In a year where public skepticism of cloud gaming is at an all time high due to it being more mainstream yet still foreign to many, another large tech company has entered the ring. During its 2020 hardware event, Amazon announced a new cloud gaming service called Luna which seeks to compete with the likes of Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud and Nvidia’s Geforce Now.
What is Amazon Luna?
Introducing Luna, Amazon’s cloud gaming service where it’s easy to play great games on devices you already own. No waiting for lengthy downloads or updates — just play.Official Amazon Luna Landing Page
How much will it cost?
Amazon Luna will launch with an introductory price of $5.99 per month in early access with the price going up later. Unlike Stadia, it looks like it will offer access to all base games on the service for one set price through something called Luna Plus. I would bet they one day bundle this in with Amazon Prime at no additional cost to sweeten the deal. So far, it looks like you can not purchase games outright and play them without a subscription.
When does it launch?
No specific date was mentioned, but it’s current in ‘invite only’ mode. This is so that players will have the opportunity to contribute feedback that will inform future Luna features and development. You can request early access here.
Where can you play
You’ll be able to play your games across two devices simultaneously and Luna will, of course offer 4k resolution with 60 frames per second for select titles, though we don’t anticipate there will be many to take advantage of this right away.
The new service will be available on Mac, PC, Fire TV and then on iPhone and iPad via some form of web app. At some point down the road it will also be available on Android, according to the official web page. The interesting thing, though, is that Amazon plans on making Luna available on Apple’s mobile devices using a web app instead of a traditional app. This is no doubt in an effort to circumvent Apple’s controversial 30% cut of revenue for cloud gaming providers.
Being introduced as a web app on these platforms, as opposed to a native app could, however, hurt Luna’s discoverability , but Amazon is a big enough marketing machine that that may not matter so much. Could this mean they will go the same route for Android and Chrome OS too? Web apps are becoming increasingly more popular and more powerful and a large company like Amazon may have the means to make Luna feel like a comfortable, native experience through the browser. It is weird though that they specify iPhone and iPad for web app roll out since web apps are normally platform agnostic.
Will you be able to play Luna on your Chromebook?
If Amazon pulls something like Google has with Stadia on Chrome (though Stadia may soon work with Safari), then the web-based Luna could run exclusively on the Safari web browser. This could explain their verbiage here regarding their web app and would certainly keep it from working on Chromebooks! We’ll have to wait and see though as Chromebooks were not mentioned whatsoever during the announcement.
Luna “Channels” and Subscriptions
Luna Plus will be presented as something called a “channel”. If you’ve ever owned an Amazon Fire stick or TV, you’re probably already familiar with this term. Think of channels like you would cable packages. The company also plans to launch more of these so called channels in partnership with game publishers in the near future, but we’ll get to that. The service is being announced just in time to potentially correspond with the release of the Amazon Fire TV Lite. If Fire TV Lite owners can play Luna soon, then I’ll be even more disappointed if the Google’s new Chromecast doesn’t support Stadia! (Google may be waiting for a new Chromecast Ultra as the Ethernet port is paramount in a good Stadia connection).
In regards to other publishers partnering with Amazon, Ubisoft will be the first to jump on board and have their own channel and will offer more than a hundred titles at some point post launch with mobile gameplay and 4K resolution being available. Gamers can get access to titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Far Cry 6 and Immortals: Fenyx Rising the moment they are released though. A full list of these Luna game channels is being created, but was not available during their announcement, however, they did mention that some channels, like Ubisoft’s will be a separate subscription price. For those of you who are wondering, there is currently no indication that Ubisoft Plus will be tied into their channel! If gamers find themselves paying several subscription costs per channel to access different games from different publishers, with Amazon most certainly taking a cut of each, this could very well make Stadia a better proposition for most gamers, despite early twitter polls showing Amazon’s new service gaining considerable favor over Google’s for being the “Netflix of Games”.
What games will it have on day one?
Gamers can access the following games on day one:
- Resident Evil VII The Village
- Panzer Dragoon
- A Plague Tale: Innocence
- The Surge 2
- Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
- Brothers: A Tale of two Sons
What powers Amazon Luna?
Amazon Web Services (AWS) will power their cloud gaming initiative. We will likely see a ton of titles be quickly ported to Luna because it’s not running on a Linux architecture like Google Stadia is. Instead, it uses a Windows environment, so developers need only to get their game working on Windows x86 and set it up on AWS to get it running on Luna, which is a lot easier than integrating an additional compatibility layer over top of what they’ve already created as Stadia requires, though Bethesda has stated that Stadia’s tools are extremely easy to use!
Luna is built on current generation tech instead of next gen, just like Stadia. Both services are launching at the end of a console era, so it’s a bit of an awkward time. The full potential of each will not be fully realized until quite some time down the road. Stadia will be replacing their technology with next gen blades at some point in the near future and we expect Amazon will do the same. This will allow them to offer more 4k titles and features like ray tracing, which is all the buzz right now.
Will it have Twitch Integration?
One of the biggest takeaways from their service announcement was that Luna will be heavily integrated with Twitch:
“Inside the Luna experience, players will see Twitch streams for games in the service, and from Twitch, they’ll be able to instantly start playing Luna games,”
Amazon Luna spokesperson
This is major. With Google presumably preparing to push Youtube Gaming integration in a big way with Stadia through Crowd Choice and Crowd Play, along with their recent acquisition of several Twitch gaming personalities in a bid to win back a chunk of the game streaming community to their own platform, Luna gives Twitch a way to fight back on this front (not that they need to). The next few years should be very interesting as cloud gaming matures, thanks to this.
Input methods and the Luna Controller
You can connect a mouse or a keyboard to play Luna, but my favorite announcement was that you can use other Bluetooth controllers out of the gate, should you decide not to use their own proprietary one, which we’ll discuss next! I’d like to see if this includes playing with third party Bluetooth controllers on the TV. If so, this could be a difference from Stadia, which requires their proprietary controller via the TV interface.
The official Luna controller is Alexa enabled and connects directly to the cloud via WiFi to control the game with reduced latency. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is. Google’s Stadia controller also connects directly through WiFi and is Assistant enabled. Whether or not Amazon will include Alexa integration when the service officially launches may give us an indication of their development timeline and if they’re serious about their road map. To this day and to my disappointment, Stadia’s Assistant button is still completely useless inside of games where it should have been enabled for quite some time to provide contextual help about the challenges you tackle in the games you play.
Speaking specifically on the tech in the Luna controller, it features a multiple-antenna design that prioritizes un-interrupted WiFi for lower latency gaming. Early tests showed a reduction in roundtrip latency when playing with the Luna Controller with Cloud Direct versus playing with it using Bluetooth, with reductions of between 17 to 30 milliseconds among PC, Fire TV, and Mac. Also, because it connects directly to through WiFi, as previously stated, players can jump between devices at will, just like with Stadia. When everything is being done on a remote server, these things are easy to achieve, so many of these cloud services should have similar features in that regard.
What does Luna look like?
Below is an early preview of the Amazon Luna user interface which looks very much like the new Google TV in my opinion. I think that this tiled layout approach to displaying content is becoming increasingly popular as it’s easy on the eyes and helps users discover things they love. I have no doubt that Amazon will utilize Luna to bring more attention to their own first party games like New World which has been struggling to take root with gamers as of late due to its troubled development in Amazon’s in-house game engine called Lumberyard, among other things.
Will Luna be available Internationally?
At this time, the service has not yet been stated to work internationally, but we’ll have plenty of time to get more information out of Amazon regarding availability in the time leading up to Luna’s launch.
As each big tech company begins to offer their own cloud gaming services, we will certainly see them diverge into their own paths to fit their creator’s visions for the future of gaming – and make no mistake, cloud gaming is very much the future of gaming.
Amazon looks like it wants to offer an easy way for gamers to get up and running with games they love, Microsoft wants to be the console you can play on any platform, NVidia is focused on letting you play games you already own and Google is trying to create their very own high-demand cloud gaming console which seeks to compete with the likes of Xbox and Playstation. All of that being said, Amazon will tie Luna heavily into Prime, Microsoft will tie xCloud heavily into Game Pass and Google will tie Stadia heavily into other Google services. These cloud gaming initiatives, while great for gamers who don’t want to worry about downloads or storage space, are clearly another way for big tech companies to funnel customers into their ecosystems.
With everyone wanting a subscription cost, I personally really like the fact that Stadia lets players just buy games and play them without having to dole out money each month, though I do subscribe to Stadia Pro, myself. What I’m saying is that it’s only subscription based if you want it to be and that can be very refreshing for people who are tired of tracking every single subscription they owe every month. Death by a thousand cuts, anyone? By contrast, Luna requires you to subscribe to even play games, though their resolution offerings aren’t technically locked behind an Amazon pay wall (even though they’re locked behind a publisher paywall since you subscribe to that publisher’s channel). Either way, players will have to pay for 4k.
Gamers win in the end
I want to make it clear that I don’t mean to pit Luna against Stadia intentionally, though it’s almost unavoidable. I believe that they both have unique value propositions and cloud gaming in any form can only a good thing for gamers. Also, a healthy dose of competition is what drives innovation. In addition, Chromebook owners seek to benefit the most, in my opinion. The faster we move towards a cloud-centric gaming future, the more relevant and attractive Chromebooks look to more people – and that’s what gets me really excited.
Are you interested in seeing what Amazon Luna has to offer on launch? Should we hear more news of Luna’s availability on Chromebooks, we’ll be sure to update you. Let us know in the comments section how you feel about ‘yet another cloud gaming service’ and whether you think there is space for another competitor.