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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.
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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.