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Will Amazon's Lumberyard empower small game studios?

Amazon's Lumberyard engine streamlines the process of video game creation and ties in with Twitch and Amazon's cloud services. Lumberyard is meant to appeal to indie developers, but could catch on with larger studios as well.

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Amazon's Lumberyard engine, shown here in a screenshot, allows developers to create video games for PCs and consoles, with support coming later for mobile and VR platforms.

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Amazon has been circling the video game industry for years, but this week the company made its boldest foray yet.

In 2012, the company founded Amazon Game Studios, an in-house development division focused on mobile and PC games. Then in 2014, Amazon bought Twitch, the popular video game streaming service, for nearly $1 billion. At the same time, it also acquired Double Helix Games, the studio behind “Killer Instinct” and “G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra.”

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This week, Amazon announced Lumberyard, a cross-platform design engine for creating 3-D games for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

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The engine and its source code are totally free – Amazon says it will not charge any subscription fees or royalties to developers for using Lumberyard. Instead, Amazon will make money by requiring developers to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for games’ cloud computing components such as multiplayer and synchronization. AWS already provides the backend for many popular video games, so tying it into Lumberyard makes a lot of sense.

Lumberyard, Amazon says, has enough features that developers can use it to create top-tier titles. The company says it wants to save developers from the costs associated with licensing a commercial game engine, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and from having to manage their own cloud computing infrastructure.

Lumberyard will likely be attractive to indie developers, since its core set of features is free and AWS charges are based on the number of active daily users a game has. It may even be an option for larger studios, which may not want to devote years to developing the graphics, physics, and particle engines needed for high-quality games.

Twitch is integrated into Lumberyard, so developers can build streaming features into games as they’re being constructed. Twitch broadcasters can invite viewers to join them in games, and chat commands can be used to control on-screen action – a concept non-gamers may recognize from the anarchic “Twitch Plays Pokémon” social experiment conducted in 2014. Lumberyard will also support mods, meaning that a developer can distribute tools to allow players to make their own levels and items for a particular game.

Amazon also announced GameLift, a service for major multiplayer video games that will let developers scale multiplayer services though AWS. If lots of players are logged on to play a game at once, server capacity can be scaled up to meet the spike in demand.