As if Amazon doesn't have its collective hands in enough projects, Amazon Web Services has launched a new 3D game engine and a scalable service to make it easier for developers to build and deploy server-based multiplayer games. The game engine is called Lumberyard, a fully functional game engine based on CryEngine, it comes with a number of improvements and custom integrations. The service goes by the name GameLift and it's built on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Together, they are meant to bring new customers to Amazon's EC2 cloud architecture and drive increased usage and engagement on Twitch.
The 3D game engine Lumberyard was born from a licensing deal struck between Amazon and Crytek back in mid-2015. It still features the same goodies that made it a behemoth (in many ways), but it has been extended with a number of enhancements from various sources like Double Helix, a game studio Amazon acquired in early 2014.
One of the featured additions is extensive integration with Twitch, another Amazon acquisition from late 2014. (Does anybody think this is a coincidence?) Twitch integration includes the ChatPlay and JoinIn features, which allow viewers to interact with live gameplay using chat commands or even join game session with the players they're watching.
Lumberyard is free to download and use, and it's even kind of open source, but there are some restrictions. The full source code is available for developers to look at and modify for internal use, but the license terms strictly forbid redistribution of modified versions. In other words, developers can customize Lumberyard to their heart's content, but nobody can fork it into a competing game engine.
There is one other important restriction on Lumberyard: any software built with it cannot use web services that directly compete with Amazon Web Services. Developers are free to use their own servers, but alternatives like Microsoft Azure and Rackspace are off limits. This is how Amazon plans to make money, by giving away a free game engine and asking developers to host their servers on AWS. Naturally, AWS integration is also baked directly into Lumberyard.
The game engine is currently available in beta for Windows, XBox One, and PS4. Mac, Linux, Android and iOS support are coming soon. The VR platforms are also coming, particularly Oculus which was already supported by CryEngine and is just awaiting updates to integrate it with Amazon's additions.
Just to be clear, Lumberyard can be used to build non-gaming software, but the terms of service call for following some guidelines about proper use. Your government, the CDC, and zombies will thank you.
57.10 Acceptable Use; Safety-Critical Systems. Your use of the Lumberyard Materials must comply with the AWS Acceptable Use Policy. The Lumberyard Materials are not intended for use with life-critical or safety-critical systems, such as use in operation of medical equipment, automated transportation systems, autonomous vehicles, aircraft or air traffic control, nuclear facilities, manned spacecraft, or military use in connection with live combat. However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.
If you didn't read that whole thing, you should. Trust me.
If Lumberyard's business model is to attract game developers to use Amazon's cloud servers, why not also nudge them along with a service that makes deployment and player management a breeze? This is where GameLift comes in. It's built on top of Amazon's EC2 server architecture, which means it offers very low latency and can quickly spin up new server instances to meet player demand. It also includes real-time reporting and all of the other advantages inherited from AWS.
GameLift isn't free, it runs $1.50 for every 1,000 daily active users. If a player connects multiple times during a day or from multiple devices, it is still counted as just one user. And of course, this stacks with all of the other expenses associated with running EC2 however many EC2 services are necessary. More extensive explanations and sample pricing are available here.
While the prospects of an AAA 3D game engine with no licensing fees and an easily scalable cloud service for game servers are sure to appeal to game developers, Twitch integration is clearly an important factor in this announcement. Amazon is moving aggressively to establish an edge over YouTube Gaming, Google's recent foray into the eSports market. Built-in support at the game engine level will make it easy for developers to take advantage of Twitch's unique feature set.