If you boot up Fortnite right now and start digging around through the game’s massive amount of user-created content, you’ll quickly notice a strange pattern: Many user-made maps and modes feature AI-generated artwork of large men, often shirtless, smiling, and holding food. Some of these images also feature crude, racist depictions of people. And yet, thousands of players across Fortnite’s platforms are playing these modes and Epic seems unaware of the situation or isn’t stepping in to remove the offensive images flooding the game.
Fortnite’s popular battle royale mode launched in 2017 and within months became a massive success for Epic Games. Seven years later, Fortnite is much more than a battle royale. The game now contains other games, like Fortnite Festival, Rocket Racing, and Lego Fortnite. It also includes a robust content creator that lets players build new maps and games inside Fortnite alone or with friends. Folks can also use UEFN, a Fortnite-focused version of Epic’s Unreal Engine, to craft new content for the game. In many ways, and this is part of Epic’s plan, Fortnite is no longer a battle royale game first and foremost. Instead, it’s become a free-to-play video game platform that has millions of players across console, PC, and cloud streaming.
As a platform, Fortnite offers creators everywhere a free way to create and distribute content to millions of players and get paid if any of those creations hit it big. But that easy access to a large audience that is hungry for new content has, inevitably, led to Fortnite becoming overfilled with copycats and clones who look for the latest trend and milk it, filling the platform with garbage.
Fortnite is filled with horrible AI-generated art
Recently, the biggest trend is using AI-generated images of sometimes-racist caricatures of large, shirtless men to try and squeeze money out of Epic’s shooter. I used both the official Fortnite website and third-party site Fortnite.GG to comb through thousands of user-created maps. I was able to document over 120 instances of AI-generated images of large men and women advertising user-made maps.
Scrolling through user-created content you’ll quickly spot dozens and dozens of maps sporting names like “ARAB ZONEWARS,” “Niger ZoneWars,” “Nigerian Zonewars,” “AFRICA ZONEWARS,” and “CHINA Zonewars.” It’s shockingly easy to find images featuring Middle Eastern men holding bombs, black men eating fried chicken, and Mexican men wearing sombreros and eating tacos.
While most of these maps have only a few players active, others can get quite popular. In fact, the user-made game that likely helped start this trend—Jamaica Zonewars—hit over 35,000 active players on January 5. For some context, that would put it roughly in the top 40 on SteamDB at the time of this writing, above games like Tekken 8, Stardew Valley, and Red Dead Redemption II.
Jamaica Zonewars’s thumbnail featured an AI-generated image of a large, shirtless black man wearing green, yellow, red, and black. And it seems as that game became popular, other creators decided to copy the formula.
Since Jamaica Zonewars launched on December 30, a flood of copycats has followed. While many have expanded to other countries, Jamaica is still a popular theme on Fortnite’s platform. You can find close to 100 of these copycats in Epic’s battle royale. Some add extras, like fried chicken, weed, and monkeys.
Players are complaining about Epic’s lack of moderation
Things have gotten so bad that you can now regularly find players on Reddit and elsewhere openly asking why Epic allows this kind of content to flood Fortnite’s creative maps and modes. Most players believe Epic has a small or non-existent moderation team. Others suggest that, because some of these creations are doing so well on the platform, Epic may be inclined to let these things live on and bring in more players and money.
Kotaku has contacted Epic about the situation.
In the past, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney has claimed that the company sees itself on “both sides” of the AI-generated art conversation, telling PC Gamer in March 2023:
“We’re creatives ourselves. We have a lot of artists in the family. We’re a tool company, too. We support a lot of game developers. Some of them will use AI, some of them will hate AI, and we want to be a trustable neutral intermediary that doesn’t get in the way of industry development, but also isn’t going off and hoovering up everybody’s art data.”
It’s impossible to say for sure if all the AI-generated art in Fortnite right now was created using stolen, “hoovered-up” data. But it’s very likely that these creators aren’t training their own AI tools on their own art to create these often-racist images. And ignoring the issues with AI imagery and generation, it’s worrying to see Epic seemingly not concerned that its platform is filling up with such awful, offensive art.