Today Amazon has both announced and released a new, free game engine, Lumberyard, which offers deep integration with its Amazon Web Services server infrastructure to empower online play, and also with Twitch, its video game-focused streaming service.
The engine, including its full source code, is completely free to download and use to make PC and console games. Amazon will not charge any kind of royalty or subscription fee.
Lumberyard is powerful and full-featured enough to develop triple-A, current-gen console games (and the company has signed official tools deals with Microsoft and Sony, so you can immediately build games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 with it). Mobile support is coming down the road.
Monetization for Lumberyard will come strictly through the use of Amazon Web Services' cloud computing. If you use the engine for your game, you're permitted to roll your own server tech, but if you're using a third-party provider, it has to be Amazon.
Integration of Amazon's Twitch video streaming tools at a low level also helps to cement that platform's dominance in the game streaming space.
Alongside Lumberyard, the company has also announced and released GameLift, a new managed service for deploying, operating, and scaling server-based online games using AWS. GameLift will be available only to developers who use Lumberyard, though it's an optional add-on. GameLift will cost $1.50 per 1,000 daily active users; AWS services will be charged at the normal rates.
The game engine is in beta, but is freely usable and downloadable today.
Where did this come from, and where's it going?
Lumberyard's core engine technology is based on Crytek's CryEngine. Amazon licensed the German studio's engine and got "full, unencumbered access to the technology" to build upon, says Mike Frazzini, vice president of Amazon Games.
However, Lumberyard represents a branch of that tech, and the company is replacing or upgrading many of CryEngine's systems. Future versions of CryEngine and Lumberyard will continue to diverge.
Developers at Amazon's Seattle and Irvine, California game studios are making improvements directly to the engine, and a central Amazon tech team that has drawn staff with backgrounds in both AWS and game engine development oversees the engine's progress.
At public beta launch, Lumberyard already has components that are not based on CryEngine. Aside from adding the AWS SDK to the engine -- allowing for native C++ access to its services -- Amazon has also brought in new low-latency networking code based on what Double Helix, the Southern California studio it acquired in 2014, developed for Xbox One fighting game Killer Instinct.
"We're going our own direction here, and over time that will increase substantially," says Eric Schenk, general manager for Lumberyard, who spoke to Gamasutra about the new engine.
The engine already has "an entirely new asset pipeline and processor" as well as the new Double Helix networking code, says Schenk; up next are a new component system and particle editor, and "a number of other things aren't quite ready to talk about yet" will follow. There's also CloudCanvas, which allows developers to set up server-based in-game events in AWS using visual scripting.
What integration with AWS and Twitch means
The native AWS and Twitch integration are differentiators between Amazon's toolset and others. At a fundamental level, Frazzini says that Lumberyard is aimed at "developers that are really interested in garnering large and vibrant communities of fans."
Twitch integration means that "Twitch plays"-style chat commands are supported at an engine level, which the company calls ChatPlay; there's also JoinIn, which allows viewers to leap directly into online games alongside Twitch broadcasters as they stream.
The goal is "creating experiences that embrace the notion of a player, broadcaster, and viewer all joining together," Frazzini says. "It'll be some uncharted waters for sure, and there will be a lot of experimentation." That work is worth it, he argues, since "we see so much more vibrant virality and retention when a game has those hooks."
The company is hoping that Lumberyard will appeal to developers who make games that thrive on broadcasting, online and eSports scenes, and user-generated content. The engine is "mod-friendly," meaning that developers can package up Lumberyard's level and item creation tools as a "subset tool chain" and distribute them with their game for players to use.
Frazzini said the engine came out of many conversations Amazon has been having with game developers -- who have been using its AWS services for years. (It's not hard to find case studies on the AWS site from big-name studios ranging from Rovio to Naughty Dog.)
Developers that Amazon spoke to "wanted a powerful game engine that was inexpensive and deeply connected with AWS, and helped them build reach and audience," Frazzini said. "That's what we tried to do: a free triple-A game engine that's deeply integrated with AWS and Twitch, and offers full source."
The future of Lumberyard
The latest, Amazon-internal version of the also supports Oculus' SDK, though the beta version you can download today does not. "We just need a little time," Frazzini says. The engine, after all, is currently in beta.
Improvements could come quickly, however, because the company is using the engine to develop all of its internally-created projects. "The engine is ready to rip for making high-production, commercially viable games," says Frazzini.
On top of improvements made by and for its own game dev teams, requests from external game developers are top priority, Amazon says, though the team will not initially take fixes coded by the community before discussing them carefully.
"We expect to get feedback from customers," says Frazzini. "We want to make sure we're able to address them, and ultimately we look at this as day one."