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Can Overwatch 2 replicate Fortnite’s success with branded collaborations?

Industry Commentary
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The long-awaited sequel to Blizzard’s team-based, first-person-shooter, Overwatch, was released as a free-to-play title at the beginning of October. Given the first game sold 50 million copies with an RRP of $40 for the standard edition of the game and $60 for the cosmetic-laden legendary edition, many people are wondering how Blizzard is going to make money off Overwatch 2. 

Jon Spector, Overwatch commercial leader and vice president at Blizzard, hinted at what’s in store for Overwatch 2 in a recent interview with GameInformer when he was asked about developing sustainable revenue streams for free-to-play games. It turns out that he’s been paying a lot of attention to Epic’s battle-royale game, Fortnite. 

Let's Get Ready for Overwatch 2 - Xbox Wire
image: Xbox Wire

“We've seen some really fun examples out there of games working with other brands or other games," Spector told GameInformer. "I'm a big anime nerd myself. I think it's super cool when I see Naruto appear in Fortnite. I don't even play Fortnite, but that's awesome. And as we look at the Overwatch 2 space, those are things that we're interested in exploring.” 

Fortnite isn’t just one of the most popular and most successful free-to-play games in recent years. From branded collaborations with Marvel, NFL, Nike and Ferrari to virtual concerts with industry legends, including Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, Fortnite has become a pop culture paradise for brands looking to expand their presence in the gaming space. These collaborations are monetised through themed cosmetic items, usually new skins for characters and weapons, as well as banners, emoticons and emotes. 

While Epic doesn’t publicly disclose the financial specifics of its collaborations, we know that Fortnite brought in more than $9 billion for Epic in 2018 and 2019 according to court documents from the Apple v Epic case. Thanks to the same documents, we also know that branded collaborations are a significant contributor to Fortnite’s revenue. The game’s collaboration with the NFL introduced NFL-themed skins into the game, of which 3.3 million were sold for $15 each between November and December 2018. That’s a total value of nearly $50 million. 

The NFL collaboration isn’t even Fortnite’s biggest earner. The game’s collaborations with Marvel have brought in the most money, proving that with great power also comes great profits, but it’s worth noting that this report was created in June 2020 and there have been lots of collaborations – including new ones with Marvel – since then. Dexerto has a full list of updated Fortnite collaborations here

So, how easily can Overwatch 2 replicate the success of Fortnite’s IP plays and monetisation methods? And how well-suited is the game to branded collaborations?

The launch of Overwatch 2 may have been overshadowed by negative stories about network issues, but it still managed to reach 25 million players in just ten days. That’s almost triple the number of peak players for the original game. That’s still some way off Fortnite’s estimated monthly active users of 83 million – but it’s by no means a bad start – and Overwatch 2 has kicked things off with a bang on the marketing front through a collaboration with McDonald's

There are some significant differences between the gameplay mechanics of Overwatch 2 and Fortnite, which leaves us wondering how in-game collaborations will be activated in Overwatch 2. As a hero-based shooter with 5v5 deathmatches, victory in Overwatch 2 is often determined by the unique skills and combination of specific characters, all of which have their own background stories within the world of Overwatch. 

The skill-based gameplay mechanics of Overwatch 2 require calculated decisions when it comes to the introduction of new characters to ensure gameplay remains fair and balanced. This means we’re more likely to see themed variants of weapons and character skins appearing alongside battle passes, rather than new licensed characters being added into the game at the same frequency of Fortnite – but we wouldn't rule them out entirely. 

Overwatch 2 is planning to drop content updates every nine weeks, and Spector says he wants the company to “be in a position to sustain [content delivery] for years to come.” We wouldn’t be surprised if Overwatch 2 adds new game modes in the future, especially as it’s currently lacking a user-generated content mode at the moment. The games industry is known for pivoting and adopting; let’s not forget that Fortnite started life as a fortification survival game before it adopted a battle royale. 

Where Overwatch 2 goes from here remains to be seen. But we’ll be keeping a close eye, as always, and will keep you updated on any noteworthy branded collaborations in future issues.  

November 1, 2022
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