Amazon’s new hit product is a video game, not a robot


All the world has heard about and seen photos of Inc.’s $1,000 home robot. But that was not the company’s biggest product launch this week. Far more important, and carrying wider ramifications for Amazon’s business, is New World — the company’s first major video-game hit.

The technology giant quietly released this online role-playing game on Tuesday. To the surprise of many — including probably the company itself — New World is turning out to be an enormous success. On day one, it broke popularity records and reached more than 700,000 concurrent players, overwhelming Amazon’s servers. At this point, customers have to wait hours in line just to get into a session of New World.

Clearly, Amazon didn’t expect this much demand. The irony that the owner of Amazon Web Services would have such a capacity problem wasn’t lost on gamers, who flooded online forums with complaints.

Ultimately, though, this is great news for Amazon and a far bigger deal than its Astro robot, which was also unveiled Tuesday. Frankly, it’s puzzling that the robot is receiving so much press coverage. It can perform basic home monitoring tasks, but that’s about all. Without arms, Astro can’t pick up anything or clean like the many vacuum robots on the market. Essentially, it’s a tablet on wheels with an Alexa voice-recognition assistant.

The technology seems to be either nascent or, worse, not ready. One engineer who worked on Astro told Vice that the robot’s capabilities were flawed, and that it would probably fall down stairs. It’s no wonder Amazon is selling limited quantities of the robot on an invite-only testing basis later this year.

New World, on the other hand, is an instant success. It comes after a series of high-profile gaming failures for the company — from the cancellation of the fantasy sports game Breakaway in 2018 to the shuttering last summer of Crucible, its first big-budget release. If New World’s launch had failed, Amazon might have been compelled to give up on gaming altogether — a disastrous possibility, given that the video-game industry is one of the few remaining large technology verticals. This is a $176 billion market that can move the needle even for the trillion-dollar company. 

Fortunately, Amazon’s gaming efforts are now revitalized. Like many others, I haven’t yet been able to play the game. But I did try a pre-release version earlier this month and was impressed with its design and solid game-play mechanics.

This is only the beginning. As a massively multiplayer online game, New World will need a steady flow of new content to keep players engaged. But Amazon has finally done the hard part by attracting a large audience of gamers. It now has a real chance to be a major force in interactive entertainment.

Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. 


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