Whatever happened to Amazon Luna?

Posted on Friday, November 25 2022 @ 12:47 CET by Thomas De Maesschalck
Amazon Luna barely qualifies as hardware. In many ways, that’s the whole point of it. The whole point of Amazon Luna is that you can access it without needing any special hardware at all. You can buy a controller for it if you wish, but the fact that it works just as well with the current or last-gen versions of the PlayStation or Xbox controller plus mouse, keyboard, and a variety of popular PC game controllers means that no such purchase should be necessary. When it was announced, we were promised a gaming revolution. That announcement came in September 2020, with an invitation-only early access and beta testing process beginning the following month. For many gamers, that’s the last they ever heard of the platform. If you live outside the United States of America, you’d be right to assume that nothing has changed since then. Amazon Luna is no more available to you now than it was when you didn’t get an invitation in October 2020. If you live in the USA, though, it might surprise you to hear that you’ve been able to sign up for Amazon Luna for the “introductory” price of $5.99 per month since March 2022. That's more than six months ago. You'd be well within your rights to ask what on Earth has happened to the potential of Amazon Luna and where the service is up to today - so let's take a look.

In the beginning

Before we look at the present-day state of Amazon Luna, let's look at the platform's past. It was announced shortly after the launch of Google Stadia. That's only three years ago, but it feels like ancient history. With Stadia arriving and Luna on the horizon, it briefly felt like a new era of gaming was upon us. In this new era, nobody would need consoles anymore. People wouldn't even need to own physical copies of games. Instead, they'd stream games through high-speed internet from servers on the other side of the world and play them in real-time through their laptops, smart televisions, or even their existing games consoles, so long as they had a browser. It seemed like the next logical step in gaming evolution.

If the idea seems familiar, it might be because you know it’s succeeded elsewhere. If you told people twenty years ago that they’d soon be able to place their sports bets and play poker online rather than having to visit betting shops and bookies in person to do it, they’d have told you such a thing was impossible. Here we are in the 2020s, and online casinos are everywhere. There are, in fact, so many online casinos that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them all. We don’t envy websites like SisterSite.com, which exist to log, review and label every casino owned by every major casino operator - it seems like an impossible task. If casinos could adapt to the internet age and provide their services via streaming, so could video game companies - or that was the idea.

An early warning

One of the most surprising things about Amazon's decision to press ahead with Luna when they could have mothballed the whole thing after the early access and beta tests is that they had the most visible of all warnings that the idea wasn't likely to work. Google Stadia, which was launched with a bigger blaze of technology than Luna has ever been able to muster, is dead. Sure, the official death of Stadia wasn't confirmed until September 2022, which is when Google finally gave up the ghost and announced the service would be discontinued in January 2023, but the writing had been on the wall for months. Player numbers were low. New games weren't being added to the platform. Complaints about performance were commonplace. All of these issues existed long before Amazon pushed Luna to the US market in March 2022. There are only, it seems, two reasons why Amazon would plough on with Luna after the death of Stadia. The first is sunk cost fallacy - a feeling that so much money and effort has been spent on bringing Luna to the marketplace that it doesn't make economic sense to give up on it now. This is why the word "fallacy" is present in the term, as the theory isn't borne out by reality. However much money you've lost, you can still avoid losing more by giving up on a bad idea before circumstances force you to do so. The second is that Amazon genuinely believes it knows something about the format that Google doesn't. Perhaps it learned something from Stadia's failure and believes it can apply it to its own product or has reason to believe that the fortunes of the platform can be turned around. In fact, we might even know one of those reasons.

The Samsung Connection

If you have a smart television in your house, there's a good chance it was made by Samsung. The company makes some of the best smart TVs on the market and packs its products full of extra features. In 2022, Samsung added a "Gaming Hub" to its new televisions. If you have a Samsung TV that was manufactured this year and you navigate your way to the gaming hub, you'll find a few options waiting for you. Among them is Luna. That means anyone who buys a Samsung TV also gets Luna and instant access to the hundreds of games that the platform offers.

Is this enough to turn Luna into a success? That remains to be seen. Brand-new Samsung TVs are expensive, and not everyone who buys one will be interested in using it for gaming anyway. There's also the problem that it's taken too long for Amazon to enter the cloud gaming market. The failure of Stadia and the slow launch of Luna meant that Sony and Microsoft had time to act, so now the PlayStation and the Xbox have cloud gaming facilities of their own. You can even play PlayStation and Xbox games without owning a PlayStation or an Xbox, thanks to the new streaming subscription services offered by the company. The window of opportunity might have closed for new companies wanting to enter the market. One thing's for sure, though - if anyone has the money to break into it, it's Amazon.