Feature Article

How Amazon Plans For Luna To Crack The Cloud Gaming Market

Product lead Oliver Messenger talks about Amazon's unique approach with gaming channels, how the Luna controller came together, and more.

Video game streaming services aren't as rare as they used to be, but there are still only a handful of companies with the resources and infrastructure to support such an initiative. The latest is Amazon, the online retail giant that has made tech inroads with its Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The company introduced Luna, a cloud gaming platform that will run on a variety of devices. While Luna invites aren't coming until October, the rollout was suitably impressive and promises some distinctive features like dedicated publisher channels. Early access signups are available now, but Amazon has already shown an impressive lineup of games included with its Luna Plus game channel. It also works with any Bluetooth controller, but Amazon has made its own Luna controller that connects directly to the cloud service, similar to Google Stadia.

GameSpot spoke with product lead Oliver Messenger about the service, its approach with channels, and how long the early access period may last.

GameSpot: Can you walk us through how the game channels work and what your vision is for that overall?

Oliver Messenger: So the game channels allow customers to subscribe to a curated set of content from either their favorite publishers or for a given genre. So, they're very modular. I can tell you that a section of very high-quality titles in the vein of that offering, whether it be a particular genre or from a particular publisher, and then traditionally unlock additional benefits alongside them.

The [Luna] Plus channel, not only does it include that growing catalog of titles, it also includes access to 4K content, up to 4K content 60 frames per second. I think it's worth mentioning that it is a curated set pulling from different genres to make sure there is something for everyone. And these are things that need to be highly rated on Metacritic to make sure that we put out good games.

Are there going to be bundling options, almost like cable packages?

One of the things that we're super, super cognizant of is simplicity and seamlessness. And the last thing I think we would want to do is to build combined packages and confuse a lot of people. We really don't want to complicate it, and have people having to do mental gymnastics.

One big differentiation from other games streaming services is that you've got iOS integration working through web apps. Can you go into a little more detail about how it works through the web integration?

Yeah. It's using standard progressive web app technology. So, the way to think about that is using that set of web technologies, we're able to essentially have it be treated by iOS as more of a native application. It's not fully native for sure, but by nature of it being a progressive web app, it does get access to certain parts of the operating system for [a] seamless experience.

The only new hardware you're introducing is the dedicated controller. What was the process like for actually making that device?

We actually used our in-house lab team, they built the Fire TVs, Echo devices. We actually did produce a Fire TV Bluetooth game controller. So, they actually already built one before, so there was some expertise. It was an interesting journey. I think we wanted to produce something that was high quality, that resonated well, performed well and felt good, that you could use as your primary gamepad, if you hadn't already got one. One of the reasons we were adamant about supporting Bluetooth and USB input, in addition to cloud, is that it feels good. It's not just for cloud gaming.

The announcement also mentioned that the controller is Alexa-enabled. So what does that functionality do for you?

This is all Alexa-enabled, similar to the remotes. And so you're holding it up on Fire TV and you push down and hold the microphone, the Alexa blue light comes up with this thing and you can find, play, and launch games. You can say, "Alexa, play Control," and the beauty of that is you can do that from outside of the actual application itself.

How long are you envisioning the early access period lasting?

We'll share more on that, I think, in the coming months. The short answer is we don't want to rush it. I know this sounds a bit like a canned answer but that's the honest truth. We don't want to be in early access for multiple years. Like we really want to learn our way in and go, and we certainly on our side make sure we [have what] we feel are the right sort of metrics. And in cases that will tell us what went really well, people are enjoying it, they're getting exactly what we hoped out of it. And when we have those numbers, our goal is to learn, listen, honestly, I mean, to adapt and then walk down that path. And once we hit those, get out and go.

What do you sort of see as the advantages versus your competition, both Google and Microsoft?

For us, one of the things that we are incredibly bullish on is an incredibly low barrier to entry, low friction. And so that's why we can push it. It just works with no specific hardware outside of what you already own with an offering that is priced appropriately.

We're not going after people who are heavily invested in gaming today, we're going after a variable set of people who would love to game; where they hear about these awesome titles beyond mobile gaming, their friends are on TV or they used to game, but they can't justify the expense.

For pursuing lapsed gamers or new gamers, what have you found to be the major barrier to entry: upfront hardware cost or game prices?

Honestly, it's all of the above, right? There's the upfront investment cost and there's the dedicated hardware, the upfront cost to have a title, that you don't know how often you're gonna be able to play or how it's going to perform. And then there's this complication or tax around setting everything up, making sure everything works. 'Do I have enough space? And do I want to play right now? I don't want to wait for this giant patch to download. I have 20 minutes right now.' So there's the core problems that inform the work itself.

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