zophar53's Blog

Posted on Oct 4th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Luna, Amazon, cloud gaming

The rumors have been swirling for what feels like years now about Amazon getting into the video game space. It's one of the few, if not only, areas of content delivery they have yet to tackle. This past week it finally happened. They're calling the service Luna, and like Google's Stadia, it's a cloud-based gaming service. We're close to a year out from Stadia's shaky launch and mere weeks since Microsoft's Game Pass cloud gaming (formerly X-Cloud) rolled out to Android phones. So how does Luna compare, and more importantly, will it learn from Google's mistakes?

On the surface, Luna has a lot of things in common with Stadia. You subscribe to the service and can then play games via streaming. It's available on PC, Mac, certain late-model Fire TV devices, and on iPhone and iPad via web browser. It also has its own controller, but if you'd rather not spring for yet another gaming controller, Amazon is claiming Xbox One and DualShock 4 controllers are compatible, as well as good ole mouse and keyboard.

Stadia went with Sony's left stick placement, Luna sides with the Xbox layout

That's pretty much where the similarities end though. Instead of using a Game Pass model like Stadia, Luna's model is more in line with their movie streaming service. There is no free tier. Instead, you pay a subscription fee and have access to all the games available on the service, and can add additional "channels" to access other pools of games for an additional fee. For example, Luna's "early access" pricing is $5.99/month for unlimited play on up to 2 devices at a time up to 1080p at 60fps. Amazon says that 4K is coming soon. From there, you can subscribe to the Ubisoft channel to add access to games in their library as well, but on only 1 device at a time.

This isn't unlike the cable TV model, and while Amazon has had great success incorporating that model into their Amazon Prime Video streaming service, this is a new twist to the gaming subscription landscape. In much the same way movies and TV show rights were completely upended when Netflix and Hulu started gaining popularity, it'll be interesting to see what new wrinkles this model could have on things like console/platform exclusivity.

No word yet on what the non-early access price will be, or if there's a difference between Luna and Luna Plus

Additionally, the Luna controller doesn't appear to require a link to a single platform like the Stadia controller and chromecast, instead linking directly with Amazon servers. This will supposedly allow you to switch from screen to screen with ease, which, if they can pull it off, would be impressive. I could see this being a convenient feature to have in a family environment where there are frequent arguments over who gets to watch or play what on which TV in the house. Building on Amazon's game rewards partnership with Twitch, Luna will also allow you to watch a Twitch stream via the controller, then transition directly to playing the game you're watching.

I've continued to check in on Stadia from time to time since last December. While the service has improved both in quality and game selection, it still has some glaring problems, and is a long way away from being a reasonable replacement for a dedicated console or PC. While Amazon is similar to Google in that it has no experience running a video game company, one of the areas in which they truly excel is in content delivery. They have years of experience building their content platforms, first with the Kindle, then with music, and then with movies and TV shows. They know how to make effective partnerships and have spent the last handful of years expanding both their Fire TV and Alexa smart speaker ecosystems. They're kind of like the modern day AOL free trial discs; there will be so many of them around in the future we'll practically be able to pave roads with them.

Ever wanted to talk to your controller? Yeah, me neither

It's the Fire TV and Alexa integration in all sorts of useful Internet of Things ways that makes me think Amazon may have something here. There's still a lot of barriers and variables. As any streaming service, Luna will depend heavily on reliable internet connectivity, which continues to be troublingly inconsistent in America. It's unclear at this early stage if gamers will take to a channel-like subscription model. At this point there doesn't appear to be any indication that you'll be able to actually purchase a game in Luna and just "own" it outright, so at that point it falls back on the old arguments. Those of us who enjoy owning our media and like knowing we can play our games regardless of having to be connected to the internet don't have much to hang our hats on here. But there's a lot of younger gamers out there who just aren't into owning things these days. And for those on a budget, a subscription model can be a great way to keep the cost of gaming down.

As I've mentioned before, Microsoft's Game Pass is making an increasingly appealing argument for a digital gaming future, purely from a value perspective. I'll be interested to see if adding a channel add-on element will be a bridge too far for some. Would it be worth it to subscribe to your favorite developers' channels a la carte if it means you don't have to pay for a developer's channel whose games you don't like? Pricing will be key. If it's going to cost gamers more to subscribe to 3 or 4 Luna channels than it will to keep their Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription going, there won't be much of a value proposition except to those who don't want, or can't afford, to buy expensive new consoles or PCs. That said, if Amazon somehow integrates Luna into their main Prime subscription at some point down the road, that would be a very compelling addition to a service for which I've basically resigned myself to lifetime subscriber status.

The game selection pales in comparison to what Game Pass offers, but this is already a much better list than what Stadia started with

Cloud gaming is happening. It's here, and it's inevidible. The next few years will be a bit of a wild west as the big players try to figure out how this will all go. It'll be a while yet before I'm willing to give up on physical games, but I have no doubt it'll be fascinating to watch things play out. I've signed up for a Luna early access invite (currently the only way to get in) and will be excited to get my hands on it to see how it stacks up against Stadia and whatever new platforms come along.

What about you all? Is Amazon's cloud gaming offering intriguing enough to pique your interest? How do you think it compares to Stadia and Game Pass cloud gaming? I haven't tried the latter yet, so I'd be interested in hearing how that service is going for you as well. Let me know in the comments.

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I agree "cloud---based" gaming is here to stay, but I think we are several years out before serious competition to the likes of Sony, Ms, and Ninty. Not even due to tech constraints necessarily: I think that as console gaming, PC gaming, and mobile gaming continue to converge, the service model will continue to mainstream and then, likely within a console generation's time or so from now, there will be so little difference in the consumer market between a new Playstation and a little box from Google, that the transition will be complete, with occasional outliers such as Ninty.
I think this is probably a smarter approach than Stadia, if only slightly, but ultimately, I don't think the market is ready for this yet. Some will embrace it, as with Stadia, but Amazon will need to ramp up infrastructure to handle the additional load, and I'm not sure $5.99/mo is enough to cover the cost. They'll need tens of thousands of subscribers up front, just to cover costs, and will need a certain degree of longevity before it will pay for itself. I also wonder how long before Luna becomes a "value added" portion of Amazon Prime, because not enough people will pay for it outright, and then gets sunset down the road, because it just couldn't turn a profit.

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