On the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), Fortnite is rated “T” for Teen.
This rating does a couple key things for the game that wouldn’t be possible if the game was rated “M” for Mature.
First, let’s look at the conscious decisions that led to this rating.
You will notice in Fortnite that the word “kill” never appears. When a player is taken down, they are “eliminated.” The count for eliminations is represented with the crosshair symbol. Epic was careful to not have players being killed in the game, just having them be eliminated is a small thing but goes a long way in the game’s rating.
Fantasy Art Style
Fortnite isn’t based in a fantasy world like Overwatch or League of Legends, but it also isn’t gritty and realistic like a CS:GO or Call of Duty. It exists in a sweet spot of being distinctly human but also not being set in a true war scenario.
Fortnite is considered a “blue blood” game – along with Overwatch – while CS:GO and Call of Duty are considered “red blood.” It’s no coincidence that both Overwatch and Fortnite have “T” ratings while the war simulations both have “M.”
It’s not that serious
While the game is definitely serious on Twitch, in the player base, and in the competitive prize pool, Epic has done well to keep the game light. Items like the grappler (literally a plunger) and boogie bomb add a layer of silliness among the rocket launchers and shotguns of the game.
In game events like Kevin the purple cube again keep the game cemented in the fantasy realm. All of these things combine to keep the game’s rating down in the eyes of the ESRB.
So what does the T rating bring to Fortnite?
Some games relish in their M rating. It’s a point of pride for any violent game. Just like a horror movie that is rated PG-13 just feels a little off, that is also true of many video games.
For Fortnite, they made a strategic choice and it is paying off in spades.
No barrier to entry
As everyone knows, Fortnite is free-to-play. That takes out one of the main barriers that prevent people from playing the game. Another main barrier is parents. Many have child locks on game consoles that require a password when someone tries to download a game.
Often those passwords are set for any game rated M, by keeping the game at a T rating Fortnite kept their player base incredibly wide as third graders picked up the game alongside college students. Nobody chose not to play Fortnite because of the rating, but many kids were able to pick up the game for the first time because it had that immediate stamp of parental approval.
Corporate sponsors are all in
Just today Ninja announced he is appearing a Super Bowl ad alongside football legends as part of Fortnite’s ongoing partnership with the NFL. Previously Ninja has also appeared on national ads for Samsung and partnered with companies like Great Clips.
For the game itself, Fortnite partnered with Marvel for the Thanos activation back in May of 2018. Speaking of places focused on ratings, The Avengers is rated PG-13. Like Epic, that is Marvel making a conscious decision. If Fortnite is rated Mature, that partnership may never come about.
Many companies use that red blood vs. blue blood as the line in the sand that their brand cannot cross when placing sponsorship money on gaming/esports.
By keeping their rating down, Epic was able to build the most successful video game title both in the American player base and in mainstream corporate sponsors.