To signal the Amazon gaming unit, “New World” “must be our breakthrough”


By Kellen Browning, The New York Times Company

Amazon has been successful in almost every industry it has entered, from books and races to cloud computing and movie streaming. So it has been confusing to many that success in the lucrative video game industry has eluded the tech giant.

Amazon gave production of its own video games another try on Tuesday. After more than a year of delay, he released “New World”, an online multiplayer game in which players join factions, fight monsters, fight each other and colonize a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean.

The $ 40 computer game, which has received generally positive reviews as gamers have tested early versions in recent months, comes at a pivotal time for the tech giant’s disappointing gaming efforts.

After spending by some estimates in the hundreds of millions of dollars, neither of the other two big budget games that Amazon announced it was producing in 2016 alongside “New World” exists today. Some of its best gaming rookies have left over the years without releasing any notable titles. Last year, the company also pulled another game from the storefront after a poor reception.

“New World” “has to be our revolutionary game – there is no doubt about it,” said Christoph Hartmann, vice president of Amazon Games. “Just for the sake of people’s morale, at some point you want to see some success.”

Amazon’s biggest achievement in the gaming industry to date has been the acquisition of Twitch, the live video site, which the company bought in 2014 for around $ 1 billion. Amazon has also launched a new games subscription service, called Luna, and recently announced a new development studio in Montreal.

But success with its own games has been difficult for Amazon, which opened its games studio in 2012. Mike Frazzini, a longtime executive at the company, took the helm and said he wanted to make success. like “Minecraft”. Instead, despite producing a handful of mobile titles, Amazon has canceled or discontinued at least four larger games in the past few years.

In 2018, Amazon halted development of a sports game called ‘Breakaway’, acknowledging that it “failed to achieve the breakthrough that made the game what we all hoped it could be.” In 2020, he took the rare step of killing an already released game, “Crucible,” after the multiplayer game was billed as a “hollow and forgettable experience.” Last April, he called off a scheduled “Lord of the Rings” match after a contract dispute with Chinese tech giant Tencent, with whom he was teaming up to produce the title.

One of the often-cited reasons for Amazon’s struggles is that the typical mindset of big tech companies – taking an analytical approach of investing money in something, growing, and hoping for results – doesn’t work in a fickle arts industry like gaming, where users are quick to criticize and slow to welcome new entrants.

“What governs Amazon, above all, is this spreadsheet logic,” said Joost van Dreunen, a professor at New York University who studies the video game business. “I don’t know if a creative, hodge-podge process of making games really fits into Amazon’s corporate culture.”

Outside of Amazon, which does not detail its game sales in its financial information, the gaming industry has thrived, especially during the pandemic. Newzoo, a game analytics company, has forecast that people will spend $ 175.8 billion on games this year.

Amazon, of course, found success after a slow start in the production of TV shows and movies. Gaming analysts suggested that Amazon could instantly find out about the gaming industry – which adds a dimension of technological competence – in the same way that it took several years to find a winning strategy in the streaming world. .

“It’s all about experience,” said Rupantar Guha, games analyst at analytics firm GlobalData. “Although they’ve been slow, I think they’re starting to get there.”

Hartmann, who reports to Frazzini, admitted that Amazon had failed in the past. When he joined the company in 2018, “New World” “didn’t look promising”. “Crucible,” he said, was meant to compete with “Fortnite,” one of the most popular games of all time, and was “overly ambitious” in scope. “In the long run, I think you learn with the losses,” he said.

But he compared the studio to a talented but young sports team that is on the rise. “You can bring together the best people, but they won’t win the championship immediately,” he said.

Hartmann, an industry veteran who founded 2K Games, which produces popular titles like “NBA 2K,” tried to adjust Amazon’s focus from worrying about financial goals to developing enjoyable content.

“It’s a Big Tech business, so there will always be an element of, if you keep beating it in a certain way, you’ll end up spitting something out the other side,” Hartmann said. Instead, he encouraged a more creative approach less focused on benchmarks and results. With games, “most decisions are made on your instincts, and sometimes that’s a very risky proposition for a big tech company.”

Players who played early versions of “New World” said it was colorful and action-packed. Amazon would not share sales figures, but said it had more than one million players during a two-week test period of the game over the summer. “New World” was also the top-selling title on the Steam online game store during this period.

Dan James, a Twitch streamer and longtime player from Southampton, England, said a first test of the game last year was difficult and somewhat disappointing, but the developers have since expanded the game options, introduced voiceovers, improved combat mechanics, and made a host of other changes that got people excited.

“’New World’ looks really great,” said James, 32, who played various iterations of the game before its official launch. He said there remained some skepticism among gamers “because Amazon doesn’t have a big game there yet,” but said the company has proven it can create, at the very least, “a brilliant baseline”.

If successful, “New World” could create momentum for Amazon and reinforce the perception that it is a serious rival in this industry. But van Dreunen wondered if Amazon would want to continue investing in the company, especially if the early returns on “New World” are disappointing. And while “New World” is hugely successful, he said, one game doesn’t necessarily justify years of failure and expense.

“Let’s say it’s the flagship title, cool. This is Amazon’s “Super Mario”. OK, cool, what else do you have? You have to have a catalog, you have to have a full offer, ”said van Dreunen. “A swallow doesn’t make a summer.

Yet Amazon has a reputation for persistence, even if the company loses money initially. Hartmann said executives took a long-term view for game development. The company plans to release a game called “Lost Ark” in 2022, and has other plans in the works.

Guha said patience is the tech giant’s greatest asset. “The best thing about Amazon is that they don’t give up,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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