Fortnite’s Skull Trooper mania shows how Epic makes big money selling skins

If you’ve logged on to Fortnite over the last 24 hours, you’ve probably noticed that lobbies are overflowing with players who are wearing the same spooky costume. Veteran players know this as the Skull Trooper skin, a rare cosmetic that previously granted a high social status for Fortnite fans who donned it. Now, though, players are questioning whether or not the Skull Trooper skin is even special anymore.

Over the last year, Fortnite players have built mythologies around its skins, with each costume implying something specific about its owner. A suit that makes players look like John Wick, for example, is the infamous calling card of the bone-headed players with a lust for killing. Eventually, many players buy a skin because they want to communicate something about themselves to the larger fan base. The concept of rarity adds an additional dimension here: some skins have only been available during specific seasons, events, or holidays, or perhaps are simply not sold very often through the in-game store. The in-game economy, combined with player-dictated status, means that a lot of Fortnite’s culture revolves around skins. Even if you don’t want a skin, you likely have an opinion on the types of players who would wear any given costume.

Skull Trooper made its debut in Fortnite in November 2017, only to never appear in the shop again — until yesterday. During that time, the Halloweeny skin had gained a reputation and became one of the most coveted skins in the whole game. If you wore it, you were likely a badass, or so fans believed. So when Skull Trooper became purchasable again, nearly everyone wanted it. It didn’t matter that this time around, Skull Trooper was slightly more expensive: 1,500 v-bucks, or around $15 dollars, compared to the 1,200 v-buck cost of 2017.

Arguably, the increased price was meant to account for the bells and whistles that Epic Games added to the skin. The skin comes with a set of challenges that grant you a back-bling cosmetic, but more curiously, it can also be customized to glow in special colors — but only if you owned the skin before yesterday. Likely, the added customization option is Epic Games’ way of trying to preserve the sense of elite status for the skin. In practice, however, players are reporting that their lobbies have become nothing but Skull Troopers. Anecdotally, Fortnite fans at The Verge have also noticed this phenomenon in action.

If you’re curious about what this looks like in action, here’s a screenshot from a recent game by YouTuber Kiwiz:

Image: Kiwiz

Bringing back Skull Trooper has had repercussions: some players are miffed that their skin has become too common, thereby stripping it of its unique aura. Having a special color doesn’t erase the fact that nearly everyone can look a lot like you now if they have the money for it. Players who have built an identity around being “OGs” of Fortnite — Skull Trooper was introduced before the game properly exploded — feel like Epic has ruined the experience for them. Others just don’t want to wear something that’s too popular.

Reddit user u/TheFrogSplash

Whatever your opinion on the Skull Trooper is, one thing is for certain: if this many players are buying it, Fortnite’s developers likely made a fortune yesterday. (While we don’t have any specific numbers, try this conservative thought experiment on for size: if only 1 percent of Fortnite’s 78 million players bought Skull Trooper yesterday, that comes out to over 11 million dollars in sales.) In Fortnite, the in-game culture is an asset for Epic Games. The more players build something up and the longer the developer holds out on selling something, the more fans will want it, regardless of how good it actually is. Many rare skins aren’t even noteworthy, design-wise, compared to some of the elaborate skins that are being released now.

Skull Trooper may not be as special anymore, but that doesn’t matter: soon, another skin will take its place.

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