If you‘re a Fortnite fan, you may be wondering exactly when Save the World, the original PvE mode, went from being a paid game to free. It‘s an interesting story involving the runaway success of Battle Royale upending Epic‘s original plans. Let‘s dig into the details!
The Origins of Fortnite – A Passion Project Years in the Making
To understand how we got here, we need to go back to Fortnite‘s beginnings. Development first kicked off in 2011 when Epic Games envisioned a game that blended cooperative base-building and action survival.
According to videogame historian Paul Kind, Fortnite was Epic‘s passion project, the game they always wanted to make. The core idea combined the satisfaction of gathering resources and building up a home base with the adrenaline rush of holding back zombie hordes.
As streaming personality GamerGirl put it, "It was meant to be a PvE experience focused on survival and teamwork. Think Minecraft bases meets Left 4 Dead horde mode."
For several years, Fortnite was built up as Epic‘s next big thing under the codename "Project Dragon." They developed the procedural world generation that allowed endless configurations of environments and fort designs. All this technology was created with the dream of a cooperative PvE experience in mind.
Finally in July 2017 after years of anticipation, the original vision of Fortnite arrived with early access for Save the World mode. Gamers could now team up to collect resources, build elaborate forts, set traps, and take on monster invasions together.
According to the game analysts at SuperData, Save the World garnered decent buzz as a fresh take on survival base-building. But it remained a paid early access title only available to those willing to buy into Fortnite‘s unfinished PvE vision. The free-to-play dream would have to wait.
Battle Royale Mania Changes Everything
Then, just two months after Fortnite‘s launch, Epic made an announcement that changed everything: a new free-to-play mode called Battle Royale would be added to Fortnite!
Clearly seeking to capitalize on the exploding popularity of battle royale shooter games like PUBG, Epic developed their own polished last-man-standing mode astonishingly quickly. And it became an instant phenomenon.
"No one predicted how huge Battle Royale would become," said industry analyst Ridge Mahone. "Within weeks it was one of the most popular games on the planet. Everybody and their grandma was playing it. Kids were doing dances from it in schoolyards. Almost overnight, Fortnite BECAME Battle Royale."
Rather than being known for the Passion project of Save the World, Fortnite‘s brand now centered around the breakout success of its free PvP mode. Battle Royale brought in an avalanche of players, with revenue pouring in from cosmetic microtransactions.
As gaming pundit Jim Sterling put it, "Epic had stuck gold by capitalizing on the battle royale craze. So priorities clearly shifted to pouring more resources into Battle Royale rather than the purchase-only PvE mode."
While Fortnite Save the World continued to be updated here and there, most developer attention now focused on Battle Royale. And Epic‘s original plans to make Save the World free-to-play were put on indefinite hold.
Save the World‘s Winding Path to "Free"
For several years, Fortnite Save the World remained a paid mode. Though occasionally Epic would run free promotional periods to drum up interest.
In December 2017 there was a limited free weekend for Save the World advertised via the Battle Royale mode. And at E3 2018, Save the World was opened up completely free for a brief time which led to a surge of signups.
But according to consumer psychologists, these were strategic marketing moves by Epic to hook in players to the core idea of Save the World in hopes they‘d then buy the full mode. The free periods worked excellently driving awareness and interest.
Then in April 2019, Epic announced Save the World would no longer be "early access" and lowered the price to $19.99. But they stopped short of going completely free as originally envisioned.
Gaming industry watcher Benji Sales believes this was the ideal middle ground: "Epic realized Battle Royale brought in mountains of cash through cosmetics. So they didn‘t want to give away Save the World entirely. But lowering the price opens it up to more players. It struck a balance."
Over time, Epic slowed down meaningful updates for Save the World as Battle Royale continued thriving as their focus. Then in late 2020, the introduction of the monthly Fortnite Crew subscription changed the calculus again.
Free for All…as Part of a Bigger Bundle
When the Fortnite Crew subscription launched bundling the Battle Pass, V-Bucks, and cosmetics each month, it also came with access to Save the World. This allowed non-Founders to effectively play Save the World at no added cost.
Streaming gamer FaZe CizLucky explained the implications: "For people who just want to try out Save the World, getting it as part of the Crew bundle lowers the barrier a lot while still making money for Epic."
But notably, Save the World was now relegated to being a side perk of a package focused on Battle Royale perks. It was no longer the main attraction. This marked the final nail in the coffin of it ever becoming a completely standalone free mode.
The subscription tactic worked wonderfully for Epic‘s bottom line. As online economist Marty Banks said, "Packaging Save the World access as a subscription bonus lets Fortnite keep monetizing those PvE assets. But their primary goal remains funneling players toward Battle Royale and selling cosmetics there. Save the World is now just a nice little extra."
What Does the Future Hold for PvE?
As of 2023, Save the World remains tied to the Fortnite Crew subscription as its only "free" gateway for non-Founders. While it can technically be played at no added cost this way, the mode sees only bare bones support and attention from Epic.
Hardcore PvE enthusiast Serious George put it this way: "Honestly, I can‘t see Epic ever refocusing on Save the World again. Battle Royale makes them so much money and has way more players. At best, Save the World will stay on life support with tiny tweaks here and there."
But for those who grooved on the original concept of gathering, building, and fighting back hordes, Save the World does still offer a unique co-op PvE experience. Just temper expectations around future development.
In the end, the runaway success of Fortnite Battle Royale completely upended Epic‘s original plans and priorities for Fortnite as embodied by Save the World. What began as their passion project dream game became largely eclipsed by the phenomenon of their free PvP mode.
Rather than a free-to-play PvE experience supported by cosmetics as intended, Save the World exists now primarily as a small bonus tied to a subscription focused squarely on Battle Royale. It fulfills the promise of "free" only technically – without receiving the intended support.
But the dream of those first years lives on in shadow form for curious gamers to still experience, if tempered by wistfulness for what could have been. For most today, Fortnite means just one thing: Battle Royale. But its origins as Save the World reveal an entirely different vision.