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From: J.F. Sebastian10/8/2020 9:57:42 PM
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Glenn Petersen

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Amazon Wants to ‘Win at Games.’ So Why Hasn’t It?

After brute-forcing its way to dominance in so many industries, the tech leviathan may finally have met its match.

THREE YEARS AGO, on a drab, chilly summer day in the Dutch port of Den Helder, Amazon made an extravagant pitch for its first-ever big-budget video game, Breakaway. The event, streamed live on Twitch, was an esports tournament with a twist: It would take place on a 355-foot-long naval patrol ship, the kind that hunts down pirates and drug smugglers in the Caribbean.

On the upper decks, sailors stood taut as the camera ogled the vessel’s 76mm cannon. Then a pair of emcees from Amazon Game Studios, occasionally shouting over the thrum of passing helicopters, introduced the competitors. They were down below, huddled around high-end monitors—headsets on, knees jiggling anxiously, cans of Red Bull cracked open.

On paper, Breakaway was a delicious amalgamation of features from two of the most popular contemporary games, Rocket League and League of Legends. Players would gather in mythical arenas like El Dorado and Atlantis, competing to dunk a ball in the opposing team’s goal. To succeed, they would need galaxy-brain strategy, impeccable spatial reasoning, and split-second reactions.

Amazon had no doubt that Twitch viewers would line up to watch the matches unfold and, later, join the game’s beta release. All told, the company spent at least a quarter of a million dollars setting up what it called the Battle on the High Seas, according to a source with knowledge of the event. Still, for a tech leviathan, this was peanuts, the modest cost of entry to an estimated $100 billion industry.

There was just one problem: Breakaway wasn’t fun. It was stressful, actually—too onerous a combination of fast and thinky—and just unfamiliar enough to put people off. “The core gameplay was confusing,” one former Amazon Game Studios employee recalled. “It was hard to track what was happening.” YouTube videos of the esports matches were viewed, on average, just north of 100 times. Amazon couldn’t even find enough people to beta test the game for free. Within nine months of the Battle on the High Seas, Breakaway had been canceled. The company announced the news on Reddit, in a post that elicited 34 comments. The game died with barely a whimper.

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