Amazon has finally entered the world of video gaming. We suppose it was just a matter of time, but somehow one of the largest corporations on the face of the planet has managed to sneak up on us all with an announcement that will shake the video gaming establishment to its foundations. Sony, Microsoft, Google, Nvidia, Apple, and everybody else can officially consider themselves to be on notice, because Amazon has arrived with “Luna,” and it might change everything.
“Luna” is not, strictly speaking, a video gaming platform in the same way that Sony and Microsoft make video gaming platforms with their PlayStation and Xbox consoles. In terms of format and presentation, Luna (we’ll drop the quotation marks now) is a product akin to Google Stadia, and also Microsoft’s nascent cloud-gaming product “XCloud.” To explain that in its most basic terms, it means that players don’t need to have a video game console to play brand new video games, and nor do they need to buy a physical copy of whatever game it is they feel like playing when they open Luna up. When you play games on Luna, you’re not putting cartridges or discs into a machine the way that your parents or grandparents did. You’re accessing everything through the internet, and you’re playing by way of a live stream from hardware that may be based thousands of miles away from your locations. Welcome to the future.
If you’re thinking “this sounds almost identical to Google Stadia,” you’re not far off the mark based on what we’ve told you so far – but there’s a twist coming. Google’s business model with Stadia is relatively similar to the business model of online slots websites. Those of you who enjoy playing the occasional wager will understand what we mean by that. Thanks to the advent of online slots websites, it’s no longer necessary to visit a physical cabinet to play slots, and nor is it necessary to go to a casino. A good-quality online slots website will bring you every slot you could ever want to play directly to you no matter where you are and what device you’re using to play so long as it has a screen and a strong internet connection. The convenience of online slots is an existential threat to casinos. Amazon and Google hope that the convenience of streaming video games will become an existential threat to consoles. While Stadia still charges on a ‘per-game’ basis, though, Amazon has gone down a different road with Luna.
With Stadia, Google offers a limited amount of content on a nominally ‘free’ tier, but anything beyond that attracts a cost. If you want to play new games, you’ll have to buy them. If you’d like to stream your games in 4K, there’s a fee for that, too. Amazon doesn’t appear to think of games in such a singular fashion, and instead appears to have drawn inspiration from old-fashioned cable television. Through Luna, each video game development company will have a ‘channel,’ and Luna users will pay a fee for a subscription to that channel. So long as you’re subscribed to the channel, you can play any game that the developer releases. The more games by different developers you want to play, the more channels you’ll need to be subscribed to. For obvious reasons, this could quickly become expensive, but the flipside of the argument is that if you’re done playing something, and you don’t like the look of anything else on the channel you were playing it on, you can cut that subscription and start paying for access to a different provider instead.
This approach seems likely to penalize hardcore gamers. If you’re a casual gamer and you only ever play one or two games at once, it should be possible to maintain access to those games at a low price point. If you don’t have a ‘favorite’ development company or you like chopping and changing between games, you’ll need multiple subscriptions in order to do that. There might be a way of mitigating that cost, though. Although full details are yet to be confirmed (because the entire industry is still reeling from this unexpected announcement), it’s thought that access to Luna might be available at a discounted rate to Amazon Prime subscribers, and that the cost can be bundled into whatever regular payments you’re already making to Amazon.
At the time of writing, we don’t have a launch date for Luna, but Amazon promises that it will launch “soon” in a beta-ish ‘early access’ format, with access provided only to a limited number of Amazon customers. At the time of launch, only two channels will be available. The first is owned by Amazon itself and will be called “Luna Plus,” with an access price of $5.99 per month. Dozens of games are promised via that channel, but the only ones we’ve been able to specifically confirm thus far are “Control,” and “Resident Evil VII.” It’s likely that more games will be confirmed before the service goes live, as having a soon-to-be-last-gen “Resident Evil” game as a headline attraction isn’t going to cut it for most gamers. The other channel will be Ubisoft’s and theoretically should include access to as many games from Ubisoft’s extensive catalog as the company wishes to offer. Understandably access to that channel is likely to cost more, and may even rise as high as the $14.99 per month subscription service that Ubisoft offers directly to customers.
More developers will likely join up with the service at or before the point of launch, with others hanging back to see whether the idea catches on. The same drawbacks that apply to all cloud-based gaming still apply to this concept – if your internet connection is unreliable or isn’t fast enough, you’ll struggle to play games smoothly, and you might frequently find yourself frustrated by drop-off or disconnection. When 5G replaces 4G in most territories, though, such concerns are likely to become a thing of the past. We’ve suspected that streaming is the long-term future of gaming ever since Google launched Stadia. Now Amazon has joined the party, we’re feeling a lot more certain about those suspicions.