Epic Games made a very small, cosmetic change to both the tactical and pump shotguns found in Fortnite and, much to the surprise of the development team, that tweak has had a significant effect on how Fortnite Battle Royale players used each weapon.
The situation goes to show that the culinary adage about first eating with your eyes can apply to game development as well, as Epic notes that it didn't actually change the power or drop rates of the guns themselves but still saw an unprecedented change in how each weapon was used.
In a recent patch, Epic altered the colored rarity ranking that appeared in-game for both guns, lowering the rarity range for tactical shotguns and raising the rarity range for pump shotguns, each by one level. Aside from the visual change, not a single thing was changed about either gun.
Following that, however, Fortnite design lead Eric Williamson noted that the in-game kills for the tactical shotgun dropped by 23 percent, while pump shotgun kills jumped by 36 percent.
By adjusting each gun’s rarity ranking, players suddenly started perceiving shotguns as more or less beneficial in Fortnite’s often split-second gear grabbing moments.
“I’d say we expected a slight change, but not that dramatic. There’s an association with rarity colors that’s clearly very strong, and if you only have a split second to make a decision about what weapon to grab, color is one of the simplest things to compare,” Williamson further explained to Kotaku in an email. “No balance change (where actual numbers were affected) even comes close to the shift we saw here.”
Simply adjusting shotgun rarity colors in Fortnite v3.4 had a fascinating effect on player behavior. Pump Shotgun colors shifted up and kills increased 36%; Tactical Shotgun colors shifted down and kills decreased 23%. There was no change in actual rarity or power. pic.twitter.com/JUauiZNVGY— Eric Williamson (@erwil9) April 18, 2018