Amazon Game Studios has been around since 2012, but their ambitious New World is what’s put them on my radar. I’ve been a fan of MMOs since Ultima Online and Everquest, so I’m always excited to see what new ideas hit the table. Unfortunately, recent MMOs have been largely derivative and I haven’t really found anything new and exciting in quite a while.
Amazon stepping into the game and swinging for the fences changes the status quo in some significant ways. Part of that is in their fresh take on the MMO genre, and that’s something that we’ll be exploring a bit today as we look into what we know about New World and what Amazon’s tactics tell us to expect moving forward.
Having spoken with a few friends who were invited to Amazon’s alpha test for New World, it’s been an enjoyable experience. We know from released hand’s-on videos that the game is effectively an open-world sandbox experience and my friends who’ve played it and enjoyed it were also those who enjoyed Conan Exiles a great deal.
The basic format doesn’t seem to be much different from what you’ve seen in games like ATLAS, ARK, and Conan Exiles, but what we’ve seen so far suggests that the game is being developed to a significantly higher standard. They have that same process of gathering stones and bushes to build tools, which are then used to harvest better resources in order to craft better gear. Variations of that loop have been used constantly for years because it’s intuitive, effective, and adaptable.
The thing that’ll separate Amazon from other studios that have applied the same system to other games will be in the unique twists they apply now that it’s their turn. The available videos don’t give clear clues on how precisely that system will be used, but I think we can assume that it’ll be a system that encourages some form of cooperative activity among players. Whether that cooperation takes the form of economic, industrial, social, or all of the above, we’ll have to wait to confirm.
There are some aspects to New World that we already know will be significantly different from what we’ve seen in other games. Right off the bat is the 16th century setting of the game. I don’t know another MMO with the same setting. It’s usually fantasy, sci-fi, or some version of modern survival.
New World contains some aspects of those popular survival games, like zombies. That’s not what they’re called in the game, but that’s effectively what they seem to be. Animals are clearly a part of the game as well, but whether undead and wildlife are the only antagonists for players to engage in battle other than themselves, is still unclear.
But it’s more than just the setting and mechanics that makes New World different, it’s also how Amazon is treating the development of the game. They’ve been incredibly close-lipped about the game and have very strict non-disclosure agreements for all the testers invited to try the game out. A pessimist might suggest that their silence is cause for concern, but I’ve been told by those who’ve played the game that it’s in very good shape. It’s not something I totally take on faith, but would tend to believe as it’s something you can see for yourself while watching some of the released video.
In the age of early access and more than a few games that call themselves released with only half the intended work done, it’s refreshing to have to wait on a new game. It’s a great call-back to the early days of MMOs when the entire couple weeks after release were filled with exploration and discovery. Modern MMOs give players so many opportunities to play the game early that the magic you feel from exploring the unknown has largely been lost by most players. The strict NDA and restricted information surrounding New World is a chance for many gamers to experience that feeling for the first time, and I think that’s a very good thing.
I can see a few good business reasons for why fellow gamers should allow themselves to be excited about what Amazon is doing here. At the end of the day, Amazon is a publicly traded company and need to make a profit for their investors, and they’ve made a few moves that seem to be positive from a business standpoint.
For one, Amazon hired John Smedley to lead their studio. Smed lead SOE for the development of Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and Vanguard. Not that there weren’t other great games developed by SOE while Smed was holding the reins, but each of those three games were key steps forward in the MMO genre and all were under Smed’s watch. He’s not exactly a hands-off guy, so there’s a lot of credit to him in every game rolled out under his leadership.
All three of the above-mentioned games were also developed with a PR cycle very similar to what we’re seeing with New World. There was always an open acknowledgement that the games were in production, but betas were something very different back then and the idea of early access as something you could buy didn’t exist at all. John ran SOE through those periods and is very familiar with using that particular PR cadence to build successful launches for his games.
I really like indie studios and love covering their games, but a lot of studios have used the early access model when I really don’t think they should have. It’s resulted in wild deviations from the artistic vision behind some games, feature creep that’s killed others, and trained the player-base into being accepting of some pretty bad products. If Amazon can shake the industry of that bad habit, even if New World isn’t a commercial success, it’ll have made an important impact on the industry.
I’m also excited on behalf of the industry by Amazon breaking their way into the market. I’ve used Steam for years to buy games online. It’s a service that I really like a lot as a user, but it hasn’t been so great for studios. Without any competition to keep them lean and eager, Steam has gotten a little handsy with publishers.
While Steam has made it very easy for smaller studios to get their content in front of the masses, and I’m very grateful for that, they also charge the studios they work with a fairly substantial commission on sales and haven’t provided studios with the best tools for interfacing with the Steam API. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Amazon is eying a play at the digital content delivery field for games.
Amazon took books to the cloud and increased their market share. They took music to the cloud and did the same, and then they did it again with movies. Streamed content came next with their Fire devices. I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect that we may be seeing the beginning of something similar with their new foray into the video game market. Whether it’ll work or not, I can’t say. New ideas are always worth trying, though.
If that is Amazon’s long-term plan and New World is just their first step in that direction, this could be a really interesting five years or so as we see how it works out for them. Not the least of which is because New World just seems like a really great game, but also because it’ll be great to see the industry shaken up a bit. Stagnation in the market leads to lack of creativity, which is a lot of what we’ve seen over the last decade or so in video games. Maybe this will be part of a new surge in creativity and innovation as Amazon primes the market for what’s next.