Recent news that Google has decided to shut down its internal game development studios comes on the heels of a report by Bloomberg that suggests Amazon’s own game division is burdened by issues that it could prove to be insurmountable.
On the one hand, you want to be surprised by these revelations. There’s certainly a degree of surprise that comes naturally when you hear that two of the largest companies in the world have seemingly botched their entries into the video game industry so soon after they started. There was this idea that both companies would stay in the game long enough to just figure it out eventually.
On the other hand, these stories are, in the minds of many, more upsetting for the employees impacted by them than they are surprising in the least. Maybe that’s because of all these signs that pointed to the simple conclusion that Google and Amazon were seemingly doomed to fail as video game companies.
They Just Never Had the Games
Before we go into the various problems that plagued Amazon and Google’s gaming efforts, I should make it clear that the companies’ biggest problems were enhanced by the fact they just never offered any truly great (or even good) games.
Amazon Game Studios’ limited efforts include Crucible (a game that arguably fell faster and harder than any title in recent memory), New World (which has some promise but has a long way to go before realizing any of it), and a simple racing game based on The Grand Tour. Google, meanwhile, published some Stadia exclusives (including Submerged: Hidden Depths and Outcasters) and Stadia included third-party exclusives like Super Bomberman R Online, but they never really found the software that made you feel like you needed to be a Stadia subscriber. For that matter, the promise of upcoming Stadia exclusives remained vague throughout and was long treated as more of a bonus for those already interested in the service.
Success in the gaming industry comes down to a variety of factors, but at some point, you’ve got to actually release noteworthy video games to survive in this business.
They Wanted to Use Games To Promote Other Services
So, if Amazon and Google never really seemed interested in (or perhaps capable of) actually making major games, why did they get in the business in the first place? In both cases, it seems that the companies saw gaming as a platform for bigger ideas.
Most reports regarding Amazon’s gaming interests strongly suggests that they see gaming as another way to promote Amazon Prime and Prime Gaming. Undoubtedly inspired by Twitch’s success, they seemingly felt like their efforts would, at the very least, enhance the appeal of Amazon Prime and benefit from the association with one of the largest companies in the world. In other words, you get the feeling that they thought their games would eventually catch on if they put the force of the brand behind them.
As for Google, their blog post makes it pretty clear that they saw Stadia first and foremost as a piece of technology designed as an extension of the Google brand. Google finally seems willing to farm out Stadia as a piece of technology, but their insistence on gating the service’s best features behind the Google ecosystem clearly prevented Stadia from reaching the heights that it could have reached by now.
Their Culture Problems
That recent report from Bloomberg which detailed what can only be described as a toxic work culture for Amazon’s gaming division perfectly captures how hard it would have been for that division to grow.
Among the many accusations of sexism and “bro” culture (which separate reports indicate are problems you’ll find in some of Amazon’s other divisions) were reports that the executives Amazon put in charge of their gaming efforts fundamentally didn’t understand gaming. Some key personnel reportedly even failed to recognize the difference between gameplay footage and pre-rendered engine demos.
As for Google, we’re already hearing rumblings that their company suffers from similar problems with one unnamed insider telling Kotaku that “Google was a terrible place to make games. Imagine Amazon, but under-resourced.” As for Google’s appreciation and understanding of gaming and the industry’s culture…well, this really says it all:
Amazon and Google Failed to Find Their Niche in an Industry Loaded With Options
This idea goes hand in hand with the other problems we’ve mentioned, but the strange truth of the matter is that there are too many established gaming companies firing on all cylinders at the moment for companies like Amazon and Google to really make a splash by virtue of their resources and names alone.
Frankly, neither company offered anything that wasn’t already being done better by someone else in the industry. Amazon was seemingly interested in building a Blizzard-like roster of games (beginning with an MMO and a squad-focused shooter), but even with all of Blizzard’s modern issues, it’s difficult to imagine they’d come anywhere close to matching that company’s output without Blizzard’s years of experience and top development talent.
As for Google, they again seemed conflicted regarding whether they were a technology provider or a console manufacturer. They ultimately ended up treating Stadia like the worst of both worlds. Even now, it’s not clear how they’ll market Stadia as a pure cloud service in such a way that will allow them to compete with Microsoft’s impressive xCloud efforts or even established PC marketplaces like Steam and Epic Games.