After leaving behind the Gears of War franchise in 2013, Epic Games went from being a developer of genre-defining platform exclusives to working on mobile games, VR, and a weird co-op survival shooter.
It wasn't long before Tencent's decision to acquire 48.4% of the company in 2012 began to look a little questionable, and as Fortnite: Save the World entered early access to lukewarm reception in July last year, the industry failed to take notice.
Even after Epic Games announced a free-to-play battle royale mode in September that year, it was discussed in the same cynical breath as every other pretender to the PUBG throne. But here we are a year later, and the head-spinning success of Fortnite has become banal, almost tedious, at this point.
When we recognised Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene with a People of the Year award in 2017 for the frankly staggering impact of PUBG on the industry, we thought every record had been broken and would stay that way for some time to come.
But again and again this year new statistics emerge, demonstrating the previously unknowable peaks Epic Games has scaled with Fortnite.
"Fortnite is so successful that even Sony was ultimately forced to bend the knee and allow cross-platform play"
Whether it's reaching 8.3 million concurrent players, breezing past $1 billion revenue from in-app purchases, or passing 200 million registered users, Fortnite is doing really rather well. After only a year, it's already among the pantheon of most successful games in the world along with Minecraft and League of Legends.
In fact, Fortnite is so successful that even Sony was ultimately forced to bend the knee and allow cross-platform play. After initially trying to suffocate the idea before it could gain traction, Sony offered some tepid, meandering responses that failed to address why it wouldn't facilitate cross-platform play with Fortnite. Ultimately, however, it buckled under the pressure and Fortnite became the first game to breach the divide, possibly -- if you're really optimistic -- setting the stage for a platform-agnostic future. Not even the might of Sony's market dominance, with over 86 million PS4s in the wild, could save it from the influence of Fortnite.
Following Epic's triumph over Sony in this arena, the company also announced it will launch a number of free services designed to help developers implement cross-platform play into their games.
From the very outset of 2018, Epic has positioned itself as one of the good guys, particularly over how it handled the closure of its free-to-play shooter Paragon. When the studio announced the game would be taken offline in April, it offered a full refund to all players for any purchases made, regardless of platform. On top of that, Epic Games made the Paragon assets free to use for other developers.
"Combine these moments and Epic Games has spent much of 2018 looking like an industry hero"
Obviously not every studio which finds itself in the uncomfortable situation of shutting down a live game could make such gestures, but it was a stroke of remarkable altruism on behalf of Epic Games.
In a similar vein, in July the company announced it was reducing its revenue split share from Unreal Engine Marketplace from 30% to 12%, a change which it applied retroactively all the way back to 2014.
Combine these moments with the company's recently revealed digital games storefront that will also take just a 12% cut of sales -- as opposed to the 30% cut standardised by Valve with Steam -- and Epic Games has spent much of 2018 looking like an industry hero.
But all that glitters is not gold, and Epic Games has found itself at the centre of some controversies this year.
The studio now faces accusations from artists that it has lifted dance-moves for use as in-game emotes without properly crediting the creators, and several have begun to file lawsuits. As Rob Fahey argued in a recent article on GamesIndustry.biz, while there is plenty of scope for homage, "the success of the medium brings responsibilities with it" and Epic Games should be cognizant of this issue.
"But all that glitters is not gold, and Epic Games has found itself at the centre of some controversies this year"
Beyond that is the more disturbing discussion emerging from the mainstream press around Fortnite addiction; a recent report from Bloomberg highlighted some extreme examples where parents had even sent their children to rehab.
In a year of loot box controversy, as the industry clumsily wrestled with how to monetise beyond initial sales, Epic Games rejected the mechanic in favour of Battle Passes -- a model which effectively gamifies the acquisition of in-game cosmetics. It's been so successful PUBG has since adopted the model, along with Rocket League and Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII.
While it's undoubtedly less toxic than loot boxes, it's not hard to see how the extensively gamified system enables compulsive and even problematic behaviour. Unfortunately the debate around addiction is muddied by hysteria, but let's not be blind to issues potentially forming before us. Fortnite is a successful game loved by millions, with its influence felt around the globe -- it would be a shameful state of affairs for it to become soured by a lack of corporate responsibility.
The company's public image has also been mired somewhat by its litigiousness, including lawsuits filed against a 14-year-old-boy and an ex-QA contractor. How Epic Games handles these problems going forward will define it, for better or worse, and a fall from grace is not impossible.
Despite it all, this year Epic Games has overwhelmingly established itself as a rare market leader with an eye toward improving the wider industry. Its influence over the past 12 months has been more than just the meteoric rise of Fortnite, but what Epic has done with that success. From the Unreal Engine Marketplace and the Epic Games Store, to popularising Battle Passes and breaking down the platform barriers, Epic Games is slowly but surely remoulding the industry.