Amazon game streaming service Luna has left its early access phase in the mainland US, and Amazon Prime members can now try it at no extra charge.
Luna is similar to Google Stadia, except there’s no a la carte game purchasing: Somewhat like the Prime Video service, Luna is made up of subscription ‘channels’ which offer access to themed selections of games for a monthly fee. A $6/month Luna+ subscription unlocks the service’s main library, which includes games such as Dirt 5, Control, and Metro Exodus, while the $3/mo Family Channel, for example, offers games such as Skatebird and Garfield Kart.
With today’s launch, Amazon added a $5/mo Jackbox Channel featuring every Jackbox Party Pack, a $5/mo Retro Channel with games such as Metal Slug 3 and Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and the Amazon Prime Channel, which is free for Prime members.
Right now, the Prime Channel includes Phogs!, Devil May Cry 5, Flashback, and Observer: System Redux. Those games will be available until April, at which point a new selection will be introduced: The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Final Edition, Amnesia Rebirth, Tracks: Toybox Edition, and Mortal Shell. Starting March 8, Immortals: Fenyx Rising will also be available to play on the Prime Channel until March 15.
I tried out Devil May Cry 5 in Chrome, and there’s no hassle to it: I clicked a button, the game launched, and it even recognized my wireless Xbox controller when I turned it on. Within a few moments I was playing DMC5 at 1080p. It’s kind of neat, to be honest.
But it’s nothing I’d use regularly. According to Amazon, the free Prime games can be played at 60 fps, but I was definitely looking at 30 fps, which was fine in cutscenes but offended my refined PC gaming senses while slicing up demons. There was also an ugly graininess that may have been the result of an intentional post-processing filter on Capcom’s part, but notably, there’s no way to change the graphics settings. It’s not an acceptable PC gaming experience to me right now.
Granted, I am not doing my computing on a potato, and overall, Luna works worryingly well. Input latency really didn’t feel like a problem. I’m using fiber internet from the heart of Silicon Valley, so I’m the best-case customer, but there’s no physical law preventing streaming technology and internet infrastructure from getting better over time. After trying Luna, I’m a little more convinced by the idea that streaming could replace most consoles and gaming PCs within a decade or two, as unappetizing as that sounds.
I wouldn’t say that the Netflixification of gaming is inevitable, though. The business models are still experimental and mostly not very attractive right now. I don’t want to buy individual Google Stadia games that I can only play through streaming, but at the same time, I don’t want a game I’ve been playing for years to potentially disappear from a subscription channel like those offered by Luna. (Unfortunately for opponents of industry consolidation, part of what makes Microsoft’s PC game Pass subscription attractive is the fact that games made by the many developers it owns are not likely to leave the service for as long as it exists.) It also seems like a problem for cloud streaming that many of the world’s most popular games—Fortnite, League of Legends, Destiny 2, Apex Legends, and so on—don’t require hardware that’s powerful by modern standards. What’s the point of streaming them?
One argument Google put forth when it announced Stadia is that doing all the game rendering remotely opens up new game design possibilities. For example, it becomes possible to instantly share game states, allowing someone to go from watching a livestream of a game to playing that same part of the game themselves. Amazon hasn’t added anything as fancy as that as far as I can tell, but it did add a “Play on Luna” button to Twitch streams of games available on the platform. As of today’s launch, it’s also possible to stream Luna gameplay directly to Twitch. (I am noticing that the word “stream” becomes problematic when talking about livestreaming cloud streamed games. We may have to find new terminology.)
In April, the price of Luna+ subscriptions will increase from $6 to $10, and the Family Channel price will increase from $3 to $6. However, those who sign up for one or both of the channels before the end of March can keep the original price so long as they maintain the subscription.