By Steve Peterson
Amazon has recently hired a noted RPG designer, Jonathan Tweet, to design a social game for them. Amazon did not answer requests for further information, and the game remains unannounced expect for an entry on Jonathan Tweet’s LinkedIn profile. Tweet did confirm his new role to IndustryGamers. This move follows the release this May of Amazon’s Appstore for Android and Amazon’s release of their mystery and thriller book publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer.
Jonathan Tweet is a noted paper-and-pencil RPG designer. He’s best known for his contributions to Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and among RPG fans for his creation of the influential titles Ars Magica and Everway, along with many other RPG credits. Most recently he worked at Gamehouse on various Facebook games. His choice as lead designer for a social game leads immediately to speculation that Amazon’s social game might have RPG elements.
Amazon has already been a game publisher since their October 2008 purchase of Reflexive Entertainment, a longtime developer of downloadable games (for a variety of platforms) such as Big Kahuna and Airport Mania 2. Amazon has sold those downloadable games, along with many others, through their Digital Services division. Amazon’s presence in the digital distribution of games has been minor compared to Steam and other distributors. Recently Amazon started meeting or beating Steam’s sale prices, in a likely bid to raise their profile among game shoppers.
Developing and publishing a social game is a much different proposition than creating a typical downloadable PC game, though. A social game is a continuous process, where the publisher is developing new content and tweaking existing content based on user data. Audience size is critical, especially when using a free-to-play model. Unless you have an audience in the millions, you can’t expect to make any significant money when a typical social game has between 1% and 5% of the players paying anything at all.
Moreover, social game companies (such as Zynga) typically depend on having multiple game titles to cross-market to their customer base. When players get bored with one of their social games, they can entice them into another one. Current customers are the best prospective customers for other games you offer. Amazon should know that unless they plan to enter the social gaming market in a big way, with significant marketing and multiple games, they would be unlikely to have any great success.
Amazon’s approach with its new book publishing line, Thomas & Mercer, may be indicative of how they plan to approach gaming. Amazon has picked up all the rights to 47 books from best-selling author Ed McBain, which should give them a significant presence in that market.
Combining this information with Amazon’s push into creating their own Android Appstore, and the rumoured new Android tablets they will be producing, I suspect Amazon may plan on rolling this new social game right into their new hardware. It’s certainly the obvious way to build a big audience for a game very quickly, and having free games on your hardware would be an added selling point for the hardware. Clearly the whole idea of Amazon creating their own Android tablet is not to build the best technology, but instead to get their storefront and all the content they sell into the hands of a large audience who are already used to buying from Amazon.
If Jonathan Tweet can create a social game with strong RPG elements that could be very appealing to a lot of users, and help attract more of an audience to Amazon’s entire game line. While it’s not certain until we see more sign’s of Amazon’s investment in games, Amazon could be very serious indeed about building a competitive game publishing business. Amazon certainly has the resources and the audience to compete with any player in the game business.