Crucible is on its last legs. Amazon Game Studios will be pulling the plug on its failed battle royale game in a month, piling it onto the scrap heap alongside Breakaway. I don’t know how exactly how that game’s failure impacted Crucible development, but I’d wager it suffered from the same primary issue that its predecessor did, issues that Amazon will need to address, and quickly, before its last chance, New World, sees the light of day. If that flops, then it doesn’t really matter what else the studio has in development – gamers aren’t likely to trust the company a fourth time.
I was very critical of Crucible’s launch, which came out of virtually nowhere and was accompanied by a shockingly poor Steam page and overall marketing effort. That was bad, but it was only a symptom of the game’s greater malady: Amazon’s limitless hubris and belief that it could simply spend its way into being a major player in game development.
Over the past few months, I’ve seen a few articles that make the case that Amazon believed it could create compelling games simply because it was Amazon. It hired on several big names in gaming, from ArenaNet’s Colin Johanson to Portal’s Kim Swift to SOE/Daybreak’s John Smedley (working on an unannounced project), and just assumed that this big-time firepower would be enough to push them through to greatness.
Unfortunately, the Great Man (or Woman) Theory is a dubious concept to historians and an even more dubious one in game development. Modern AAA video games come about as the results of usually hundreds of people, and while the development lead is probably more important than low-tier graphic artists, they’re not fully independent of that greater success. By investing so much in big names, Amazon got the publicity it wanted but probably not the resources it needed.
Putting so much emphasis into securing big names is that those names can dominate development, whether for good or for ill. We’ll never know what went on in development meetings, where ideas were bandied back and forth, but Crucible had far too many mistakes – no mini-map, no voice chat, too many modes, too-large maps – that were pointed out by gamers on day one that had to have been brought up, either by employees or by testers, prior to launch. The fact that they weren’t addressed until after the game’s launch is a strong indicator that they were likely dismissed by someone with “experience” who “knew better” and had the final say in such matters.
Then there’s the mater of Amazon’s proprietary Lumberyard engine. It hasn’t caught on like Amazon hoped and has been playing catch-up with the more popular Unity and Unreal Engine ever since its early days. It might someday become popular, but the notion that it would come along fast enough to facilitate the development of three AAA games in just a few years was folly.
That brings us to that third game and what, if anything, Amazon can do about it. New World has been pushed back to a spring 2021 launch, but even that seems to have been an absurdly late decision. On April 9, it pushed the May launch back to August, and as late as July 9 – one day before this post – New World was still publicly on track for an Aug. 25 launch.
Let me emphasize that: Twice this year, Amazon thought that the launch of its big AAA MMORPG was six weeks out before deciding a short time later that it was actually around nine months away from being ready. That does not strike me as a company that has a realistic view of its capabilities. Yes, COVID-19 has messed with everyone’s schedules, but going from “next month” to “next spring” represents a huge miscalculation.
If you’re inclined to think optimistically, maybe this latest delay was the result of Amazon getting the wake-up call it needed and seeing what happens to a game that’s released in a state like Crucible, which went back into closed beta just before New World’s second delay was announced. Perhaps the dev team realized that game was already reeling from its mistakes and that trying to push out New World in its current state would be suicidal. Maybe Amazon is finally learning the lesson that it can’t do everything simply because it’s Amazon.
If it can learn the final lesson and listen to voices other than those coming from its most well-paid employees, then New World might still have a chance.