Amazon Luna: Early Access Review
We are living through an era witnessing the rise of the EaaS concept. What is EaaS you might ask? Everything-as-a-service! It is a term coined to consolidate the various services like PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS. At the time of writing this, I felt creative and coined the term EaaS to represent my thought. It only took a Google search to find out that not only is it a commonly used term but often associated with the computing industry and especially with the corporate entity at the center of this article. It did reaffirm my belief that things and ideas are not invented but in fact simply discovered. Without getting into the philosophical discussion behind the belief, which will certainly take more than a Medium post, let’s focus on the topic at hand. Yes, Amazon Luna — the latest Cloud Gaming Service!
Amazon’s Luna is the latest to join a fleet of public ‘gaming on demand’ services such as Google Stadia. In fact, Amazon launched Luna less than 2 months ago in September 2020. Unlike Google, Amazon does not appear to be marketing Luna aggressively. One reason for that is Luna is currently only invitation-based and exclusive to users in the United States. I recently got my invitation to Amazon Luna and have been using it for about a week now.
You can request your invitation to Luna here — Amazon Luna.
Let’s see how my experience was with Luna and whether Amazon can give Google a run for their money!
Amazon Luna users can subscribe to Luna+ which is priced at $5.99/mo. which is very attractive and 45% cheaper compared to Google Stadia’s $10.99/month. The Luna+ subscription gives you access to all the games available in the library. Amazon claimed to offer 100 game titles at launch, which in my experience is far from the reality (as of now) but we can give Amazon benefit of doubt here as the service has not been generally rolled out to the public yet. I expect more titles to be added gradually.
In my previous article, I drew comparison between Google Stadia and Netflix to highlight the difference in their business models. Amazon Luna is a step ahead in offering a Netflix-like gallery of games available for a flat subscription fee. Amazon offers various environments to experience and enjoy Luna. Users can play it in their browser, on a desktop application, iOS devices, and even the Fire TV. However, Luna lacks Android support. For a service as economically priced as Luna, which can appeal to many Android users, it would be interesting to know the reasoning behind this decision. My instincts tell me that Android compatibility is well on its way in a future release.
Luna is powered by Amazon’s very own, mighty and powerful AWS. It runs on a Windows server on an EC2 instance unlike Stadia which is based on the Linux operating system. Amazon has also opted for Nvidia GPUs against Google’s choice to go with AMD. In a one-on-one comparison, Stadia outperforms Luna by 2.6 teraflops of performance power. The great advantage for Luna comes from the Windows based architecture since it is a lot easier for game publishers to move their games onto Luna’s AWS servers. On the other hand, Linux environments used by Stadia do not offer such a straightforward path and might be a convincing factor to sway brands away from Google and towards Amazon in the long run.
Currently, Luna only supports 1080p resolution and plans to offer 4K streaming in the future. More premium resolution offering will test Amazon’s hardware choices and only time will tell if they have placed their bet on the right architecture.
Amazon Luna supports integration with Twitch, the popular game streaming platform. This is certainly an interesting feature which Google lacks in Stadia. The content streaming option makes it easy for users to switch to Twitch streams which are displayed as tiles on the game info screens.
Note: my knowledge of computing hardware is limited and the information presented in this section was derived from The Verge’s analysis of Luna’s technical specifications.
The Amazon Luna Experience
Luna shows great potential. It elicits excitement, but fails to create a lasting impression.
Still rough around the edges, some fine tuning would make Amazon Luna a worthy challenger in the cloud gaming service industry.
- User Experience : 3.5 / 5
- Pricing : 4.5 / 5
- Game Play : 2 / 5
- Game Titles : 2.5 / 5
1. User Experience and Interface (3.5/5)
Often times in my experience, the UX and UI offer similar consistency. But in Luna’s case, they fall on two sides of the spectrum. The user interface is almost intuitive, generally responsive, and overall clean. However, the user experience — almost frustrating. It is important to make a distinction here between the general interface of Luna as an application and the experience playing the individual games within, since they require vastly different computing power. As an application, Luna deserve high praise and is at par or even slightly better than its competitor Google Stadia. On the other hand, with gaming experience, it falls very short. You can read more on this in the Game Play section below.
2. Pricing (4.5/5)
Amazon has priced Luna very economically. It is not only cheaper than competing gaming platforms like Stadia, but also across industries such as content streaming platform Disney+. The price of $5.99/month is low enough to convince users to give Luna a chance and hopefully convert into long-term subscribers. A feature of Luna which I did not mention so far is the possibility to subscribe to partner channels. Currently, users can access their Ubisoft+ subscription through Luna. The number of partner channels is expected to grow in the future. This opens up the variety of game titles and makes them available on one single platform on demand. You can imagine this model similar to Amazon Prime Video which offers access to other popular channels like HBO within the Amazon platform.
3. Game Play (2/5)
The quality of gameplay on Luna so far has been dismal. The graphics are satisfying and the latency in control input works well too. But, as seen in the in-game screenshot below, network issues plague the gameplay and cause frequent lags during game sessions. To ensure this wasn’t a one off case, I tried games in different genres with slow and fast pace. To my disappointment, none of them could provide a smooth and consistent gameplay in Luna. Now I had to become a little investigative and find out if my internet connection was truly the root cause here (and no, it wasn’t).
I looked up Amazon Luna’s requirements which are not too demanding. Most urban household network connections should technically run Luna without any major issues under Amazon’s listed requirements of at least 10 Mbps speed and a 5 GHz wireless band.
Below, you will see a series of screenshots marked #1, #2, and #3 detailing my process of reaching to the conclusion that despite having a great internet connection, Luna was challenged with network streaming issues.
I ran two independent speed tests, one on Fast and the other on Google’s speed test for Stadia. Both of these yielded results that exceed the minimum requirements laid out by Amazon by at least 3 folds. It is important to note that under the same internet connections, Google Stadia delivered a stellar performance. You can read more about it in my previous review here — Stadia Review.
I came to the conclusion that either Amazon hasn’t fully optimized streaming over networks or has greatly underestimated the wireless connection requirements.
The former can be considered an on-going process that one can expect from a rollout only in its invitation phase, whereas the latter could pose existential challenges to the platform.
4. Game Titles (2.5/5)
Luna+ subscription comes with a good variety of game titles, at least a couple dozen. Titles like Contra and Castlevania are some which long time gamers would be delighted to find on the platform. I personally found Control and A Plague Tale very entertaining. However, cloud gaming needs to attract old and new gamers alike to ensure sustainable growth. As a non-gamer, I could not find more than a few titles which could convince me to pay for a subscription. Yes, the novelty of these new services can attract many users to the platform but the novelty will fade with time as cloud gaming services become mainstream.
Cloud gaming platforms need to attract users based on their collection of popular games that traditionally drive console sales for Microsoft and Sony.
As I mentioned earlier, Luna is different than many because it offers access to alternative channels such as Ubisoft+. In fact, I was more interested in opting for the Ubisoft+ subscription because of games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed available on demand! Just as I expect with Stadia, more titles will be added as the platform matures. Amazon should know from its Prime Video business that content is king, and Stadia seems to be leading on that front for now.
Verdict — can Amazon deliver performance?
It is great to see Amazon join the club of cloud gaming services. The move towards the cloud and the concept of EaaS (everything-as-a-service) has paid off big for multinational corporations. With Luna’s arrival, Amazon marks the entry of another major tech player in the gaming-on-demand sector. Google, Microsoft, and now Amazon, all have a major stake in it and this should be indicative of the potential in transforming the future of gaming and taking it to the cloud. As far as Luna goes, it is not there yet. But Amazon has the tools and resources to make it right. The proven prowess of AWS, the partnership with many established game publishers, and a decently built platform can make it a noticeable contender. At this point in time, Amazon Luna is not a complete product and needs refinement especially around game streaming over home networks. For me, Amazon stands second to Google right now. This can most likely change in the future, there is no reason to believe why it may not. For now, I can say that with Luna (Latin for Moon), Amazon is trying to shoot for the moon and if anything, it will land among the stars!
If you’d like to learn more about Amazon Luna, check out the trailer below.