After Twitchcon 2016 in San Diego, there is no question that the acquisition of Twitch by Amazon.com is one of the most monumental shifts in the games industry, streaming industry, and direct software distribution industry since the introduction of the internet. Twitch Prime, alongside a roster of new games designed by Amazon Game Studios, will allow streamers to directly impact games by giving them the freedom to choose whether they want to be an active player, a commentating broadcaster, or a conniving game master – thereby making video game viewing on Twitch ever more entertaining. By incorporating these features into a game’s design and combining that with Amazon.com’s existing platform for customer reviews and software distribution, this integration has left the business media intrigued while the traditional games media appear confused. Confusion is common in every industry Amazon has invaded thus far and conquered.
Going into this year, like last year, Twitchcon was viewed by industry insiders as a mostly fan-based show whose purpose was to connect streamers with their fans while serving as an avenue for game developers to talk about ideas on how to make their games more accessible to a streaming audience. This was not supposed to be an industry networking affair like E3, but this year was different. As industry insiders, gamers, streamers, and entertainers of all stripes funneled into the massive convention hall, few if any were aware they were witnessing one of the most massive changes in gaming history. Illuminating the walls, was a giant sign larger than all the others that read “Amazon,” which to all but a few, indicated the scope of what was about to be turned on its head. Amazon is going to change video game publishing and game development by delivering a product in a way that is more convenient for its customers, but also better in every measurable way by implementing its customer feedback approach and algorithmic business practices to game design.
Amazon bought Twitch in 2014 for a billion dollars, yet kept their strategic intentions for the acquisition understated until now. By acquiring a medium like Twitch that promotes direct interaction and engagement between players, developers, and viewers, they are attempting to solve a problem that the entire gaming industry has struggled with: creating better, more accessible games. Amazon Games intends to do this by using Twitch as a feedback loop to gather information for Amazon’s algorithms to start parsing what works in games and streaming and what does not. While algorithms aren’t sexy, they change every industry they touch – like book publishing, television and traditional online retail industries. The glitz and glam of Twitchcon blinded many to the pivotal shift taking place in the games industry, streaming industry, and direct software distribution industry – connecting Amazon Prime with its new acquisition, Twitch.
This was a two-prong attack. While Twitch announced that anyone with an Amazon Prime membership would get a free subscription to any Twitch channel per month, they also unveiled the first glimpses of the new generation of Twitch-centered titles from the studios of Amazon Gaming, starting with the Twitch and e-sports optimized MOBA Breakaway. If the double entendre within Breakout’s title wasn’t blatant enough, think about this: the data. What happens when you merge a video game studio and the products it makes with what is essentially a viewing service with millions of active viewers, content creators, what you get is data point after data point of useful customer feedback that then goes directly into the hands of the company making it which can be plowed back into iterating upon and optimizing the experiences of the players, the viewers, and the streamers – the same model Amazon has used to break into and subsequently conquer industry after industry across the globe.
Many in the games industry have predicted that virtual reality will be the transformation force of gaming’s future, this remains possible, yet highly uncertain. Meanwhile, with hardly any fanfare, Amazon has once again brought forth a paradigm shift in not only gaming but in many previously unconnected industries. As we have seen before, no doubt, they are here to stay.