Gaming sensation Fortnite recently passed 45 million players, with creators Epic Games now making around £90m a month from their addictive shooter.

In case you've missed it: Fortnite is a cartoony game with team-based co-operative missions as well as a wildly popular competitive multiplayer mode where you and 99 others fight to the death in an ever-shrinking arena.

It took over half a decade and a team of hundreds to put Fortnite together, with the game first teased in 2011 - six years before its eventual release in 2017.

And if you follow the Epic chain of command all the way to the top, you'll find some of the brightest minds in gaming, including eccentric CEO Tim Sweeney, 47, and his billionaire backer Ma Huateng, 46, - otherwise known as Pony - the richest man in China.

You've probably never heard of either of them, but without Sweeney or Pony, the incredible story of Fortnite would never have played out like it did.

Humble beginnings

Sweeney, a born geek, had been programming games since he was just 11, obsessed with the rapidly developing computing industry.

But Epic Games wasn't born until 1991, when Tim Sweeney, then a 21-year-old mechanical engineering student at the University of Maryland, released the company's first game, ZZT.

Here, among Epic's modest roots, you'll find a game which is a closer relative of your computer's notepad than a glossy title like Fortnite.

That's because Sweeney had originally started out trying to make a notepad tool, but his software ended up turning into an action-adventure puzzle game, which Sweeney released after nine months in development.

With a favourable reception from its few thousand dedicated fans, ZZT helped Sweeney establish a reputation for himself and for his company, and Epic, originally located at Sweeney's parents' house in Maryland, quickly grew into a proper business.

Then, in 1998, Epic released first-person shooter game Unreal, which ran using Sweeney's powerful new game development software: the Unreal Engine.

Sweeney realised that there was money in polishing the engine he had made and selling it to other game developers, and Epic became best known for the Unreal Engine - which is used to power most big-name games, including Fortnite, today.

In 1999, Epic moved away from Sweeney's family home to a swanky campus in Cary, North Carolina, complete with a climbing wall, giant slides and a towering sculpture of Marcus Fenix - a character from Epic's Gears of War series.

The game guru who doesn't play games

Tim Sweeney is still the CEO of Epic Games, with a $75million net worth (£55m) and a thriving company which employs 800 people across America, Asia and Europe, including in Edinburgh, Newcastle and Staffordshire.

He's established a reputation for himself as a quirky character: he reportedly doesn't eat vegetables (because "they're what food eats") and he is obsessed with VR, believing that we will be able to live Matrix-like virtual lives within a few decades.

Bizarrely, he's not a big gamer himself, instead taking a greater interest in the programming behind the games.

And the forward-thinking millionaire isn't a conventional spender either: over the years he has splashed over $15 million (£11m) to preserve 36,000 acres of mountainous North Carolina wilderness.

A formidable partnership

Away from the hiking trails of his North Carolina reserve, Sweeney is an astute businessman.

He and his Epic colleagues realised that the games industry was changing: free-to-play models were becoming more popular, and players were demanding constantly evolving games.

So in 2012, a year after Fortnite was first announced, he teamed up with Chinese free-to-play gaming and app company Tencent, worth $580 billion (£428bn).

Founded and run by Chinese billionaire Ma Huateng, Tencent, the giant behind WeChat, bought a 40 per cent stake in Epic for $330m (£243m) so the companies could work together.

It's this combination of Tencent's experience and Epic's vision which has made Fortnite the success it is today, with the free game making a fortune every month through small in-game purchases by players.

These purchases in turn fund constant updates to the game, which Tencent has rolled out to the huge audience in China - helping the game to become a success in Asia as well as in the West.

The head of Tencent is another interesting figure: Ma Huateng - who, like Sweeney, founded his company in 1998 and remains CEO today.

Known as Pony, because his name translates to "horse" in English, the billionaire businessman is the world's 14th richest man and the wealthiest in China.

He built up his business by jumping on great ideas, with Tencent known for imitating rival's products - from chat services to games - and doing them in a better, more slick way.

It's a practice which has also earned him the nickname "the scorpion", because he will patiently lie in wait before ruthlessly pouncing on the opposition.

This reputation has become so pronounced that a saying among Chinese start-up founders is "Life, Death or Tencent" - meaning their idea will either work, flop, or inspire a copycat product by the internet giant.

The game that conquered the world

Fortnite's Battle Royale mode revolves around 100 players being dropped into an ever-shrinking arena, where they must scavenge for weapons and equipment to kill off rivals and become the last man standing.

But the simple premise, quirky art style and free-to-play model behind it has ensured that Fortnite is the victor among the crowded multiplayer shooter market.

With a legion of celebrity fans helping to boost Fortnite's popularity, the mighty, if bizarre, duo of Pony and Sweeney will feel like they've struck the jackpot.

Every time Drake tweets about the game or an NFL star takes to Twitch to stream a gaming session, player numbers creep up, and the world's hottest game gets even hotter.

And after seven years in the making, Fortnite's phenomenal success proves that Epic deserves its name, cementing Sweeney's status as a giant in his field.

Posted Date : May 16, 2018
Ref : The Sun

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