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‘Fortnite’ Goes Dark: A Masterful Marketing Stroke by Epic Games

On Sunday, “Fortnite” — the most popular game on Earth right now — without warning, imploded into darkness.

At around 2 p.m. ET on Oct. 13, a meteor in Season 10 of “Fortnite” that had been biding its time set off a cataclysmic chain reaction that sucked up everything on the the island and eventually wiped out the entire map.

Publisher Epic Games, exhibiting supreme marketing sangfroid, left millions of fans wondering what the hell had just happened. Epic had told players that Sunday’s “Fortnite” event was “The End” — and it made good on that promise, literally, as far as Season 10 (dubbed “Out of Time”) goes.

The official “Fortnite” account on Twitter offered no explanation for the wipeout. Instead, it pinned a tweet showing a live video feed of the black hole, accompanied by a space-age-y soundtrack. All of the account’s previous posts on Twitter were deleted and its icon turned black:

The “Fortnite” website also shows nothing but a live Twitch feed of the swirling black hole (with more than 57,000 viewers watching it on Monday morning as of around 9:30 a.m. ET). The game’s Instagram account posted blank black images and video of the black hole following Sunday’s event (although prior posts were not deleted).

Usually, when games or other internet services abruptly wink offline, mass hysteria ensues as users or players frantically try to understand what happened and when things will be back to normal. Epic Games turned this phenomenon on its head by deliberately shutting down “Fortnite,” which the company said in March has more than 250 million registered users.

In an era of always-on connectivity, the “Fortnite” blackout creates a sense of artificial scarcity. The baller move by Epic Games ensured that the event would become a blazing-hot trending topic on social-media — generating the kind of buzz and anticipation of a major movie release or product reveal. To be sure, others have engaged in such nuclear-option marketing tactics, such as when Taylor Swift in 2017 wiped out her social accounts ahead of her sixth studio album, “Reputation.”

“Fortnite” aficionados immediately began speculating about what the end of the game’s current universe means for Season 11. Even celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joined the convo, writing in a tweet: “Did your Fortnite game suck you & everything else into a black hole? Can’t help you there. But death-by-black-hole is a thing, and there might even be an entire universe on the other side.”

What’s next for “Fortnite”? As the old joke goes: “How do you keep an idiot in suspense?” Answer: “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

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