Amazon made it It first made a sizable bet on the game in 2008, when it acquired a small developer with dozens of PC and Mac titles just like its name suggests. The company has been hovering over the low-limit board for the next few years, releasing a kid-friendly Facebook game starring a fox family in 2012 – its first under an Amazon banner Game Studios.
At the time, a source said, the company viewed video games as a playful way of moving products. For example, it plans to publish titles for the ill-fated Fire phone and Kindle Fire tablet. And there’s a vague idea that, somehow, Amazon could find a targeted way to sell Prime subscriptions to the gaming demographic. (In a statement, the company said, “Our goal is, and always is, to create great games.”)
Soon, however, Amazon executives started thinking bigger. Two sources told me from employees that Jeff Bezos, the CEO, wanted to “win the games.” Mike Frazzini, who volunteered to lead the company’s gaming initiative, was tasked with building a multi-billion dollar franchise. A giant game won’t just sell a few more Kindle; it will suck money all over the Amazon empire.
Frazzini is a trusted CEO. An Amazon lover, he made a name for himself in the company’s retail book business. However, his knowledge of video games seems thin to some. During the meetings, two former employees said, Frazzini would mention his love RBI Baseball, a game of jock from the late 1980s, or about his son who is an avid gamer. (Amazon opposes this feature as incorrect, writing, “While RBI is his favorite game, he has been playing it since childhood and is a passionate gamer. “)
Frazzini’s seeming inexperience may amaze most studios, but at Amazon, that’s not so unusual. The philosophy there, a former employee told me, “is that any product manager can go between any business – from groceries to movies, games to Kindle. Skill sets are interchangeable. They just have to learn the specific market. “
Frazzini reported to Andy Jassy, head of Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing arm, and pulled his budget from AWS’s always-refreshing treasury. With Jassy’s assistance, Frazzini began to materialize his boss’s vision. His approach, according to a former employee familiar with his thoughts, is as follows: “I have an unlimited amount of money. I can pay the best for anything they want to work here. And so we should just do it all at once. Why waste time? “
Here again, Amazon appears to be going against industry standards. Most rookie studios take a conservative, incremental approach to game development: They write their code on a tried and tested third-party game engine, such as Unreal or Unity, instead of having trouble building a tool from scratch. They release one or two mid-scale titles and hope the best. And then, if they weren’t out of business yet, they’d start the long, arduous job of making a big-budget AAA game.
But Amazon Game Studios won’t do that. Instead, it tries to turn its quaint little village into one Jetsons– Overnight city scenery. It will combine its own game engine and process all the data and code on its own AWS servers. The games themselves (Amazon, of course, plan to develop several AAA titles simultaneously) will also serve as advertisements for the company’s other services. Bingo.
Over the next 18 months, Amazon transformed itself into a gaming giant. In early 2014, the company acquired Double Helix Games, a studio based in Irvine, California, with about 75 employees. Its head, Patrick Gilmore, directed the production of many successful titles, including in 2013 Killer instinct.