Amazon's New World launches on Tuesday, marking the end of a long and bumpy road to release day for the company's most pivotal video game release to date. There's a lot riding on New World, a massively multiplayer online game in the vein of iconic successes like Blizzard's long-running World of Warcraft and Square Enix's immensely popular Final Fantasy XIV.
If the game succeeds, New World will mark a rare success for a technology company in the gaming space. With the exception of Microsoft, which entered the console game industry nearly two decades ago, tech firms have tried time and again to use their engineering talent and resources to crack the code behind making successful video games. Almost every attempt has failed, but Amazon is the closest to having a hit on its hands. If it flops, we could see Amazon's gaming ambitions go the way of Google's.
Amazon has taken the time to get New World right. It's been delayed four times since the beginning of last year, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also to ensure the game doesn't repeat Amazon's past failures.
- Amazon's first big-budget release under the Amazon Games label was Crucible, a multiplayer online battle arena game drawing influences from League of Legends and Overwatch. It never gained traction, and the company put the game back into a beta state before canceling it outright months later.
- "Only ship when you're ready," Amazon Games Vice President Christoph Hartmann told GamesIndustry.biz last week. "For me, that's probably something we should have known better — you don't [rush into] a territory where you already have clear market leaders."
- "It's important for us to listen to players and important for us to have a good launch," New World game director Scot Lane told Protocol last month. "A good launch is everything in MMOs." Lane and his team made the call in August to delay New World's launch one month.
Players are excited for New World. A closed beta for the game that started in July, which required customers to pre-purchase the title on Steam for $40, amassed "well over 1 million" players, Amazon confirmed to me.
- As of Monday, without the game yet being live for all players, New World was ranked No. 16 on Twitch, sandwiched between World of Warcraft and Genshin Impact with more than 40,000 viewers.
- New World's launch is expected to draw major Twitch streamers, including popular MMO streamer Asmongold, who had harsh words for the game in its beta state but has said he has faith in it because of how well the development team has listened to player feedback.
- "If there's anything we've learned in the last few years, the more we engage players the better it is for everyone," Lane said. "The game is going to get bigger and bigger over time, and it's going to be based on what they're asking for."
Big Tech and gaming haven't mixed well. Tech titans have long ignored the game industry in their search for growth and profits in advertising, search engines and computing hardware. But video games have become too big to ignore, and now Silicon Valley wants in.
- Amazon — though it failed with Crucible last year and recently canceled a Lord of Rings game as well — has a better track record than most. It owns Twitch, and the company has dabbled in game development for the better part of the last decade to build out the software libraries of its hardware products, like the Fire TV and Kindle Fire tablets.
- Google is perhaps the biggest cautionary tale here. The company launched its Stadia cloud gaming service in 2019 after making big promises about server performance and its in-house game development ambitions. Yet earlier this year, Google shut down its internal studios before ever releasing a game, and the platform hasn't lived up to the hype.
- Google still has YouTube's livestreaming component. Facebook has a streaming competitor of its own and is also scooping up studios to build out a first-party game library. Apple launched a subscription service called Arcade, though its treatment of mobile game developers has sparked a contentious legal saga that's still ongoing. Netflix is serious about gaming now, too.
New World isn't likely going to be an overnight success. Traditional MMOs typically charge a monthly fee and release content on a schedule to keep players signed up and invested. And pretty much the remainder of the industry's most popular games are all free-to-play, using microtransactions and seasonal content models to stay fresh and earn money. Amazon isn't taking either approach. New World costs $40 out the gate, and the company is asking players to put a fair amount of faith into a studio that's done nothing but cancel games until now.
It's not clear the development team can keep players hooked long enough to make New World competitive with gaming's most addicting live service titles. But Amazon has come a long way to get to launch day, and it's more clear now than ever that gaming isn't just a sideshow or hobby for the ecommerce giant. If New World doesn't flop, Amazon will have come a lot further than its peers on establishing a genuine and lasting presence in gaming.