Get the latest from TODAY
"Fortnite," by video game developer Epic Games — and, specifically, the "Battle Royale" version — is a free game available to play online through gaming consoles like Playstation 4 and XBox One as well as computers. It has a rating of "Teen with Violence" from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
Recently, it has become a major topic of conversation among video-gaming tweens and teens and, as a result, for their baffled parents and teachers as well.
Here's what you need to know about the hottest trend in online gaming:
1. It is a shooter game similar in concept to "The Hunger Games."
In the Battle Royale version of "Fortnite," 100 unarmed players are dropped onto an island. The players then scramble into houses on the island to find weapons hidden there, which players use to shoot and kill each other. The last player alive at the end of the round wins. Players can play alone or in teams of up to 20 players at a time, and rounds take about 20 minutes to play.
"'Fortnite' didn't invent this genre, but they seem to have done it in a way that has made it super popular," Seattle-area video game aficionado Jesse Pannoni told TODAY Parents. His two sons, ages 8 and 11, play the game.
"Winning and losing really mean something in 'Fortnite.' Every round has an ultimate winner, as opposed to most games, where if you die, you just respawn or come back to life," he said.
Pannoni noted that although it is a "shooter" game, "Fortnite's" violence is not "hyper-realistic." "It's cartoonish," he said. "There is no blood."
2. The game is free, but there are elements to it that cost money.
"Fortnite" is popular in part because it is available on several platforms and free to play, which means kids don't necessarily need to ask parents to purchase it. Epic Games makes money by selling players customized attire for their avatars to wear in the game as well as custom dance moves — "sort of like touchdown celebrations," Pannoni explained.
However, unlike other games in the genre, the elements for sale are for appearance only; players do not have to spend money in order to buy special weapons or competitive advantages in the game.
"I like that my kids aren’t asking me to spend money to get weapons or to get ahead in the game all the time," said Pannoni. "In some games, there is never an end to what you spend money on. In 'Fortnite,' when you win or lose, you won or lost fairly and not beacause you bought a bunch of stuff."
Bottom line: If your child can settle for generic attire, they can play "Fortnite" for free. If they want to dress up and express themselves in the game, they will pay for it.
3. Your kids can play "Fortnite" with their friends, but they will also be playing with strangers.
One of the advantages of "Fortnite" is that because it is on an online public gaming platform, your kids can find out who of their friends plays too and play with them online from anywhere. It's great for letting kids keep in touch with far-away friends or even friends from school.
However, it also means that your child will be playing with strangers, as anyone who signs up could be in the round with your child. "There can be inappropriate talk on the mic or chatting," said Pannoni.
Child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa told TODAY Parents that this aspect of "Fortnite" necessitates some parental supervision. Two of her own older sons play "Fortnite," though her elementary school-aged son is not allowed to play nor to watch his older brothers play.
"Letting a child play this means having some real conversations about violence and about online safety and how 'friends' in the chat are not friends — they could be anyone — and that usernames mean nothing," said Gilboa. "So 'Cory11' doesn't necessarily mean that this is an 11-year-old person, for example."
4. It's coming to mobile devices... soon.
Fair warning, parents: Very shortly, kids will be able to play "Fortnite" on the go. Epic Games began accepting sign-ups for iOs as of yesterday.
Should your child be playing "Fortnite?" The game is not without value, Gilboa said. "Letting a child play also means giving her or him the opportunity to think ahead, plan, strategize, create, and — in multiplayer mode — collaborate," she said. But, she adds, "Like everything else in life, it is safer for kids if there is good communication and moderation."
James Muldowney's 11-year-old son and his friends in Nashville, Tennessee, love to play "Fortnite" together too. "I like it because he can play a couple of rounds fairly quickly and go back to studying or whatever," said Muldowney. "It has an interesting combo of first-person shooter like 'Halo' and resource management and building like 'Minecraft.'"
Pannoni said the collaborative element of "Fortnite" benefits his kids. "I try to play it with them because it is fun, but I get wrecked pretty quickly compared to them," he said.
"But when they play with their friends, there is teamwork involved," he said. "They are healing each other, protecting each other, teaming up to attack people. There’s been very few games where my kids have figured out who else at school is playing a game too, friended them in the game, and tried to play with them online. I think it is pretty cool to see that."