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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.

Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

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Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

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Photo: Aditya Vyas/Unsplash

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The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

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Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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