This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Amazon's long-awaited MMO releases, Activision Blizzard settles one of its many lawsuits, and the TV-game industry crossover continues to pick up steam.
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The Big Story
Amazon's gaming future depends on New World
Amazon's New World launches today, 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 the title, a massively multiplayer online game in the vein of iconic successes like Blizzard's long-running World of Warcraft.
If the game succeeds, New World will mark a rare success for a technology company in the gaming space. With the exception of Microsoft, 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. 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 mobile game development for the better part of the last decade.
- Google is perhaps the biggest cautionary tale here. The company launched its Stadia cloud gaming service in 2019 with big promises about a cloud-first future. Yet it 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, while the remainder of the industry's most popular games are all free-to-play. 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 a competitive live service success. 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.
A version of this story appeared on Protocol.com.
A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO
Michael Pryor, co-founder of Trello (now a part of Atlassian), explains what he's learned along the way and his advice for other companies that are looking to build a truly collaborative culture that keeps employees feeling connected — from wherever they choose to work.
- "I'm calling it now, the Mario Bros movie will NOT have Charles Martinet play Mario for no reason and cast someone like Chris Pratt." ―Alarmingly prescient Twitter user StheGeneral predicted Nintendo's somewhat controversial casting decision for the new animated Super Mario film … way back in May 2020.
- "Fortnite should not be blacklisted for challenging an agreement containing terms the court found to be unlawful which Apple forces on all developers as terms of access to iOS. We'll fight on. The need for regulatory and legislative action is clearer than ever before." ―Epic CEO Tim Sweeney publicly condemned Apple for blocking Fortnite's return to the App Store last week. Apple claims it's because Epic appealed the verdict in the two companies' lawsuit, but Sweeney suggests it's retaliation.
- Quantic Dream wins, and loses, its libel suits. The Heavy Rain developer won a libel suit it filed in 2018 against newspaper Le Monde, Kotaku reported last week. Yet in an odd twist, it lost another libel suit it filed against Mediapart, which collaborated with Le Monde on the same series of stories about rampant misconduct at the studio.
- Twitch is repairing its relationship with the music industry. The streaming platform this past week signed deals with Warner Music Group and the National Music Publishers' Association, though neither deal allows streamers to play licensed music and instead focus on building better working relationships with music rights holders.
- Nintendo leans into services. During last week's Direct presentation, Nintendo announced an expanded Switch Online membership that includes classic N64 games. We don't know pricing yet, but Nintendo's willingness to prioritize its subscription service over selling old games on their own shows a shift in its strategy.
- Activision Blizzard settles. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission joined the chorus of government agencies suing Activision Blizzard. Shortly after, CEO Bobby Kotick announced a settlement with the agency and an $18 million fund "to compensate and make amends to eligible claimants."
- The Witcher lives on. Netflix has renewed the fantasy show for a third season, ahead of the Dec. 17 debut of season two. There will also be another animated movie set in the Witcher universe, following last month's "The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf."
- The live-action The Last of Us emerges. Sony and HBO's adaptation of Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic zombie drama revealed its first still featuring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. Though the show has already started filming, HBO has yet to announce a release date.
- Perfect Dark reboot picks up another studio. Crystal Dynamics is now helping Microsoft-owned The Initiative with its reboot of seminal shooter Perfect Dark. The link between the two is Darrell Gallagher, who oversaw Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider reboot before co-founding his new studio under the Xbox umbrella.
- Andreessen Horowitz wants more of the gaming industry. The firm is looking to start a new fund specifically scouting up-and-coming gaming startups, Insider reported last week. The fund would be the firm's sixth, and Andreessen is looking to hire a general partner to lead it.
Look out for
A great month for indies
This year has been filled to the brim with standout indie games and troves of hidden gems, and October's release slate doesn't deviate from that theme in the slightest. Hyper Light Drifter developer Heart Machine is dropping its long-awaited next game, Solar Ash, on Oct. 26 for PlayStation and PC. The award-winning role-playing detective thriller Disco Elysium also arrives on the Nintendo Switch on Oct. 12, while the No Man's Sky-inspired exploration game Jett: The Far Shore drops on Oct. 5. All look well worth checking out.
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