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Amazon’s best video game director on ‘New World’ success and why everyone’s chasing Roblox

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Amazon.com Inc. has succeeded in dominating online book sales, then the whole of e-commerce and cloud computing. Today, the company has found a prominent place in the next business it targets: video games.

Amazon AMZN,
+ 0.61%
In late September, launched its first blockbuster video game, aptly titled “New World,” an explorer-themed massively multiplayer online game or MMO, set on a haunted island called Aeternum. In the first weekend of availability, the game drew nearly a million players and roughly the same number of viewers on Twitch – the live streaming platform Amazon also owns – which was the 12th most viewer in Twitch history, Amazon said.

Like the rest of Big Tech, Amazon wants to own more share of the video game market, the world’s largest entertainment category even before a pandemic-influenced growth spurt in the past two years. Globally, video games are expected to gross $ 259.5 billion this year, up nearly 12% from a year ago, according to IDC analyst Lewis Ward.

Learn more: People still play video games a lot, but how many?

In a recent fireside chat at the GeekWire 2021 summit in Seattle, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said that video games “could become the biggest category of entertainment over a long period of time. time “and this justifies the long-term investment of the company.

Amazon established its “Games” division in 2012, but until “New World” it was best known for its swings and misfires as a 2020 shooter called “Crucible,” which was considered a resounding flop. Christoph Hartmann, Former President of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. TTWO,
-0.62%
and founder of the company’s 2K Games label, was tasked with leading Amazon’s video game ambitions in 2017, and recently spoke with MarketWatch about what he learned from “Crucible,” where Amazon’s gaming ambition and why everyone is chasing Roblox Corp. RBLX,
+ 1.00%

The “Crucible” for a “New World”

In his interview with GeekWire, Jassy compared the video game industry to the movie industry in that it is “hit driven” and that means being able to overcome setbacks.

“If you are not prepared to endure setbacks, including spectacular failures, then you shouldn’t be in this business,” Jassy said.

Hartmann spoke in detail with MarketWatch about Amazon’s biggest video game failure, “Crucible,” and the game’s lessons that informed development and decisions about “New World.”

Christoph Hartmann, Director of Amazon Games

Amazon.com Inc.

“Don’t ship a game too early, and don’t ship a game when you have a larger-than-life competitor at the peak of their success, which would be [Epic Games Inc.’s] ‘Fortnite’ at that point, ”Hartmann told MarketWatch of the lessons learned. “We’re doing a similar game trying to get market share, but it’s really the winner who takes it all.”

“We applied all of that learning on ‘New World’ to really give it time, we had so many delays,” Hartmann said. Unlike “Crucible”, “New World” is an MMO, closer to the ATVI of Activision Blizzard Inc.,
+ 2.17%
“World of Warcraft” franchise. “We got into a genre that hadn’t seen a great game in a very, very long time, so it definitely helped us,” he said.

Shipping a game too early has been a big concern for the industry lately, given last year’s buggy release of CD Projekt SA CDR’s long-awaited and anticipated “Cyberpunk 2077”,
-4.24%
which forced distributors like Sony Group Corp. 6758,
+1.58%
to offer full refunds. Over the past year, Electronic Arts Inc. EA,
-1.09%
has delayed the release of “Battlefield 2042” and Take-Two has said expansions to the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise and two “immersive core titles” will be delayed.

Amazon can afford to think long term

Even though Amazon is a newcomer to games, Hartmann said it has a distinct advantage over traditional video game publishers: since games aren’t the only source of revenue, it gives developers a lot more money. freedom of creation.

“Traditional publishers, due to the fact that they’re all publicly traded, you kind of think in quarters and years,” Hartmann told MarketWatch. “Amazon, when they start a new business, especially one like ours where each product takes you several years, they think longer term.”

This ability to focus on creativity, rather than how development affected a company’s bottom line, was one of the main reasons Hartmann joined Amazon, he said.

“We have enormous creative freedom,” Hartmann told MarketWatch. “At the end of the day, we’ll be judged on the results, but no one is going to micro-manage along the way.”

“’New world’ is a great example,” he said. “In a traditional publisher, someone would have put their foot down and said ‘you are shipping it because it’s in the tax plan’.”

Everyone is chasing Roblox

One of the biggest changes in video games over the past decade has been their ability to become social platforms built in virtual worlds. The social aspect of the game has far surpassed visiting friends’ farms in Zynga Inc.’s ZNGA,
+ 2.62%
“Farmville,” a change that was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of people socialized through video game platforms because they couldn’t in real life.

In the shift to video games as social media, Hartmann praised a company that just went public earlier this year, Roblox, where many young users who grew up with coding as a second language are creating their own games and contained in virtual worlds.

Read: Roblox “blurs lines between social and gaming”, analysts say

“Everyone will be suing Roblox, which I personally think is difficult because, going back to my ‘winner takes it all’ story, I think they’ve come out with something so fantastic that it’s very difficult to pull it off. catch up, ”Hartmann mentioned.

“User-generated content will continue to grow,” he said. “It will be a standard in every game. “

Feed first, acquire later?

As to what the next big disruptive trend in video games is, Hartmann is not going to speculate, saying that if he knew he would “be working on it already.” Many disruptive trends in video games have come as a surprise, Hartmann said, and the next big thing is likely to come from a little gamer there.

This could explain Amazon’s stance on partnering with outside studios with a program called “Project Ignite,” which Hartmann said is “where we try to find these smaller, disruptive developers.” To date, Amazon Games has not bought any other studio, unlike Netflix Inc. NFLX,
+ 0.56%,
which is only just getting started in video games.

Read more: Netflix presents mobile gaming plan that could set a collision course with Apple

One of the developers recently added to Project Ignite is UK-based Glowmade, which is developing an “original game” with Amazon. And in 2022, Amazon plans to release the MMO game “Lost Ark,” developed by South Korea-based Smilegate.

“They have to remain independent,” Hartmann said. “I think if a big player like Amazon or any larger than life company comes in, you’re actually on the path to creativity.”

“Having said that, obviously if we break through and turn into something really big, we’ll have conversations,” he said.


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