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Luna, Amazon’s bet on game streaming, is all about channel subscriptions

The company's new cloud gaming service is modeled after its successful video subscription platform business.

Amazon Luna cloud gaming service

Luna, Amazon's new cloud gaming service, is modeled after its Amazon Channels video subscription marketplace.

Image: Amazon

Amazon is entering the cloud gaming arena, with a twist: The company unveiled a new game streaming service, dubbed Luna, at a press event Thursday. Early access to the service will launch to a small group of people in the coming weeks. On its surface, Luna is similar to Google Stadia: Consumers will be able to play on PCs, mobile devices and Fire TVs (or in Stadia's case, Chromecasts), with games being streamed directly from the cloud. Amazon will also sell a dedicated game controller that is supposed to cut down on cloud gaming latency.

A major difference between Luna and other existing cloud gaming services, however, is Amazon's business model. Luna doesn't want to be a Netflix-like all-you-can-eat service, nor will it require users to purchase individual titles. Instead, the company is looking to work with game publishers to launch their own dedicated subscription channels on Luna, at a price of their choosing.

Amazon will kickstart things with its own Luna+ channel, which will give subscribers access to what the company vaguely described as "a growing number of" games, including titles like Resident Evil 7, Control and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for a fee of $5.99 per month.

Additionally, Amazon has struck a partnership with Ubisoft to launch its own subscription channel on Luna, which will give subscribers access to titles like Assassins Creed: Valhalla, Far Cry 6 and Immortals Fenyx Rising for a separate monthly fee that has yet to be announced.

Amazon didn't announce any channels from additional publishers at launch. "You'll see other channels over time," Amazon's VP of Entertainment Devices and Services Marc Whitten told Protocol following the announcement. He also suggested that feedback from publishers had been largely positive: "They are pretty excited about the idea," he said.

The channel subscription model is new for cloud gaming, but it will look very familiar to anyone who has followed Amazon's media ambitions over the years. Amazon first launched Amazon Channels as a marketplace for subscription video services in late 2015. Since then, Channels has turned into the largest reseller for video subscriptions online: In 2018, the Diffusion Group estimated that the platform was responsible for around half of all HBO direct-to-consumer subscriptions.

Whitten openly credited the success of Channels as an inspiration for Luna, adding that the company wants to incorporate some of the lessons learned over the years from reselling video services, which include a bigger emphasis on the brands of individual publishers.

Whitten didn't want to reveal too many additional details about Luna — Amazon is still keeping mum on the pricing of the Ubisoft channel, for instance — but suggested that it could be complementary to other cloud gaming services on the market. "I don't buy into the idea that there is one model," he said. Instead, Whitten argued, it could open the market to a new generation of gamers. "Things like Luna help publishers broaden access to games," Whitten said.

Amazon has clearly learned from Channels how successful subscriptions can be, but the experience also taught the company about the challenges of operating marketplaces on other companies' platforms. Case in point: To avoid Apple's stringent App Store rules — which games maker Epic is currently fighting — Luna will be launching as a progressive web app on iOS, effectively allowing people to play top-tier games in a web browser.

People

Beeper built the universal messaging app the world needed

It's an app for all your social apps. And part of an entirely new way to think about chat.

Beeper is an app for all your messaging apps, including the hard-to-access ones.

Image: Beeper

Eric Migicovsky likes to tinker. And the former CEO of Pebble — he's now a partner at Y Combinator — knows a thing or two about messaging. "You remember on the Pebble," he asked me, "how we had this microphone, and on Android you could reply to all kinds of messages?" Migicovsky liked that feature, and he especially liked that it didn't care which app you used. Android-using Pebble wearers could speak their replies to texts, Messenger chats, almost any notification that popped up.

That kind of universal, non-siloed approach to messaging appealed to Migicovsky, and it didn't really exist anywhere else. "Remember Trillian from back in the day?" he asked, somewhat wistfully. "Or Adium?" They were the gold-standard of universal messaging apps; users could log in to their AIM, MSN, GChat and Yahoo accounts, and chat with everyone in one place.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Power

Everything you need to know about the Roblox direct listing

The company is expected to go public via direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange in February.

Roblox CEO David Baszucki is taking the company public.

Photo: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images

Roblox is a video game platform, though it describes itself alternatively as a "metaverse," "human co-experience platform" and "new category of human interaction." It's expected to go public via direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange in February.

In simpler terms, Roblox enables developers to build games within the Roblox virtual world, which looks like a crossover between Minecraft and Lego. Developers publish and distribute their games through Roblox to an audience of some 31.1 million daily active users.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
People

Amazon’s head of Alexa Trust on how Big Tech should talk about data

Anne Toth, Amazon's director of Alexa Trust, explains what it takes to get people to feel comfortable using your product — and why that is work worth doing.

Anne Toth, Amazon's director of Alexa Trust, has been working on tech privacy for decades.

Photo: Amazon

Anne Toth has had a long career in the tech industry, thinking about privacy and security at companies like Yahoo, Google and Slack, working with the World Economic Forum and advising companies around Silicon Valley.

Last August she took on a new job as the director of Alexa Trust, leading a big team tackling a big question: How do you make people feel good using a product like Alexa, which is designed to be deeply ingrained in their lives? "Alexa in your home is probably the closest sort of consumer experience or manifestation of AI in your life," she said. That comes with data questions, privacy questions, ethical questions and lots more.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Power

What TV remotes tell us about power struggles in streaming

TV remote controls are a major battlefield in the TV wars, which are fought one branded button at a time.

LG's 2021 smart TV remote control features a total of three buttons for voice control.

Image: LG

Don't touch that dial: As TV manufacturers are unveiling their 2021 models at this year's virtual CES, they're also giving us a first look at the remote controls that will be shipping with those big, shiny and smart TV sets.

There were a few surprises. LG's remotes come with built-in NFC to transfer videos from mobile devices to the TV, and Samsung's remotes incorporate solar cells that are meant to reduce battery waste. The new crop of 2021 TV remotes also perfectly encapsulates the conflicts and power struggles in the TV industry, from streaming services vying for attention to voice assistant platforms' fierce competition.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Power

Roku is becoming the most powerful company in streaming

A growing user base will give it even more power in content negotiations.

Roku's emerging as one of the streaming war's biggest winners.

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Roku's bet on smart TVs is paying off: Seven years after the company first began licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers, it has become a market leader in North America. Roku and its hardware partners sold more smart TVs in the U.S. in 2020 than competitors like Samsung, LG and Vizio, according to data from the NPD Group released by Roku on Friday.

Roku TVs had a 38% market share in the U.S. and a 31% market share in Canada, according to NPD's data. Roku also announced earlier this week that it had ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts, adding around 14 million accounts over the past 12 months. Altogether, consumers streamed 58.7 billion hours of entertainment through their Roku devices in 2020, according to a news release.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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