Fortnite’s revenue dropped 48% in January but the lull likely won’t last long

If you thought Fortnite was looking mortal, you might want to reconsider.

New numbers from SuperData show that the Fortnite juggernaut lagged by one meaningful measure at the start of this year. Revenue from the game across platforms dropped by a hard-to-ignore 48 percent between December 2018 and January 2019. As the report notes, December was a peak month for the multiplayer third-person shooter, with Fortnite fever in full swing and holiday purchases driving revenue to record levels.

While a 48 percent revenue drop might sound like a mortal wound, the game’s unique sales model and seasonal trends mean that we shouldn’t start prepping any Fortnite obituaries any time soon. With a free-to-play model, Fortnite relies on in-game purchases of digital goods like dance animations and elaborate character skins to drive revenue. With no recurring subscription fees apart from quarterly season passes, Fortnite’s revenues were never going to track a more traditional game’s numbers.

Case in point: Fortnite maker Epic looks to have socked away $3 billion in profit over the course of last year. By November, data from Sensor Tower estimated that Fortnite players were spending $1.23 million a day just on iOS. Given Fortnite’s platform agnosticism, that’s just one stream of many, from mobile to console to PC.

For Fortnite, a dip in revenue also doesn’t necessarily indicate declining user numbers or less play overall — it just means people were less likely to spend money on virtual goods. Those purchases are purely cosmetic and don’t confer a meaningful competitive advantage, so it’s kind of a strange metric to judge the game’s overall current health, though obviously an important one for the business of the game.

A game like Fortnite is designed to be cyclical, with players rotating in as fresh content debuts. In December, Fortnite’s new Season 7 release converged with the holidays, making for a potent revenue-driving combination as players bought up new virtual goods, explored a reimagined map, had more time to play and had new devices to try out. By January, players were itching for the next major update.

“This is no doubt due to the fact that Season 7 began in December. We historically see a significant increase in Fortnite mobile revenue during the months when a new season debuts, as the player base purchases Battle Passes en masse,” Sensor Tower’s head of mobile insights Randy Nelson told TechCrunch.

“Substantial decreases in the subsequent month after a new season are not new; Fortnite revenue on iOS declined 33 percent between October and November 2018 based on our estimates, from $56 million to $36.6 million… In short, these peaks and valleys are common when looking at games based around season pass monetization on a schedule such as Fortnite’s.”

Overall, the January SuperData numbers show a 6 percent year-over-year decline in digital gaming across the board. If Epic was poised to see Fortnite hit stratospheric user and revenue growth last holiday season, the real test will be seeing if the game can keep its momentum all the way through 2019 as emerging competitors vie for a piece of the pie. With Season 8 due to infuse the game with a wave of fresh digital goods later this week, we should have a pretty good idea of Fortnite’s staying power by the time the new spring content is starting to go stale.