's another important thing is like me and my partners channels We got five million followers total or something.

So that's another key success is just showing it to an audience and That's uh, that's how we came With that idea,

David: Yeah, and I, having an established audience, you can see in the way that Epic incentivizes their payouts or structures the their calculation for how payouts are distributed.

Bringing new players to the platform is one of their key bits of the formula. I think a big part of that is incentivizing creators like yourself to show their Fortnite maps to audiences who may not already be playing Fortnite or have lapsed. And so I'm sure, you're probably benefiting from not just having a large audience, but also having a large audience that is reengaging in fortnight.

I'm curious like, you know, It's possible to be a solo developer, but who are some of the people or the roles that you rely on most in order to, keep your game updated on a day to day basis?

Birdo: I work with another developer from France, so a lot of pair programming with him. There's I guess this is a negative thing, but there's a lot of like, weird bugs in UEFN that like, you would never, ever figure out.

There'd probably be almost like some, they have to go like through so many weird solutions to figure it, like to fix stuff that like are buggy. That you need to like be in the group of like, uh, developers that literally make games to figure out these bugs. So that's actually the key thing.

So it's cause the other day, I'm like, Hey, I keep getting a black screen. Like every time I like turn on this camera and they're like, Oh, you have to do these four steps. I was like, how would you figure this out? So like, that's, Been the, one of the best things as a developer is like having a network of other developers that go through the same problem as you and vice versa.

I was like, Oh, you fix this by the, and it's not it's not intuitive. It doesn't make any sense, but like, that's really helped me and like, keep my game like when there's like lots of random like, um, I can give one good example, one, one time Fortnite updated them, updated, and then it broke broke Brown systems.

And so when. A game ended on a round, it would go like 3, 2, 1, and then it would just, it wouldn't end, it would just stay there. I was like, hey, has anyone dealt with this? And then Dilly one of the most popular app creators just messaged me like, hey, just take away the 3, 2, 1. And it was a bad, it was like, it was a weird solution, but it worked.

And it was like stuff like that, that's helped me the most. And then for other teams, I guess they would have a graphic designer. That's something I'm not using too much of my map, no custom assets, nothing like that. Or a 3D modeler. And, yeah, someone that's usually good with UIs, that's usually what they specialize in, but maybe someone can be good at programming and UI, but I think those are the main roles.

David: So you're self sufficient, it sounds like. You're, you're developing your own games with your partner and you're promoting those games through your own channels and you don't have a high reliance on custom assets, it is really just you two at this point.

Birdo: Yeah, at this point.

But we do, for the custom assets, that's like where we want to expand on and making it a full fledged thing. Things I'm not good at is UI and those custom assets, so we're looking on to bring people to do that part. But it's definitely the It's not like the top importance, like we want to make the most fun minigames at the end of the day, that's what's going to draw the most people, like keeping that system, right now we're like every week or two weeks we make a new minigame and that's like the most important thing is to make something fun, but that'd be nice at the end of the day to have those cosmetics and stuff, but it's on the back burner right now to find someone to do that.

David: Got it. And I think, you know, one of the, the other, we talked about accessibility, if you're a new, if you're new to UEFN, if you're new to even coding, and you're getting these errors, and you're not really sure, did I do something wrong, or is this issue with the platform, that can add to the frustration, I think, I think Birdo, you have the benefit of sort of knowing okay, I did everything right here, something, my code is working properly, but there's, I'm still getting this error, there must be, an error with the system, and I need to go find a workaround.

Going back to that sort of accessibility conversation, I can see that being a real roadblock for folks who are new to the platform. Yeah,

Birdo: 100%.

David: How important is community management to, to your success in terms of getting players to come back to your game?

Birdo: At this moment, we're actually seeing it less, but at the beginning, it was crucial.

To get your map the first two weeks on Discover are, like, very key. And having Promotion, having a channels, probably 50 percent of it, like some people make really cool games that don't even go past 10 players. For us, for minigame, like we, I think in the first hour of our videos being posted, we were at like 3, 000 players.

So it's like very crucial at the beginning. But not, now now that our map's established as much, it's not as important. Like we still have a Discord, we still are doing updates, we're still making videos. But The value definitely I think we could actually sustain without making video if we delete our Discord.

At this point it would still maintain for a while. I'm not saying forever, but for a pretty long time. I'd say after the first month it's like, integral crucial.

David: So you've got Discord, you've got YouTube I think you mentioned that you're also on TikTok. And when you look at, sort of, those As your sort of lovers, which are the most critical, which are driving most players to your games today?

Birdo: TikTok and shorts I'd say TikTok is better at the beginning because you can get a spike in views on TikTok which is you know you can get a million view video in like less than three hours realistically if it's the right video and what we look at as a good measurement of how engaging the videos is bookmarks because they bookmark it.

They're probably gonna go back So the first video I made got like 120, 000 bookmarks in a day and the second video another 100, 000 and the third another episode. So it's like people like, We're coming back to that. And then shorts is also really good. It's not as a powerful of like instant velocity, but shorts is really strong and constantly bringing people in because shorts, if your YouTube channel is good, like dags, mine is not as good as dags, but is, we'll constantly get views.

So it's constantly bringing in people. My Tik Tok has a, like at a certain point, maybe after like two days, zero more views, which is fine. Like I gave it, but that's crazy velocity. So those are the pros and cons. And I. I guess if I were to say what's better for most people, it'd be like having a viral TikTok, so viral short in that sense, because that velocity is so key into breaking through at the beginning and getting on trending, and then putting it into the Discover algorithm.

Discord, we mainly use it as a key to talk to our community and bug fixes, and maybe suggestions on mini games, but it's been very helpful. The most thing is for 99 percent of bugs, like you get videos of it, stuff that we've never seen, so that's where we use Discord. It's been really helpful in that sense.

David: Got it. So Discord isn't so much of an acquisition or retention lever but it is good for, just having a line into your community and hearing any problems that come up.

Birdo: Yeah, feedback

David: Feedback, exactly. That's super interesting. And I'm curious just on, you said that you don't have you don't feel like you need to do as much marketing at this point through TikTok and YouTube.

What are you seeing in the data that's telling you that it's not as necessary as it used to be?

Birdo: Yeah one is our TikToks and Shorts aren't as popular. They weren't like, they're not getting millions of views beforehand. So they're less interested, like maybe they just know the map or they know what's coming.

They're already playing it. So our TikToks haven't gone as viral as our first four or five. So we're seeing that, but we're not seeing like our players dipping down or anything. And then we've also there was a lieu of just not like you didn't, you did a huge update. So we didn't update the map and we didn't make any videos for two weeks and nothing really changed.

Bathing, it's still what had highs too. And we just don't see any we're seeing a very consistent pattern of following the player count. That's pretty much why.

David: One other thing we've heard is that the thumbnail is critical to the success of a game. And it's something that we've seen both on Fortnite and Roblox.

And, I'm curious, do, A, is that the keep in your experience, Birdo, and B Sag and Birdo, do you guys have a perspective on why thumbnail is so important? Like why this would be prioritized?

Birdo: Yeah, definitely. I think it's just like YouTube. It's just your first instinct is what colors is also extremely important your eye will catch on to something that's more colorful or saturated, like the colors. Definitely key because they have so many, there's so many things on your screen. I think there's 20 icons. To be a differentiator is crucial.

And also not to make it like, too complicated, not make sure the text is readable. Yeah, no, I think it's just like YouTube, where it's, it's, it's like 50 percent of getting the player in. And that's what you need. But yeah.

Zak: Yeah, I think that's my, that's the same experience I've had it's very much it's basically the door, it's the conversion, it's the first, it's the first funnel step, which is, can you convert them from somebody that's looking through discovery to choosing to play your game?

Currently we don't get metrics on that, through, through Epic systems. So we don't know how well a thumbnail performs, but it's very easy to look at the games overall and see where certain games are. It's a good game, but just poorly marketed and just doesn't do well versus a game that's really well marketed.

Really not a good game actually can do really well. And and so you see all those examples and then you get the example of good thumbnail and good game. That's where, that's where the magic starts to really happen.

David: The part that is a bit puzzling to me is like if I were designing a UGC game platform, I would want to make sure that I elevated the ones That were the best games based off of engagement and retention and not the thing that was the most, clickable thumbnail.

So I'm just trying to process like clearly the algorithm is favoring and not in on all platforms right on YouTube, on. The algorithm is favoring things with a high click through rate. But if it has totally poor engagement, it still might do really well. And that, to me, seems counterintuitive to what the platform's goals are in terms of, getting people into content they enjoy.

Birdo: Yeah, I think MrBeast brought this up one time. It's like, the thumbnail is so important because once they're clicked they're almost invested. I'd say, for me, if I go into a map, I'm gonna give it my five minutes. And that's more than five minutes on any other map with a bad thumbnail, so that's how they view it.

And, actually, I forgot about these points that are like that just even prove how important a thumbnail is. There used to be maps that literally put like, fake items like, that weren't going to be in the game, and they just shot straight to the top. They don't even have the, they don't even have that item in the game.

It's literally just, A fake item at the start, like the Zapatron, you cannot put that in creative. And maybe they had a fake Zapatron on the map or like a picture of it that wasn't actually there, but like they would still play that map and it got, probably good play time. Cause they probably just like they're in the map and then there's fighting.

So they don't even think about it. They're just going to start going and shooting. So that's yeah, it's just another example of how thumbnails are just so powerful.

Zak: Yeah. And I think that, I think the challenge, I think part of the challenge too, is Like you like epic smart and they're trying to figure out how to do this really well youtube youtube smart yeah, like all these companies are employing really smart talented people Trying to figure out that exact question that you just asked david And you know that you just said it's like which is like hey, don't we want people in engaging content not content?

That's necessarily well marketed and I think the challenge is that Most of these systems have some feedback loop on, on number of people that have engaged with that piece of content. So within Fortnite, we have CCU, and that's a really prominent number with pretty much no other gauge of quality from a visual perspective inside of Discover.

And so really good marketing can inflate your CCU, which then creates a snowball effect within a discover algorithm to further push that for more people to see, they see a high CCU plus good marketing, they'll be like, oh, there must be something good in this map. And then once there's some time spent there, it's hard to discern just from a back end perspective of is that engagement because of good marketing or is that engagement because of good gameplay?

Either way, it ends up being in. It ends up being quote unquote engagement. What I will say is that over probably over the course of the last nine months, though, As epic and fortnight have evolved this I think we've seen more and more Good games rise to the top and as those good games rise they'll take a little bit more of that space.

It'll be harder for Some of this stuff that's just marketing to be able to break into it I think it'll require good marketing from a thumbnail perspective. It'll require tic tac o cryer external promotion And then it'll require a good game and so and we'll see that competition Increase the overall quality of the experiences, along with changes that I think Fortnite will continue to make in relationship to that algorithm trying to choose better content.

David: Awesome. I think this is a good time to sort of transition to talking about UEFN tooling a bit. One of the things that, Zak, you just said is the quality of content, the type of content is going to change over time. Birdo, I'm curious on your end, do you view all the every time there's a new tooling update that unlocks a new capability, do you view this as a potential threat of there's new content that could be made to, to displace you or do you get excited about it in terms of how you can incorporate that into a minigame box PvP?

Birdo: More the latter. I don't I guess so far, I don't want to jinx it, but there have been, like, lots of people that have copied the map literally copies in a different form, and. We've sustained a lot of coffee, so I'm less scared of that as long as we stay ahead, and I get excited, because, like, when there's a new tool, it's okay, how can we use that and make it fu in a fun minigame, which is even better, because a lot of maps can't do that, they can't use the camera tool There makes no sense in their map.

But for us, because we can condense it to one two minute game if it fails, but if it's fine if it works, it's great. I get excited, personally, for my map.

David: That's great. I mean, you know, You see a lot in UGC, people taking what already exists and making one slight innovation, and taking market from, the original creator.

But I'm curious when you think about pushing these updates as new tools come out. Is it, like, how fast do you have to move in order to stay ahead and make sure that your map continues to be the best mini game box PvP map?

Birdo: I guess from that perspective it's just If we can use the tool to make a fun gaming game, we will.

If we don't just keep focusing on making the best games like, that's how we're going to stay ahead, is we're just going to constantly make fun games. We're not going to look at other people's maps, we're going to try to be the driver in the space. I have seen, I've never been in a lot of people do go in other people's maps to learn, but I don't want to learn about their stuff.

I don't want, I just want to make stuff that's my idea, what I think is fun. So I want to be the driver. I don't really want to copy anyone. So that's how I think about it. If I can use the tool, if not, great, but I'm just going to make next week. I'm going to make a super fun mini game.

That's my goal. Constantly. Yeah. Some people do go in others map and learn and iterate off that, but I don't like to do that.

David: What um, are there features on the horizon that you're excited about?

Birdo: The biggest feature from GDC that they were talking about. I guess the biggest trouble for a lot of Fortnite devs and a lot of the map creators is like each update something breaks, no matter what, something's gonna break.

And there's three instances that it completely broke our map, set us straight to zero, pretty much. So like, Um, at GC they were talking about a versioning, so when they release a new update, your map won't be on that version, it'll be on a previous version, and then you have to migrate eventually to the new one, but you don't have to do it immediately on that update, so it'll just be in a previous state, which sounds amazing, that'd solve all those problems, so like, when we are ready to move to that update, or we know that mutator zones are bugged, Like that we can adapt and then go to the new one and add the new features, whatever they add.

So that's when I'm like, that's from GDC when I was like, Oh my gosh, yes, our map will never go straight to zero on update day. And I don't have to be up at 2 a. m. Like panicking.

David: I've actually heard from a couple of creators of their maps breaking with updates and in some cases, them not being able to get their audience back, which I can't imagine the frustration that would be.

That one wouldn't feel if that happened.

Birdo: Yeah, no, that's definitely a mental thing too it goes straight to zero, and like, in our both those instances where our map broke other top maps weren't breaking because they're not on a round system the top maps hit Crazy Red, they're not on a round system.

So it wasn't messing up theirs or they didn't use as many mutator zones where it wasn't crucial to their game. So like it could sustain and for the maps that were, they got super punished and like they didn't go back to their exact spot. But I can imagine if your map isn't in one of the top 20, it might, it would be even harder to bring back that audience.

Like you just lost like the person that wanted to go to your map and it's Oh, it's yeah. So it's even harder. So what you said, a lot of people probably couldn't even bring back their momentum. After that, it's pretty disastrous.

David: Zak, when you take a look at this space, are there any features that you think are particularly critical?

Zak: The things I'm, like, the things I'm excited about are things that start facilitating making your own weapons doing your own collision things that, that really facilitate more gameplay aspects and being able to create more gameplay elements, With the systems that exist, interact with them.

So like on the roadmap, I know there's like the scene graph work that Epic's currently working on. I think it's going to be huge. As well as like Just the scene graph.

David: I've seen a lot of excitement about it, but I don't quite follow.

Zak: Yeah, I think it's more just a, probably the best way to think about it, it's more just facilitating a way to get to fundamental building blocks.

And to create, prefab, new prefab elements that include different components, like a collision system. And so So it's goes back down to it's like we're like four nights like for the creative and you EFN are working their way from the top down, which is like, Oh, what a battle royale can we open up to people to be able to modify and use and so so that's it's going top down and so scene graph is like one of the first things getting able that's like in this middle kind of lower middle area where it's like a kind of like a it's almost like it's almost like the equivalent of coding in some way it's like verse script only for data.

And so now it's Oh, now I can really author data in a way that the engine understands and really facilitates the kind of like the way that fortnight operates. And so now those components work together. So you get like itemization will come at will come part of. Part of probably will come out of some of the scene graph work because those things have to go together to be able to package how an item appears in the world, like what happens when you drop it out of your inventory and so a lot of those pieces that are just really difficult to allow creators to use until you've done something really fundamental like that.

David: Cool. And so I'd love to zoom out and look at it, look at the platform perspective. We talked about sort of the need to build something that the audience wants. And right now the audience wants things that are sort of Battle Royale adjacent. But lego did launch lego fortnite I think one of the reasons they did that was not just to re engage the community But also to try and draw in a new audience and that new audience had the potential to spur Demand for things that were outside of the shooter genre.

However, we saw Even today, it's still 90 percent shooter content even when you exclude epics games themselves So people are still primarily engaging in shooter content, I'm curious, you know for either of you, you know What do you think epic needs to do in order to change what's popular on fortnite in order to grow that audience?

Birdo: I guess I can take a stab at it first. For me, I guess I am in that demographic. I have no interest in playing tycoons personally. Some of them are really fun though. Like I could see they're really good qualities. Like I actually avoid it cause they're too addicting, like YouTuber tycoon. I was like, I want to see what happens when you get a hundred million subs, but I was like playing it for an hour and I was like, and it's the, they got like the nice popping noise when you get a sub and it's like really It just makes you want to keep playing.

But for me as a fortnight player, like no UFN, like I just want to play combat games. That's what I get on fortnight for at the other days to do build fights, to play box fights VR, like that's what I get on. So I think it's more like an overtime kind of thing. You have to grow a new audience and I think it's slowly, it's.

In my eyes, it won't be there for another year or two till you, till we get like those growing audiences. Cause the only real game I play that isn't a fighting game is sometimes I'll play Guess Who with a friend. But like, realistically I am that demographic. So I understand, like, I'm probably never going to be playing those maps.

So it's we have to, like what you said earlier is generate this new audience from videos and stuff. And I think it'll be a slow process, but I think in two or three years, we'll see like tower defense games being really popular. Traditional things that we have not that people have made right now, but we'll probably do better in two or three years down the road.

That's how I view it.

Zak: I think this is like the quandary of kind of all instantiated audiences, like an audience creates momentum that wants certain things. Your discovery and your feedback systems tend to facilitate that audience finding the things that they're interested in. Which then doubles down into those things being popular, which then doubles down into bringing more people into that same audience.

And I think the, there's multi pronged challenge. It's everything from how do you reward things that are not shooters and how do you ensure that they have space within the platform? It's making sure that they have all the tools that are necessary to make the things that are not shooters feel good.

Part of the reason that shooters are so popular within Fortnite is because Fortnite is functionally a shooter. And so shooting feels really good. Building feels awesome. Those are really ingrained things. The way your character moves in relationship to those activities. Works really well.

Your character navigating up, through up walls and through other things has been something really recent that Fortnite has done to try to broaden the types of experiences that can be played. And they, and just even the mantling elements have made platforming a much more accessible thing within the space.

So what will need to happen over time is that, that the tools will need to get more robust. The, there'll need to be spaces for those audiences to exist and find the content that they want to play. And there's going to need to be incentives of some type for developers to want to build those experiences inside of Fortnite to be able to try to engender creating and allowing those audiences to grow.

I think what Birdo said that was also spot on, which is once you put those ingredients together, it's still going to take time. You're relying on some amount of friend to friend growth that'll take time to grow. And the other realization is there's a lot of people in the world that have made a.

Kind of an arbitrary decision about whether or not Fortnite is something that's right for them or not. And so there's some number of people that don't even know what Fortnite is about, other than they don't want to play a free to play game. And so I've just opted out just independently. And trying to figure out how do you, so that last piece of this is like, how does Epic or even creators like Birdo, how do we create more opportunities, reconsideration events?

That allowed people to look at and go, Oh, I didn't know Fortnite was about that. I will go give that a try. And I think Lego is a great example that showed a lot of promise. And continues to show a lot of promise in allowing people to have those reconsideration events about re rethinking their mind, Oh, Fortnite's more than just about Royale.

Birdo: Yeah, exactly what Zak said is my brother and my fan, or brother and his friends they're like, Oh, so you just play the BR today. I was like, no, cause I knew back then they love guitar hero. So I was like, no, Fortnite is it's everything. So I showed them festival. They're like, wait, this is amazing.

Like we're flying as like Peter Griffin on, like festival is isn't this, they were like they downloaded they had no idea if festival was a thing. Cause in their mind, that preconceived notion. Fortnite. Is the BR, like that's all it is. They don't even know creative, they don't even know anything about UEFN.

That's probably the majority of everyone outside of the Fortnite space. That's what they picture is like that BR, like shooting experience. I think over time, yeah, hopefully building up that knowledge, but That's what it is at right now.

David: That's super interesting. I think a couple points that stand out to me are, you know, Zak, one, the point that the game sort of priorit or, Epic has prioritized making certain things feel really good and that is what content you see doing the best.

So shooter, mantling Hobbies was the second, the next most popular type of game genre that we saw after Shooters and that's because in part it sounds like Fortnite does such a good job of movement mechanics and animation, so those all feel really good to play. I think that's something I hadn't considered.

It's not just about, growing the audience. It's also about growing the tool set. And allowing for these new types of games to feel really good just from a gameplay perspective. So we'll be really interesting to see you know We saw I think lego didn't have as much of an impact as I had hoped it would But maybe these things take time and you know repeated instances of it's more than just battle royale We'll finally drive home to non shooter players that this is a place for them as well one of the things that You What is big news was Fortnite returning to mobile in Europe.

I think this is, mobile is obviously a massive potential audience. I'm curious what you guys think will happen when Fortnite, returns to mobile. Will we see, something similar to Roblox where you have 80 percent of engagement happening on mobile or what type of numbers are we expecting to see there?

Birdo: I don't know about the data, but I do know the most, at least two years ago, the most it was like significant is the most played portion of four nights on console is for an Xbox. So that's actually a lot of our games is we cater it. Like we don't want it to be feel too good on mouse and keyboard, like no advantage on mouse and keyboard.

Like we do try to make it. Good for control. Like There is one game that you could like aim crazy with the mouse and keyboard and be easier. And we scrapped that because it was like, it didn't feel good on controller. So we actually, for our games we actually targeted towards console. I don't know if that's still the case, but I think that's mainly going to always be like that.

Cause I remember when they did the numbers, it was like significant, like console was the uh, it was the biggest audience, but I could have changed.

Zak: I think the I think it was, we get into mobile. Mobile is a big, I mean, just having accessibility to be able to play at any point you want, even if you're a console player or PC player, there may be times where you're at a friend's house or you're doing something where, you know, playing on mobile is the way that you can play.

So I think there's I think the key things for Fortnite is that, that they've really prioritized cross play, and the ability for you to be able to easily just jump in and play with your friends, regardless of what device you're on, and not having mobile specifically iOS, not having that as a space where you can play Fortnite is really limited, Some of the advantages of that cross play system specifically over cellular networks, right?

It's it's just the overall accessibility of that. So I think it's huge. I, like, there's a big audience there. And I think we will see a lift in players. Big that lift is I don't know. I think it probably depends upon , is it on iOS?

How easy is it for people to get into that marketplace? How easy is it for people to download? Good. Currently Fortnite's available on Android phones, which is, huge in Europe but the accessibility, the ease of which you get the Epic Games launcher, download it to your Android device, install Fortnite, there's just a lot of, there's just a lot of warnings between you and playing that game on your mobile device at the moment which really prevents the audience from converting.

David: That makes sense. So it sounds like we're bullish on it, increasing engagement with the existing audience, but maybe not unlocking. A ton of new users who don't have consoles and only have access via a tablet.

Birdo: Yeah, I hope I'm wrong. And I hope it becomes like Roblox where like a huge surplus audience comes in.

But I don't, yeah, that's how I view it, what you said.

Zak: I think there may be a lot of people that play Roblox right now that would play Fortnite if it was available on mobile. And so I think that audience, I think we could see that audience show up. Most likely because they have friends that are playing Fortnite, but just don't have a way to play it otherwise.

David: Alright, so we might see some more competition between Roblox and Fortnite as a result of of mobile accessibility. On that note, I'm curious, do you guys think that there will be another UGC game platform as significant as Fortnite and Roblox, or is it always just going to become, be these two UGC game behemoths competing?

Birdo: I guess I don't know too much about other spaces and stuff. I just know Fortnite is such a huge game that I can't imagine another game could build a UGC experience like that with the audience, pre made audience alike. That's this big like I can't imagine like even if Call of Duty had something with a huge like it's not even gonna come close to Fortnite so like I, I can't imagine it and but I don't know too much about the space because like I'm, I've just been playing Fortnite like I only play Fortnite so like I'm just, it's like a kind of outside in perspective like I don't think I have the best knowledge but for me, I don't think it's gonna happen for a long time.

Zak: I think it's tough like I think, So I think there's two different questions that you have in there, David, which is I think one question is do we think that there will be another game that's as big as Fortnite and or, or as big as, as big as Roblox? And the answer is yes.

I think there will be some game at some point in the next 10 to 10 years that ends up being as big, that captures the cultural moment in a unique way and gets a lot of people to come in. Now, will that game have a UGC space? I don't think so. I think it's really hard to build a UGC game and to build a really good game that also captures this cultural moment.

It's just like, building a hit game is just hard, period. Putting UGC on top of it is really difficult. Fortnite was like a, a best case scenario. The way Fortnite was built really enabled it, allowed it to be enabled by UGC. Like the destruction and the way the pieces existed in the engine, the basically the whole way the game was architected really facilitated this creative space.

Roadblocks on the other hand has had, 18, 17, 18 years of gross, and they really hit it during the pandemic and but that's, it's taken a long time for them to get as big as they are now. I don't see, I don't see anyone on the horizon right now. Like in any space, even with huge audiences, you know, Facebook, with with metal world, was it metal worlds?

Anyways, but like even I don't see anybody that has a big enough audience that also is interested in playing the game that's built by them to be able to convert in. I do think something will supplant it. Will supplant both of these within the next 10 years.

But it's hard to predict what it will look like. My, my guess is it will most likely be strongly AI enabled in some way. Like it's, and it's not, there's an accessibility piece there. But it's also, but in my mind, it's more about facilitating the speed of development between the idea and getting something to play.

And so I think something like that will pop up, but I think it'll be, I think it'll, I think it's going to surprise us when it does. So it'll be something that just comes out of nowhere.

David: Awesome. I want to move towards wrap up, but before we do that, just curious what is in store for you guys?

Let's say you hopped into a real life rift and emerged three years from now with a bunker Jonesy beard. How would developing for Fortnite have changed, and how would your roles as leaders in this space have evolved?

Birdo: For me I did start like an S Corp business with DAG, so we want to expand, make more maps, have under our name.

So in three years, ideally we'd have this one, and we'd have a couple more. I can't imagine it doing better than this one, but that'd be great. But like four or five that has like, we have our solid audience, and I guess that's how I envision the future. Me in three years and also I wouldn't be a developer.

I'd more be like A senior engineer where I don't actually have to do the code. I just review people's code you don't want to be ceo. You just want to be senior engineer of your company honestly, I don't i've been in like so many meetings the past months that like I don't think I, I don't think I want to do that.

Don't do it. Hire me. Alright. Yeah, so many, there's so many marketing meetings, like going back and forth and it's I just want to make cool things. Like I really don't care about this it's some of these, I do care. Obviously I do care. It's just. It's not what I'm passionate about, like going through these meetings and like talking about like designing, let's say we're making a new, uh, pregame lobby.

Like I, I could, I just want to make some fun mini games, like test, like touch my brain like, but it's obviously a very crucial part of our map, but that's the stuff I'm not interested. I just want to make cool stuff. It's I don't think I'm like that marketing, the brand stuff, all that, those meetings, like they don't interest me.

Yeah. I can't imagine myself wanting to do that in three years, unless I have to.

David: I think that this is a struggle that many entrepreneurs have is, when their, as their company grows, they find themselves doing things that weren't why they got started in the first place. So I'm hopeful that you'll be able to figure it out and make sure you keep doing what you love.

And I'm curious, Zak, on your side, what's what does three years from now look like for you besides the long beard?

Zak: I think I think at the moment it's probably Some combination of either having in hand this this UGC platform that disrupts everybody else. I would love to find a way to find someone to work on that with and figure that out because I, I think there's a lot of opportunity to facilitate human imagination and interactive experiences.

And I don't even think we've seen. We've even seen the start of what that even looks like yet. It's really early days for, I feel like we're using these really old, weird cameras that you see from the, the 1800s or whatever. It's like that's not, we're very early on in, in this state of the art when it comes to building experiences.

And on the other side of that coin, I think it's, for me at the moment I'm spending a lot of time with creators and, Really helping to see if I can facilitate their vision and what they want to do within fortnight or roblox or any of these other spaces and spending even more time trying to understand the social media space, stuff where Birdo is coming from.

I think I think a huge part of this is building huge part of being successful with anything is building audiences. I'm excited about like the combination of all those spaces. And so three years from now, I'm hoping to have a whole lot of tools under my tool belt and experience in all those things.

David: And for listeners who want to follow you guys going forward, what's the best way for them to do that?

Birdo: For me, either my TikTok is where you can watch the videos that I use. So that's Birdo TV. And then more for the minigame updates and like personal stuff. I'd say the better one is Twitter, which is Birdo bro.

Zak: Yeah. I was debating on whether or not you're going to say expert, or you're going to say Twitter. And then, yeah. And then for me, it's probably, it's actually probably my LinkedIn, which is, just under Zak Phelps and then and then also on Twitter at ZookeeperZak.

David: Awesome. Zak and Birdo, thank you guys so much for joining. This has been an awesome conversation. I think the audience learned a lot about building UGC game platforms or being successful on them. Thanks so much for joining.

Birdo: Thank you for having me.

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