“The era of cloud gaming is coming.” If you’re a video gaming fan and you stay abreast of developments in the gaming world, that’s a sentence you’ll have seen several times in the past ten years. By this point, you might have seen it so often that you’ve learned to disregard it. Just as we’ve frequently been told that the era of VR gaming is upon us only for nothing to happen and gamers to continue exactly as they were, the same is true of cloud gaming. It might be technically possible to play video games through the internet without the need for a console or a physical copy of the game, but it seems that players simply aren’t interested in making that change yet. On paper, that’s very bad news for Amazon Luna – but reality doesn’t always match what’s on paper. After a long, slow, soft launch, Amazon Luna is finally going live worldwide, so could it succeed?
The Failure of Google Stadia
It’s easy to assume that Amazon is doomed to failure with its Luna experiment because Google has already failed with Stadia. The technology giant launched Stadia more than three years ago and has tried every trick in its playbook to persuade people to give it a try. You’re no longer even required to buy any hardware or a special controller to play games on Stadia – you can use any internet connection, and you can use your existing PlayStation or Xbox controller if you wish. Google has pushed free Stadia subscription packages on anybody who buys YouTube Premium. They’ve packaged Stadia up with just about every other product they offer. It hasn’t mattered. Google Stadia is a flop, and outside a small-but-devoted player base, it’s already largely been forgotten about.
Although Google hasn’t publicly acknowledged the failure of Google Stadia, industry insiders say that the company is already planning to offload it or wind it down. Wired, which wrote a brutal article in February suggesting that Google should kill Stadia, claims that approaches have been made to other tech firms in an attempt to offload Stadia as a white-label software platform. In other words, Google has given up the ghost and wants to wash its hands of cloud gaming. Far from being available in 200 countries, which was the claim made at the time Stadia was launched, it’s available in barely over 20. That’s fewer than Nvidia’s controversial GeForce Now platform, which is available in almost 100. Xbox Cloud Gaming is available in more places than Google Stadia, and that’s not even officially out of beta testing yet. Even PlayStation Now, which isn’t without its own issues, is available in 19. Google Stadia is supposed to be a cloud gaming specialist platform. Yet, it’s barely more available than a platform provided by a company that treats cloud gaming as an afterthought.
The Casino Connection
Google (and presumably Amazon, too) thought the time was ripe for cloud gaming because they’ve seen the success of online casinos, online slots websites, and the enormous digital gaming market that those websites belong to. It would have been unthinkable in the 1990s for the casino industry almost entirely to move online, and yet that’s what’s happened. People are far more likely to do their iGaming through their laptops or phones now than they are to a casino in person, and that’s a testament to how innovative the people and companies that run these websites have become. Google and Amazon looked upon them almost like a backdoor pilot for conventional cloud gaming – but in Google’s case, they got some of the details wrong.
The entities behind online casinos understand that mass accessibility and zero barriers are the key to success. That’s why casino networks don’t create individual websites for each game they create, insist on players downloading apps, or insist on payment before people are allowed to register. Casino networks might use sister sites of their main brands to replicate content across their network, but in doing so, they’re spreading their net wider rather than restricting the point of access. Google got it wrong straight out of the gate by ignoring certain devices and insisting that all players had to use their controller. If a casino network company blocked access to its sister sites to, for example, any player using an Apple device or any user who had a laptop that was more than five years old, they’d be doomed to failure because so many of their rivals wouldn’t impose such restrictions. Google’s approach from day one should have been “catch-all.” Instead, they’ve ended up with “catch almost nobody.”
What Makes Amazon Different?
Amazon Luna has been in invite-only mode since October 2020. By its own admission, the company does not have expert status when it comes to video games. The Amazon Games division is yet to create a single hit, so it made sense to take a slow and steady approach with Luna. They’ve been getting feedback from the players who’ve been invited to give the new platform a try, but they’ve also been watching their rivals like a hawk. They’ve had the opportunity to learn lessons from the seemingly-inevitable downfall of Stadia, and if they’re smart, they’ll already have made changes based on those letters. They’ve seen what Sony and Microsoft did in response to the launch of Stadia, so they know what they’re up against in terms of alternative products from those companies. They have a much better idea of the marketplace than Google did when Stadia was launched, and they’ve decided now is the time to make Amazon Luna available to everybody.
Rather than charging per game like Stadia or running a monthly subscription model like Xbox Cloud or PlayStation Now, Amazon Luna operates “channels.” If you want to play old-school games, for example, you might want to subscribe to “The Retro Channel.” If you’re only interested in the latest releases, you’d be more interested in “The Prime Channel.” Amazon’s hope is that players will be drawn in by the idea of paying only for the content that they want to use and paying less than it would cost to own that content outright. In that way, they’re more focused than PlayStation Now and cheaper than Google Stadia. It’s a new and original idea, and it could work. The same question remains, though – are players ready to give up their consoles, or is it still too soon? Now Amazon Luna is available to all, it seems we’re about to find out.