Amazon enters the crowded games industry in full force Wednesday with its release of Crucible, the first big-budget PC game to come from Amazon Game Studios. Crucible is a promising mainstream introduction for the eight-year-old studio, which until now has had a large question mark hanging over its head.
Crucible is a third-person team shooter that takes place on a large junglelike planet in a sci-fi future. As one of a diverse cast of heroes called “hunters,” players mine resources from reptilian monsters and go head to head to capture points in their choice of three competitive modes. In a preview session hosted by Amazon Game Studios earlier this month, WIRED spent three hours playing the game and interviewing its designers. In that initial session, Crucible felt like a charming, competitive strategy shooter thoughtfully designed to incorporate the most lovable qualities of today’s top multiplayer games. (WIRED will publish a full review of Crucible once its servers are public.)
Although Crucible will be Amazon’s sexiest move in the games industry, the company is no stranger to the business of gaming. Amazon has of course been selling physical games and gaming consoles for well over a decade, competing with (and sometimes edging out) brick-and-mortar stores like GameStop—especially with its 2009 move into the used games and console market.
As game distribution migrated to digital storefronts, developers and publishers began relying heavily on cloud services like AWS, which now supports most of the biggest game companies in the world, including Bandai Namco, Bethesda, Capcom, and Square Enix. Countless games, multiplayer servers, player data storage systems, and machine learning tools run through Amazon’s data centers. And in April, the New York Times reported that Amazon was working on a cloud gaming service, known internally as Project Tempo, that would compete with similar offerings from Google, Microsoft, Sony, and more.
Amazon also owns the biggest game streaming service in the world: Twitch. In 2014, Amazon purchased the company for a reported $970 million in cash. Now, 65 percent of time spent watching other people play videogames happens on Twitch—which in April 2020 was 1.5 billion hours, according to Arsenal.gg.
And yet, while Amazon has had the horsepower and the cash to erect its own monument in the games world, it’s taken several years, and a few aborted tries, for its first big-budget title to see the light of day. Amazon Game Studios canceled its planned multiplayer brawler Breakaway in 2017. Last year, the studio laid off dozens of employees, and Kotaku reported that it canceled several other unannounced games. Since those layoffs, Amazon Game Studios has focused development on Crucible and New World, a 17th-century-themed fantasy MMORPG whose release has been delayed from May to August due to the pandemic.
Crucible is a safe entry to the world of big-budget games. With it, Amazon has triangulated on some of contemporary gaming’s biggest trends and magicked them into something special. Crucible is a team shooter populated by lovable heroes (like Overwatch) with a last-man-standing mode (like Fortnite) and a ping system (like Apex Legends) that’s free to play but monetized through cosmetics and a battle pass (also like Fortnite). Certain modes incorporate gameplay flourishes from MOBAs like League of Legends. Crucible sets out to “feel familiar in all of its aspects but feel like a game you’ve never played before,” says Jon Peters, the game’s senior combat designer.
Describing Crucible as a checklist of what’s hot in games would be doing it a severe disservice, though. Its developers clearly thought through what place they want the game to occupy in the crowded market for multiplayer shooters. Peters says Crucible is meant to be competitive, with a low barrier to entry and a high skill ceiling. Until Crucible’s community is solidified, and its antiharassment systems are robust, Crucible will not have integrated voice or text chat—only a ping system. (In the meantime, the developers recommend players use a mix of Discord and the game’s ping system to coordinate.) That way, players are less likely to get pushed out because of toxicity.
“A welcoming community is one of the most important things to us,” says Peters.
Although Crucible contains elements from some of the world’s biggest esports, Peters says that the developer team is more focused on making a game that’s got broad appeal. “We love competitive games where you play with and against other players. That’s what we built this game to be. Esports is a thing that players decide. If players want to play it that seriously, that’s a player problem and not a dev problem. Our goal is just to make the best competitive game we can make,” he says. At the same time, Peters says that Crucible’s team spent a lot of time designing it to be fun to watch, and specifically to watch other people play. “That’s one of the pillars of this game,” he says.
Crucible wants to be everything for everyone. Its hunters—a mix of aliens, humans, and robots of all different genders and ethnicities—are meant to represent the demographics of the future, and are versatile enough to satisfy a variety of gameplay preferences. They’re cosplay-ready by design, too. Amazon Game Studios brought in cosplayers, Twitch streamers, and artists in the game community to give feedback on hunters’ costumes. Skinned on top all this is an “otherworldly aquatic” color palette, according to franchise lead Colin Johanson. Johanson cited Dune and The Expanse as inspirations for its sci-fi “rogue planet” vibe.
Despite its pitch for mass appeal, Crucible has not attracted significant attention, the way similar titles from more established game studios tend to do. Hell, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page yet. With so much competition, including the games that inspired it, Crucible has a lot to live up to.
Crucible is available for PC in the Steam store on May 20.
Corrected 5-19-2020, 10:35 am ET: Amazon did not publicly announce a cloud gaming service in April, as previously stated. The existence of Project Tempo was instead reported by the New York Times.
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