Amazon Game Studios: the future of gaming?
The digital tentacles of online retail giant Amazon.com continue to spread further afield than anyone ever could have imagined. No one would have guessed a decade or so back that an online book store would completely change the publishing landscape with hordes of authors now exclusively self-publishing on the Kindle.
There have already been casualties among the brick and mortar giants from that revolution, with Borders shutting its doors, while Barnes & Noble launched the copycat Nook and managed to survive... for now.
This and penny used books pretty much killed brick and mortar book stores
Since then Amazon has expanded in unexpected directions, following in the footsteps of Netflix and Hulu with subscription media streaming. Chasing after all that buzz from Netflix's original programming like House of Cards, the much-buzzed Pilot Season is now bringing us original series such as Hand Of God, Man In The High Castle, and a reboot of The Tick.
Shaking Up The Game Industry
Gaming is the latest realm of entertainment to be invaded, with Amazon buying Twitch for just under a billion dollars (yep, that's billion with a "b") back in 2014. It seemed like that move heralded something spectacularly big in gaming, but until this week nothing major had ever materialized.
That's perhaps not as surprising as you may think, as there have been some very big ideas from Amazon that haven't actually come to fruition quite yet. Remember the much-discussed 30 minute drone delivery system that many were certain was a joke? It still hasn't arrived yet three years after being announced, but there is an official Amazon page promoting that it's being tested and coming soon.
A revolution in gaming - perhaps to mirror those from literature and T.V. - is finally brewing now, as TwitchCon just dropped the bombshell that Amazon Game Studios has a trio of games actively in development and near release: New World, Breakaway, and Crucible. Each game comes from a different genre, but all are tied together by a few similarities.
New World is described as a massively multiplayer, open-ended sandbox that “allows you to carve your own destiny with other players in a living, hostile, cursed land” and players can decide to ”live on your own amidst the supernatural terrors or join with others to build thriving civilizations.”
A magical rendition of a pristine North America sounds like a fun place to set an MMO, although whether it can actually deliver on the premise and be worth playing over any of the horde of existing massively multiplayer games remains to be seen.
Breakaway meanwhile is a "mythological sport brawler built for fast action, teamwork, and live streaming" which I'm assuming means MOBA. We've already got a ton of iterations on that, from League Of Legends to SMITE and Heroes of the Storm.
Unless this gets absolutely knocked out of the park, it's unlikely Amazon will be dethroning any of the big name battle arena titles. The change in formula here comes from the "buildables," which are structures teammates can craft at different points of the map to change the arena's conditions.
Last up (until the next crop of games is announced) is Crucible, a 6 vs. 6 team deathmatch with a twist: there's a 13th player who "heightens the drama by triggering events, live-streaming the battles, and interacting with viewers."
Apparently this neutral player will be able to drastically change the gameplay for both sides and throw in obstacles for them to overcome based on feedback from people watching match streams.
Merging Gaming Directly With Streaming
Did you notice the very strong emphasis on streaming and a viewership fan base in all those game descriptions? It's clear Amazon is basically throwing down the gauntlet and actively competing with eSports games like CS:GO and League Of Legends.
It probably shouldn't be surprising considering the Twitch acquisition that all three of these new games are set to merge streaming directly into the gameplay. It would also appear that the new game studio is entirely ignoring consoles, at least for the moment, and focusing exclusively on Windows PCs.
If you take a look at the individual Amazon pages for these new titles, you might notice they are currently all listed as $0 pre-orders, indicating they will be free to play but have some sort of in-game transactions.
Those are expected to involve the new Stream+ system, which is based around placing wagers on matches while through Twitch. Yes, this appears to be a new kind of online gambling directly integrated into the games themselves.
While direct money probably won't be involved in any given wager, there will undoubtedly be some way to spend real money on in-game currency, unless Amazon Game Studios is planning on making all its money through advertising.
Basing the monetization on match wagers is an interesting idea, but there's some big question marks: how will they handle issues like players dropping out and unbalancing the matches? What about Twitch outages? Will there be a system to prevent teams from betting against themselves and "throwing" a match?
Just as FAA rules over drones are likely causing major hurdles for drone delivery, so too are online gaming laws going to bring potential headaches here.
All those potential problems aside, if this crop of new titles end up basically the big-budget, AAA version of any given freemium mobile title trying to get your money through microtransactions, they seem destined for a big launch as players get hooked -- followed by a giant drop in player base.
Having Twitch built into the games ensures that's unlikely to happen, though, in a sort of devious and genius way. Amazon can easily just watch streams through their own platform to see what people like and what they don't in real time. From there it's a simple matter of tweaking gameplay to keep people hooked.
Implications For Gaming
If these games catch on, the merging of streaming into each game is something that many other development teams might decide to start getting in on, and there's some unpleasant implications here. Not just with all that free focus group data going straight to the giant corporation, but in also in how it might change game development.
With the focus on profit, live streaming, and esports, it seems like we might be headed away from the practice of starting with a great base story idea and developing it into a work of digital art through mechanics. Instead, developers may be headed into the trap of constantly tweaking established multiplayer genres to keep players hooked (and gambling Stream+ currency) for longer periods.
There are some exciting positive implications from Amazon's branching into gaming as well. This might signal branching out by combining different services together. While Prime members can get certain discounts when buying games, imagine an actual Prime section for games like with movies, where certain games are free to play for all Prime members. With so much of entertainment moving to that sort of subscription model, it's not hard to imagine a move like that happening soon. (Amazon also has a CryEngine based game engine, called Lumberyard)
What do you think? Do any of these titles excite you enough to pull you away from your current MOBAs, MMOs, or team shooters, and is Amazon's involvement igniting a streaming revolution you want to see succeed or fizzle out prematurely?