Is the real Fortnite hiding behind a paywall?

Fortnite from Epic Games is currently in early access, and the game has been stirring up some controversy about whether or not it is really as "free to play" as it claims. The game will eventually be free, it is claimed, but as of right now there is no way to play without buying one of the game's package deals, which include a number of in-game loot items but most definitely are not "free." Additionally, high-level content seems to be blocked by pay-gates, with access limited to those willing to pay for it.

How valid are these community complaints, and is there any hope for Fortnite in the long term? 

What players are saying 

Lots of Reddit posts have been saying that around the 50-hour mark, the only way to progress in the game is to pay for llama piñatas, Fortnite’s cheeky form of buyable loot crates. You can grind through the game to collect in-game currency, but the pace it takes to gain enough coins to buy llamas is extremely tilted. We have seen this purchasable in-game currency pop up in about every free-to-play game there is out there, from Pokémon Go to Dragonville.

Another Reddit user made a long post about how, after 80+ hours of gameplay, he feels cheated by the game's greed, even though he enjoyed the content up until that point “I wouldn't have written this if I didn't care," he wrote, "I wouldn't have spent 80+ hours with my friends completing all the content currently available in the game if I didn't enjoy the game at its core.” Other players explain how the constant recycling of items makes material requirements grow bigger and bigger, causing grinding to last longer and longer. Eventually the grinding becomes irrelevant, as the required items to progress become available only through piñata llamas. It is a rinse-and-repeat cycle that only ends once the repeating has been rendered totally useless. 

Feedback, Feedback, Feedback

With all this negative feedback, Epic responded with a post on their forums. Epic’s Zak Phelps of the Fortnite team said, “What makes the problem interesting, and why we need the community's help, is there are a lot of confounding factors in the post 50+ hours experience. Is it the fact that we simply don't drop enough llamas? Is it because we haven't explained how survivors work well enough and how they can make Commanders powerful? Is it a difference between players who binge play, and players who play daily. We could go on here, but it'll probably put you to sleep.” The team is clearly looking at feedback from the community. This is always a good thing to hear, as more often than not developers seem content to pretend negative feedback doesn't exist. 

Phelps went on to encourage dedicated fans, saying: “There are rough spots in the game and they are going to be interesting problems to solve, and we hear you about them. Stick with us in Early Access and we will continue to make the game better, together.”

I have personally put dozens of hours into Fortnite and am already starting to see this paywall that other players are complaining about. However, with that in mind, I know that paying for early access means that there will be bumps along the way. What is important is that Epic is listening and, hopefully, fixing the problems people identify. 

There have already been a few updates since the game's early access launch on July 24. The game isn't "fixed" yet, but it could be worth taking a wait and see approach and giving Epic time to address the monetization concerns.