Even with Amazon’s unlimited money, Amazon Games has limitations

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Amazon Games finally has a hit with New World, but with seemingly unlimited money, shouldn’t this have happened sooner? Well, that’s one misconception that Amazon Games vice president Mike Frazzini discussed during a presentation with The Game Awards founder Geoff Keighley during the GamesBeat Summit Next event today.

Frazzini touched on a handful of topics, including the success of New World, Amazon’s business strategy, and the future.

“When you’re in the middle of these things you think where you’re going is good, you think it’s smart, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it,” explained Frazzini, when asked how he and the team are feeling. “But until you actually get something out the door and see how customers respond you just don’t know.”

New World launched globally with over 700,000 concurrent players and reached a peak of over 900,000 players. On Twitch, New World boasted over 550,000 viewers over the first 24 hours.

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“We thought we were on to something,” said Frazzini. “We obviously had people playing it in closed alphas and things like that. But the reception’s been great. So it feels good. It feels good to feel like we’re on the right track.”

Amazon Games has limited resources

At one point during the conversation, Keighley asked Frazzini about the appearance of unlimited resources. Amazon Games is part of Amazon Inc, the largest online retailer in the world. The company was founded by Jeff Bezos, the second richest individual in the world. Bezos has a net worth of just under $200 billion. Amazon as a whole generated over $425 billion in 2020.

Those two facts often cause outside observers to assume that Amazon Games can theoretically throw endless cash at its problems — either in development or with regards to post-release patches and content updates.

Frazzini, though, claims that isn’t an accurate portrayal.

“On the one hand ‘unlimited resources’ sounds good, but I think when it comes to these endeavors you also need to have boundaries. You have to have parameters. You end up making creative choices along the way,” said Frazzini. “We are just people. We hire people … there’s nothing behind the door, so to speak, that’s any different.”

That focus on people extends beyond the development process. It isn’t limited to how they build games, but how they strike deals for content and how they loop customers back into their own affiliated services.

Interfacing with the Games Industry

Being a developer is only one part of Amazon’s involvement with gaming, explains Frazzini. His team also focuses on games in the retail space as well as publishing games from other developers. But Amazon also wants to capitalize on a person’s engagement with a game by encouraging them to check out in-game events or merchandise.

To facilitate that, Amazon uses Prime Gaming as the center of this strategy.

“The idea here is pretty simple: we talk to game developers and say, ‘Give us content,’ which is mostly in-game content to give to Prime members,” said Frazzini. “In exchange, we’ll promote the heck out of your game.”

Amazon boasts over 200 million Prime members across the world, according to a 2020 letter to shareholders. To put that into perspective, Fox Sports reported that the 2020 Super Bowl was watched entirely or in-part by 143.5 million people. TV networks sold 30-second ad spots during the 2020 Super Bowl for $4.5 million.

The final piece of the strategy, according to Frazzini, is Twitch. Frazzini talks about how he regularly speaks with Twitch CEO Emmett Shear about how to help each other, and how that can translate into helping other developers integrate Twitch into their game launches.

“All the tools we’re using, all the marketing we’re using, it’s all available to anyone,” said Frazzini. “How do we help streamers make a more engaging experience for their viewers, and do that through the conduit of their game. As we invent things there, we share that with other developers.”

It’s a strategy uniquely Amazon, given its position in the world and the breadth of its operations. Few other companies (if any) could develop their own games, sell other developer’s games, generate subscriptions with content rewards from games, and then also pull in millions of viewers to watch live gameplay.

Looking forward

For Amazon Games, the future is live service content. The challenge is deciding what kinds of games are the right kinds of games, based on who it has available to work with.

“It really starts with ‘What are our teams? Who can we work with?’ If you have a team that’s really good in a particular area then you want to extend that expertise in that area,” Frazzini says. “It’s so hard to build highly capable teams … you have to accept that that’s a constraint in the industry.”

For Amazon Games, the people making up its teams are both the primary constraining resource and the defining factor for its future endeavors. And Frazzini and his team are learning to lean into those limitations even if Amazon as a whole seems like it has everything except for limitations.

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