Amazon, as successful a company as it is, just cannot make video games. At least that’s the prevailing internet meme concerning the company.
But that information alone was enough to have Bloomberg publish an article back in January that criticises Mike Frazzini, the guy who helped start Amazon Game Studios. It’s definitely worth a read, and it should be easily accessible since it’s been republished by plenty of other news sites (here’s one on The Indian Express). That being said, a few loose parallels can be drawn with the latest debacle over the weekend involving the company’s New World MMO. Especially the “dismissive of feedback” bits.
For context, here’s the tweet with a statement regarding the in-game premium store by Rich Lawrence, the studio director behind the New World MMO. While you’re at it, you can also read the few corporate responses the company gave to commenters.
Please read this letter regarding the storefront testing we are currently doing in Alpha. pic.twitter.com/IucMciGWC1
— New World (@playnewworld) May 15, 2021
Now, I’m not going to pretend I know anything about game development and the money making side of that business. But what I can say is that the decision makers behind the statement are one of two things, and I don’t mean either as personal attacks. One is that their interests are heavily tilted towards making Amazon money over making an MMO. The other, if that isn’t the case, is that they have probably never played an MMO and is just spitballing as to what features are seen as optional, and therefore monetisable.
Let’s break the statement down, starting with the first paragraph. The statement starts by saying that the premium store is “not, and never will be, to create a feeling that store items are necessary to enjoy the game”. There’s simply another game that proves this entire premise false, and that’s Middle Earth: Shadow of War.
“Premium store” and “optional” are inherently opposing ideas
For those who don’t remember, the Lord of The Rings (LOTR) spinoff game was chock full of microtransactions at launch. Gameplay was a massive grind, designed to push people towards spending real money to save time. In 2019, two years after its release, Warner Brothers Interactive (its developer) decided to remove the premium store. Gameplay was rebalanced to reflect this, too. Which made the “optional” argument very strenuous and contrived at best.
You’d think that the ruse of a premium currency store truly meant to be “optional” has been permanently dispelled. But it looks like that’s not the case, as plenty still attempt to justify the poor excuse. And New World is a game that’s still in Alpha, mind you.
Moving on to the second paragraph, which starts with “All store items at launch will be exclusively cosmetic in nature”. In a twisted way, this statement deserves some credit for its honesty. Because it explicitly mentions “at launch”, we know that some form of premium, paid convenience is coming down the line. It’s not by much, but it’s at least a little better than what was offered in Bethesda’s Fallout 76.
Which brings us straight to the third paragraph. And this says Amazon Games is contemplating making fast travel a paid convenience in New World. As to why this is bad, think of World of Warcraft, Tera, Black Desert, or basically any MMORPG. You generally start in the beginner area, learn the basics of the game, going through what is a tutorial in a safe, confined space. When that’s done, you have to leave the beginner island, via a transport service of some kind. Imagine having to pay premium currency for this.
Imagine paying premium currency to get out of the tutorial
Anyone who’s ever had any form of experience with literally any MMORPG would see why this would go wrong very quickly. Even as a service paid with in-game currency, this is often not cheap for the beginner player. At least not until they complete a couple more quests outside of the starting location. It’s a very good example of something that walks the fine line between a necessity and a convenience. And it takes someone who is colossally out of touch with MMOs to think that this is monetisable.
The fourth paragraph is basically a repeat of the first. It says that none of the items are meant to “offer an advantage that imbalances the game.” Again, this is an argument that has been thoroughly dismantled and disproven by Middle Earth: Shadow of War. But then Amazon Games immediately gives itself a cop-out by saying “this line is based on player interpretation”.
The last paragraph is the most grounded in reality, though even then it stands on shaky ground. The idea of a “battle pass”, while workable, has had very mixed results across gaming. With the way the statement is worded, the only way New World can make it work is if the premium items offered in it are strictly cosmetic in nature. That may be the case for awhile, but Amazon already admitted to planning to add pay-to-win mechanics there. So there’s that.
Amazon Game Studios really needs a win on its gaming front, and this just isn’t the way to do it. The company already has at least two games that had already keeled over and died. The first being Crucible which was canned shortly after birth. And the second is a LOTR MMO that was scrapped before it even came to term. If Amazon can’t sort New World out, it might be better to just do something only tangentially related, like Luna.