Last Tuesday Amazon launched Amazon Game Studios, a team within Amazon designed to create new social games. The first effort: a free-to-play game for Facebook.
Amazon Game Studio will help Amazon get in on a booming industry worth an expected $6.2 billion dollars in 2012, according to the Casual Games Association. With Amazon's innovation in creating its own tablet, it's a logical progression for the Seattle-based company to turn to creating its own games.
Amazon's first first release, Living Classics, is whimsical, using animated fox characters in storybook settings, such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. So far, the game has just under 19,000 users, as compared to 15 million users for a game like Words With Friends.
Amazon did not comment on any games it has planned for future release, but the studio is currently hiring for jobs based in San Francisco and Seattle.
Amazon has not disclosed its plans for gaming expansion beyond Facebook, but the company will probably develop other outlets in the future, such as mobile or tablet games, says P.J. McNealy, a media consultant for Digital World Research.
"The definitions are changing of how people perceive gaming," McNealy says. "People are playing on Facebook, but the opportunities are getting bigger."
Facebook games are currently dominated by Zynga, which created favorites FarmVille and Mafia Wars. With just one game on Facebook, Amazon may add variety, but the company is not is not in a position to be a strong competitor to Zynga.
"Zynga owns Facebook," McNealy says.
However, McNealy says the companies are tackling different aspects of the industry, as Zynga provides a game portal, not hardware, and Amazon offers the hardware.
Amazon entering the gaming world is reflective of transitions in gaming overall. McNealy predicts there will be many more untraditional companies, such as Amazon, entering this market to create games for different platforms, ranging from mobile to iPad and tablet, or purely online.
"There's a broadening of games," McNealy says. "It's not just on Nintendo or Wii. It's anything that's a device."
Social gaming's target audience is also much wider than it was just three years ago. For example, social gaming companies are not targeting the stereotypical gamer, who is male and in the 18- to 25-year-old range. According to the Casual Games Association, the typical social gamer is 40 years old and female. Also, depending on the audience a game company wants to target, there are a variety of platforms and pay models a company can use.
One of the biggest factors in whether new game studios will succeed is, of course, the pay model and the bottom line. Right now, Amazon is operating on a free-to-play model and is not disclosing if ads will be incorporated in the future, according to an Amazon spokesman. Another option is a premium, paid download model, which targets more serious social gamers.
Whether Amazon can influence the online gaming market and cater to those serious social gamers is unknown, but the first step in domination is getting on Facebook with a few animated foxes wandering around the land of Oz.