Despite an unimaginable war chest, Amazon has failed for eight years straight to crack the video games market. Much of that failure rests with its game division's executive leadership, according to a Bloomberg report published Friday.
Longtime Amazon employee Mike Frazzini started Amazon Game Studios in 2012 without a lick of game experience. He had become a favorite of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos while working on the company's books section, and he parlayed that into heading the games section. He used his position to hire industry luminaries, then ignored their advice, per the 30 current and former employees to whom Bloomberg spoke. Almost none of those high profile hires remain at the company.
The warning signs were clear and frequent. Frazzini expected billion-dollar franchises on par with Call of Duty that innovated in significant ways. Then, in meetings, he would direct developers to chase the latest trend. This strategy led to several canceled titles aping League of Legends, Fortnite and Overwatch.
Of the many titles Amazon Game Studios worked on, few achieved much buzz. Crucible, its attempt at an Overwatch-style class shooter, performed so badly that Amazon pulled it from storefronts after release. New World, its attempt at an MMO set in a fictionalized 17th-century America, had to be redesigned after repeated objections about its use of Native American imagery to characterize in-game enemies. New World was originally set for an August 2020 release, but now won't arrive until spring 2021.
Development itself proved a chore, as workers were forced to use Amazon's propriety development tool, Lumberyard. The tool was so slow employees would often play video games or watch movies waiting for it to process.
Many of the legions of skilled and veteran developers Amazon hired were further undercut by a "bro culture" familiar to anyone well versed in game development horror stories. Female employees were ignored, undermined, and systematically disempowered by male coworkers and managers.
The only bright spot in Frazzini's time at the head of Amazon Game Studios is his push to acquire Twitch in 2014, a singular success in a sea of failure.