Amazon has talked about getting serious about gaming in the past, but the results have been less than impressive. Today, Amazon Games surprised with the launch of Amazon Lumberyard, a free, cross-platform 3D game engine. Starting with CryTek's CRYEngine and working out from there, Amazon enlisted game developers in streamlining the game development process.
"As a game engine, it supports development of cloud-connected and standalone 3D games, with support for asset management, character creation, AI, physics, audio, and more," wrote Amazon chief evangelist Jeff Barr. "On the development side, the Lumberyard IDE allows you to design indoor and outdoor environments, starting from a blank canvas. You can take advantage of built-in content workflows and an asset pipeline, editing game assets in Photoshop, Maya, or 3ds Max for editing and bringing them in to the IDE afterward. You can program your game in the traditional way using C++ and Visual Studio (including access to the AWS SDK for C++) or you can use our Flow Graph tool and the cool new Cloud Canvas to create cloud-connected gameplay features using visual scripting."
Lumberyard's cross-platform support extends to Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10, in addition to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One console support. Amazon is looking to add support for mobile devices and virtual reality headsets (Rift SDK 1.0 in particular) in a few months, with Mac and Linux support coming eventually. The full Lumberyard package includes the binaries and source code of the Lumberyard game engine, the Lumberyard Editor, and the Lumberyard Launcher. Amazon recommends a PC with at least Windows 7 64-bit, 8+ GB RAM, a 3GHz+ quad-core processor, and a 2+ GB DX11+ compatible video card.
Lumberyard also features direct Twitch integration, with Twitch ChatPlay and Twitch JoinIn as standard features. Twitch ChatPlay allows games to change based on keywords found in Twitch chat, like the TwitchPlaysPokemon phenomenon. Twitch JoinIn allows broadcasters to invite chatroom audiences into cooperative or competitive games.
While Lumberyard is free, there is a catch. Lumberyard is integrated with Amazon GameLift, a new Amazon Web Services (AWS) feature helping developers run game servers and cloud services for their games. This is where the offering makes sense; Amazon gives you the game engine for free, but the server and cloud features are where developers incur costs.
"We make money when you use other AWS services. We built Lumberyard to make it faster and easier to build fantastic live, multiplayer, community-driven games – which naturally connect to the cloud to provide these features to players," says the Amazon Lumberyard FAQ. "With Amazon Lumberyard, developers only pay standard AWS fees for the AWS services they choose to use. With Amazon GameLift, you simply pay for the standard AWS fees for Amazon EC2, Amazon EBS, and data transfer you actually use, plus a small fee per Daily Active User."
A game built in Lumberyard can connect to third-party services like Steamworks, Apple GameCenter, or Google Play Games for "player save state, identity, social graph, matchmaking, chat, notifications, achievements, leaderboards, advertising, player acquisition, in-game purchasing, analytics, and crash reporting," but all other web services have to run through AWS.
"By 'alternate web service' we mean any non-AWS web service that is similar to or can act as a replacement for Amazon EC2, Amazon Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon RDS, Amazon S3, Amazon EBS, Amazon EC2 Container Service, or Amazon GameLift," says the Lumberyard FAQ.
For developers making standalone games, this is a fantastic deal. Amazon Lumberyard has no other subscription fees or revenue sharing requirements. For developers with online titles, there's a possibility of significant costs for using Amazon's web services. Amazon is betting on more online and eSports games coming down the pipeline, standalone titles without online connection just benefit as a result.
The problem is Amazon is still competing with the huge support and knowledge bases that back up Unity or Unreal Engine. The number of third-party CryEngine games is rather small in comparision. Amazon has to hope "free" brings more developers to the table, but at this point, most of the major engines are nearly free. Of course, it's Amazon, so it has the resources to push this initiative farther than CryTek could with its engine. It'll be interesting to see how many developers jump onboard in the next year.