Fortnite's battle royale mode was cooked up in the back of an Uber in 'like, three hours'

Midas raises his golden hand imposingly in Fortnite: Battle Royale.
(Image credit: Epic Games)

Fortnite—or, specifically, Fortnite: Battle Royale—is inescapable. It is a titan with the gravitational pull of the sun, dragging in characters from dozens of IPs to brawl for their chicken dinners. It's kind of beautiful, in a cosmic horror, grey goo sort of way—Aang can kamehameha Peter Griffin and hit the griddy, after all.

Before its battle royale mode changed the landscape, however, Fortnite was a humble co-op game with some building elements. Considering how much more relevant it is in a post-battle royale mode, you'd be forgiven for thinking its transition was a masterstroke of marketing genius. Turns out, it was cooked up in the back of an Uber.

As reported in an interview with Game File (thanks, Kotaku), the game's former CCO Donald Mustard reveals that the plan to go battle royale was decided on very suddenly off the back of PUBG runaway success in 2017.

"The four of us were in the back of an Uber in California," Mustard says, describing a car ride with Tim Sweeney, Paul Meegan, and Kim Libreri. Mustard reveals that: "in that car, we decided. We’re like: 'We’re doing it, we’re going to re-task the team, we’re going to put it in Fortnite, we’re going to make a battle royale.'"

Considering how many studios would try—and fail—to make a battle royale mode in the years that followed, it's oddly reassuring to hear that Fortnite's own take was also ad-hoc. Mustard says he and his team had "like, three hours" to come up with a design document, which he started work on right there in the back of the car: "A school bus is going by us in traffic, and I’m like: Players are going to be on a bus in the sky and we’re going to jump out of it."

Yes, major design elements for one of the decade's most popular games were chosen via the design equivalent of I-spy. And no-one can deny it worked. 

Fortnite managed to buy-in to the battle royale gold rush in a way that saw it overtake PUBG—and now it's doing extensive partnerships with Lego. It's also become a user creation platform ala Roblox, concerning opinions on lowering age barriers notwithstanding.

Anyway, the next time you're worried that you aren't good enough to do X, Y, or Z, you can remember Fortnite's stratospheric success spawned from a design document cooked up in under three hours. Depending on your outlook, that's either inspiring, or a crushing realisation that financial and commercial success is just a roll of the dice. Your battle bus mileage may vary.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.