Can Amazon’s Product Managers Make Videogames Successful?

So far, things have not been going well for Amazon's video games
So far, things have not been going well for Amazon’s video games
Image Credit: Josar Photos

It almost goes without saying that we all know about Amazon – the book seller who has turned into the seller of just about everything. What you may not know about Amazon is that they decided a while back to that they were going to enter into the lucrative video gaming market. With the power of Amazon behind you, you’d think that there was no way that they could ever not be successful. However, so far things have not gone the way that the Amazon product managers had wanted it to go. What are they going to have to do to turn their product development definition around?

What Has Not Worked For Amazon’s Video Game Efforts?

So why would Amazon, who makes so much money doing so many different things, care about video games? The answer is that the video game market is too big to pass up. The video game market is currently estimated to be US$130B. Every product manager would want getting a piece of that to be on their product manager resume. Since Amazon is always looking for new ways to grow, this is just too big to pass up. However, ever since Amazon decided to get into the video game business, things have not been going well for them. Most recently, Amazon has laid off many of the people that had been working in their video game division.

The Amazon plan had to been to find a way to create hit video games – can anyone say Fortnight? However, so far that has not happened yet. The goal was for Amazon to create software that could then be used to create video games. Their motivation to do this was because their software would run in its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. With a little luck and the creation of a popular game, Amazon could get more people to purchase their AWS product offerings. With their current setback, the Amazon product managers have decided to reorganize and focus on just two games that are currently under development.

Back in 2012, Amazon formed a new unit called Amazon Game studios. They staffed this unit with approximately 800 employees and spread them over three sites located in Seattle, San Diego, and Irving, California. The initial focus for this unit was to publish mobile games that were created by other developers. This went on for a while; however, in 2015 the product managers changed their mind and started to develop their own titles for personal computers. The next year the Amazon unit announced that they had three different computer games under development. Since this announcement, one of the games has been cancelled and the other two still remain under development.

How Is Amazon Going To Win The Video Game Market?

The game that the Amazon product managers ended up cancelling was to be called “Breakaway”. However, it never achieved the break through that was required for it to be successful. This is why the product was cancelled before coming to market. There are rumors that that there was another PC game under development that was never announced, but which has since been cancelled. The good news for Amazon Game Studios is that they have been able to successfully release a game. Last year they released a car-racing game called “Grand Tour Game” for consoles. However, since its release it has sold poorly.

In an attempt to boost their ability to create games that people would want to play, Amazon has recruited gaming industry stars including a former Sony executive and a couple of game designers. The Sony executive still works for Amazon, but the game designers have both left several years ago. The creation of video games is much like the creation of a Hollywood movie – it can take a long time and there is no guarantee of success. If a game gets negative feedback from players when it is released, there is a very good chance that the company who developed it will then stop selling the game.

A key part of developing any modern computer game is the engine that the game uses. Amazon has been using an engine that it purchased called “Lumberyard”. However, it turns out that this engine was never designed to be used for multiplayer games and so Amazon has been busy trying to add that functionality to it. Other firms, such as Electronic Arts have their own proprietary engines that they use to create their games. So far nobody has created a popular game using Lumberyard. The Amazon product managers may be forced to allow its game studio unit to use other company’s engines to create games. The thinking is that by doing this they can create games that would be more popular. However, the downside is that they might end up paying royalties or subscription fees to the firms that developed the game engine.

What All Of This Means For You

To be a product manager who works for Amazon sure sounds like a great product manager job description to have. It seems as though everything that the company touches, books, groceries, streaming services, etc. turns to gold. However, the product managers who are responsible for Amazon’s video game unit are starting to discover just exactly how hard it is to create wildly popular video games.

The reason that Amazon is interested in getting into the video game market is because this is a very large market. The Amazon product managers had hoped to be able to create video games that would attract developers and players to make use of Amazon’s AWS cloud service. Amazon created a unit to focus on the development of video games. This unit was spread over three different locations. They initially started to work to promote mobile games created by other developers; however, they then switched to creating their own PC games. They currently have two games under development. Amazon used to have three games under development; however, they have cancelled one of them. They have hired outsiders to help with their game development; however, many of them have since left. A key part of any video game is the game engine. Amazon’s engine is not up to handling multiplayer games and so they may end up having to make use of another company’s engine to create popular games.

There is no question that the video game market is a huge market. A gigantic company like Amazon should be able to do quite well in this market. However, what the Amazon product managers are starting to discover is that in order to succeed in the video game market you need to have creativity merged with good design. Getting these two video game characteristics to work together is turning out to be harder than anyone thought it would be. Their plan to expand their set of tools and start to use game engines developed by other companies is a step in the right direction. Now the Amazon product managers just need to see if they can attract the right set of talent that will allow them to create the next run-away hit in the world of video games!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think Amazon should try to create their own games or market games created by others?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Think about your favorite non-water drink right now. What color is it? When you pour it into a glass, it looks the way that it should – you can recognize it. In fact, when you drink it, it probably tastes the way that it looks. What if all of this could be changed. What if your favorite drink suddenly became clear? No, the taste would not be changed at all, it would just all of sudden look like water. Would you still want it? Some product managers are betting that you would say yes.