With unmatched financial resources, and a plethora of top name talent, the stage should have been set for Amazon Game Studios to produce the next big thing. While the giant company has successfully made inroads in the film and television industries, and looks to land big budget flicks like Chris Pratt’s latest, gaming has been an elusive target for the company. A new exposé reveals some of the reasons why Amazon has struggled to make the most of its resources.
Amazon has been attempting to break onto the gaming scene for a while now, with a number of projects that were ultimately shelved. One of few to make it to release was last year’s Crucible. The Overwatch-styled team shooter attempted to capture some of the magic that made Overwatch so successful, but it just did not resonate with gamers. Amazon swiftly discontinued support of Crucible, shutting down servers and further development only months after release.
What the reporting by Jason Schreier and Priya Anand reveals, through numerous interviews with employees past and present, is Amazon’s lack of understanding about how game design works. Sources reveal a corporate vision of creating billion-dollar franchises, where a game can be a 10,000 person multiplayer experience, but equally enjoyable solo, while also being something folks have never played before. It led to employees essentially being shackled by an unrealistic goal. Quite unlike the one-man studio behind Cyber Shadow, where the desire to create an 80s action throwback resulted in a game that oozes with style and genuine love for the genre.
There were also reports of sexism at Amazon, where a “bro culture” led to women being overlooked for promotion and male colleagues ignoring comments made by women during meetings. This is unfortunately a common occurrence in the game development world, with Riot Games’s toxic work culture led to a massive lawsuit against the League of Legends developer.
At every stage of development there seem to be problems for Amazon. The company refused to build games in either the Unreal or Unity engines, not wanting to pay the licensing fees for a game engine. Instead Amazon developed its own engine, Lumberyard, that employees found very difficult to use.
There are still projects lined up for Amazon Game Studios that could right the ship. The survival MMO New World is still on track to be released sometime this year, after a couple of delays. In an early stage of development, that game featured villains that could be seen as insensitive and racist depictions of Native Americans, so retooling was necessary. The company is also looking to publish a Lord of the Rings MMO, but details are scarce. Perhaps one of these will be successful and turn things around for Amazon’s beleaguered games division.