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Amazon's Video Game Plan


Earlier this month, (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) acquired game developer Double Helix. A company representative said, "Amazon has acquired Double Helix as part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers." That sounds hilarious to me because I was unaware that Amazon had a commitment to building any sort of games. The Amazon Game Studios website lists one lone product -- Air Patriots.

Double Helix should give that sad list -- is one item still a list? -- a little boost. Double Helix was formed out of two studios, which published big titles including Earthworm Jim and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. More recently, the business published a rehash of Killer Instinct for the Microsoft Xbox One, receiving generally positive reviews. 

Putting gas in the Amazon games tank
Some news outlets have reported recently that Amazon plans to launch its own console within the year. The acquisition of Double Helix may mean that the console plan is progressing, but there are other options for Amazon, as well. On one hand, the developer is, well, a developer. Having launched big games, the company has plenty of experience making games that people seem to enjoy.

On the other hand, Amazon's rumored console is supposed to be an Android device, which would make sense given the company's success with the Android-based Kindle tablet. Double Helix is not an Android developer. Killer Instinct was developed exclusively for the Xbox One, and the upcoming Strider game will be available on PCs, Xboxes, and PlayStations.

What does Amazon have in mind?
Instead of seeing Double Helix as a step toward a console, I think it makes more sense to view the acquisition as a step toward Amazon as a publisher of content. Even though the Kindle has been a hit, the device was less about selling a tablet and more about selling a platform for the consumption of Amazon's content. I think Amazon Game Studios is an attempt to generate that content for existing devices.

Double Helix gives Amazon an important foot in the door for bigger platforms. The division can hire its way into mobile development, but finding the contacts and support for big game development is much more difficult. Double Helix has the benefit of a solid back catalog without the baggage of being locked into one genre. Killer Instinct is a fighting game while Strider is a more traditional side-scrolling game.

Adding Double Helix to the mix gives Amazon new options and gives Amazon Game Studios a much-needed update -- the last news item on the division Web page is from 2012. It's still possible that Amazon is planning a console launch this year, but the Double Helix acquisition isn't going to be the key to unlock that product. No matter how it turns out, this is certainly going to be an interesting and revealing year for Amazon Game Studios.

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Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder worked in retail for years, holding jobs ranging from bookseller to bank strategy analyst. He has worked for the Motley Fool since 2012, and loves coffee.

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