Behind the success of FGO: 3 daring changes from ‘Fate series’

In 2017, ‘Fate/Grand Order’ (hereafter FGO) received both ‘Twitter WORD of the year’ and ‘Twitter Game of the year’ prizes on ‘Twitter Trend Award 2017’, which looks back on all the trending words on Twitter.
Although ‘Fate’ is a famous franchise now, it had started out with a rather small fan base that showed overwhelming support for the series. How did something that used to appeal to such a niche audience come to be such a big smartphone game? In order to find out what makes FGO so charming, FRI began his analysis with the ‘game lab’ which he used in past occasions. As a result, he found out that there were 3 major elements in FGO that were not present in previous Fate series.


■FGO as a game

FRI’s ‘Gameplay/Fun factor study report’ analyzes ‘Gameplay’ by referencing prior research and studying variety of games, and find out 4 unique aspects of a game that makes it especially fun to play.

※Here, ‘game’ and ‘gameplay’ are defined as below:
・Game: an activity or system with a certain objective and set of rules that require the player to use their judgment in terms of loss/gain
・Gameplay: a structure that provides ‘fun’ to the player while specifying the goal and rules to them

Especially related to Gameplay among these are the ‘rudo-structure’ and ‘Elements of play’.
‘rudo-structure’ in simple terms refers to a ‘structure’ which requires the player to make a choice (‘rudo’) in taking an action that will incur loss/gain towards reaching the objective. ‘Elements of play’ refers to the essential enjoyability of the game, which can be broken down to 7 elements. In the end, different ways of combining ‘rudo-structure’ and ‘Elements of play’ will determine the Gameplay of the game.

Now, let us take a look at FGO’s most playable aspect, that is, ‘from quest selection to completion’, or the rudo-structure of the game.

※referred to “Why are people crazy about games? The essence of ‘Game-ness’ from the frontlines of development” by Watanabe Shuji

FGO’s rudo-structure has many levels, as well as a wide variety of choices that accompany ‘Strategic management’, including party and equipment setup, choice of targets, skills, and order of cards per turn.
Yet, this kind of structure is also present in games like ‘Crash of Clans’. In ‘Crash of Clans’, there are play elements like ‘Competition’ in which you outwit other players, as well as ‘Creativity/Destructivity’ regarding how you shape your base. In FGO, however, due to the plot’s setting, there are no other cooperators, and the game is played only by choosing cards so there are no other elements of play. In terms of Gameplay, there was nothing special about FGO’s structure or gameplay system. In fact, FGO had fewer elements of play compared to other games.
Then what makes FGO so fun?


■A structure that overturns the concept of smartphone games

Another charming aspect frequently talked about regarding FGO is the story. As covered by multiple interview articles, FGO is a game built around its profound story of Fate series, which is over 1 million Japanese characters in length.
In fact, this is a somewhat peculiar endeavor in a smartphone game. Smartphone games are commonly thought of as providing short bursts of fun gameplay with the purpose of killing time, instead of having a serious storyline that users have to follow. However in reality, many users are enjoying FGO’s story.
Fate series has numerous characters as well as a complex setting, garnering support from its core fans until now, as mentioned in the beginning. While sticking to its storyline of Fate series, how did FGO manage to amass such a wide range of users? This time, I analyzed FGO in terms of its story.


■3 major aspects that have changed from previous Fate series

‘Fate/stay night’ is the original story of Fate series, which is a battle royale surrounding ‘Holy Grail’, an object capable of making any dream come true. 7 Masters (magus) summon their Servants (historical or legendary heroic spirit), and fight to the end in a ‘Holy Grail War’’ until only 1 team is left standing. Besides its battle scenes, the story revolves mostly around the conflict of distinct lives and ideas of characters in the midst of battle, as well as their agony, mental conflicts, resolution, and self-restraint. Future derivative works of the Fate series also illustrate the ‘Holy Grail War’ in different time periods.
FGO, in the meanwhile, is about a mission ‘Holy Grail Expedition’ in a world where humanity is aware of its certain demise in the year 2016. The player’s task is to investigate the cause of destruction, and save humanity by finding the Holy Grail. While the player is a lay person, he/she become the one last Master for a ‘Holy Grail Expedition’ in accident, and imposed with the mission to preserve humanity in years 2017 and on.

Here are 3 aspects unique to FGO that is not present in previous Fate series:
The first is that the story plays out in an entirely different manner from previous Fate series. Fate series until now have had certain historical connections, no matter the time period, location, or setting. In case of FGO, it considers all the events in previous Fate series to be happening in a parallel universe, and does not share any history with them. Moreover, in contrast to having the same construct of Masters and their Servants fighting over Holy Grail, a shared structure with previous Fate series, FGO is about regaining the lost future of humanity. The protagonist of FGO eventually fights to save the entire world, instead of fighting others to take ownership of the Holy Grail. The scenario plays out in such a way that the player is given a royal road for becoming a hero, as they are helped out by companions, and often teamed up with their previous opponents.
The second is that the protagonist is a lay person. Protagonists in previous Fate series all appear to be lay people, who are later shown to have great abilities or gifts. Contrarily, the protagonist in FGO is actually a lay person with no special abilities. As such, their principles in behavior and values are very familiar to those of the player. As such, even if the story progressed while assuming the player to be the actual protagonist, there is nothing that would feel out of place or awkward.

I believe that the 2 changes shown above enabled new users to easily become part of the world of FGO, even when they are unfamiliar with previous Fate series

The third is that FGO’s story connects the time axis in real life, including limited events. Personally, I believe that this was in large part the trigger to FGO’s big success. TYPE-MOON’s Kinoko Nasu, the main scenario writer and general supervisor, said in a 2014 interview that he would like to create a game that has a special meaning when played in the year 2015, and that he would like to create an entirely unique type of entertainment.*

Just like he said, FGO’s story is ‘about taking back our future 2017 and on’. On New Year’s Eve in 2016, the game released an episode of ‘fighting to meet the year 2017’ in concluding the first arc of the story. While the world was waiting for 2017 to arrive, the game provided an opportunity for all of its players to fight alongside each other, that provided a sense of unity, and of the approaching the climax of the story, which greatly galvanized social media.

In recent years, entertainment providing exclusive and transitory experiences, such as streaming and performances are getting hot. FGO successfully adjusts its story to link the climax to the time axis in real life to let all of its players enjoy the experience of doing something that is ‘exclusive and transitory story experiences’. As a result, there have been massive surges in online posts related to FGO, which sufficiently ushered in new users who had been completely unaware of Fate series. Further, stories specifically prepared for new users have taken effect, as you can see from the tremendous growth in its user base since 2017.

The change in ‘FGO’’s popularity seen through Google trend.

As it did in 2016, they releasing new stories in real time on New Year’s Eve in 2017 as well as broadcasting related animation series. The game keeps offering new stories towards the beginning of the second chapter, even now that the players have successfully taken back the year of 2017.

I believe that FGO made its success with the influence of these 3 entirely new changes from previous Fate series. While being a smartphone game, it has set its own serious storyline as a main content of the game as well as a new strategy that follows the ongoing trend to capture new users, in addition to its preexisting core ‘fate’ fans, have led FGO to its grand success.

FGO brought an entirely new experience to the smartphone games. The creators are also planning on releasing a second version this spring, so we plan on keeping ourselves posted.
As one of Master, I look forward to seeing how it will turn out.

(Article by: T.Komuro)

Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.


Behind the success of FGO: 3 daring changes from ‘Fate series’
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Behind the success of FGO: 3 daring changes from ‘Fate series’
In order to find out what makes FGO so charming, FRI carried analysis with the ‘game lab’ which he used in past occasions.
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Entertainment Future Lab.
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