The report begins by discussing how Mike Frazzini was brought in to start Amazon Game Studios eight years ago without ever making a game. Since then, Frazzini and Amazon Game Studios have released only two games, and have seen multiple cancelled projects that were attempting to recreate the financial magic of games like Fortnite and League of Legends.
The Grand Tour Game was the first Amazon Game Studios console release, and within a year it was removed from storefronts. Crucible was the next game released from the studio, and not only did it return to closed beta after its official launch, it was shut down in November 2020.
Two other projects, which were known as Intensity and Nova, never saw the light of day after the teams tried and failed to create games inspired by Fortnite and League of Legends, respectively.
All of these cancelled and unsuccessful projects at Amazon Game Studios have done so despite Amazon spending nearly $500 million a year operating the game division. It’s also important to note that the amount doesn’t include Twitch or Amazon Luna – the latter of which is under different management.
Frazzini is an “Amazon lifer” who started his career in the books section of Amazon.com where he “endeared himself to Jeff Bezos as a manager there.” He began his role as head of the games division by bringing in some of the best game development talent in the world, including Portal’s Kim Swift, Far Cry 2’s Clint Hawking, Madden’s Richard Hilleman, and Everquest’s John Smedley. Today, only Smedley remains.
According to numerous current and former employees of Frazzini’s game studios, he continuously ignored much of the advice given by these experienced developers, and despite frequently telling the staff that every Amazon game should be a “billion-dollar franchise,” he would then understaff projects.
Furthermore, instead of using industry-leading game engines like Unreal Engine or Unity, the studio opted to license technology from Crytek to create a homemade engine known as Lumberyard.
While Lumberyard was meant to integrate with Amazon Web Services and could have been a cheaper alternative than paying for the other engines, it ended up being known as a “boogeyman around the office.” Many cited that it was “painfully slow,” and developers would play Halo or watch Amazon Prime Video as they waited for Lumberyard to process art or compile code. One former employee even went so far as to say, “Lumberyard is killing this company.”
Another big issue with working at Amazon Game Studios is said to be linked to the “bro culture” that has been cultivated there, in which women were often not given the same opportunities as men. Beyond that, “four female game developers said that their worst experiences of sexism in the industry were at Amazon.”
There were stories of them being ignored and undermined by male executives, in some cases being driven out of the company. One source said that not only did a male on the senior leadership team impede her career growth after she disagreed with him, he would then go on to create new management positions above her and hired men to take those positions.
Amazon’s game problems also extend to how they incentivize their employees. While most studios pay bonuses based on the critical and commercial response of a game, Amazon’s stock plan only rewards employees for how long they have been at the company. This has led to some employees choosing to “prioritize job preservation over anything else, say three former employees.”
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=new-world-screenshots-november-2020&captions=true”]
Amazon Game Studio’s next project is the MMO New World. Originally planned for a 2020 release, it was pushed back to Spring 2021 to improve the quality of the game. Bloomberg’s report explains that the project was originally going to be a survival game where players would take on the role of colonists in a fictional version of 1600s America.
The problem, however, was that the enemies players originally were going to face “looked a lot like indigenous people.” When developers pointed out to Frazzini’s deputy, Patrick Gilmore, that the setting and villains could be considered racist, he “expressed disbelief.”
Amazon did eventually hire a tribal consultant who did find that the portrayal was offensive, and the Native American imagery has since been removed.
Our latest preview of New World’s high-level PvE zone show a game that may not be for everybody, but one that shows promise and a big improvement, in both PvE content and general polish, from the previous build.
Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to [email protected].
Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.