TLDR - Google may be slow on its platform updates. But, Luna doesn't seem to have any platform to speak of!
This post stems from conversations with u/one2escape
, who I have great respect for, but fundamentally disagree with when it comes to this issue - which is fun!
People are justifiably antsy about crowd-play, friends messaging, better global leaderboards and a few other platform niceties rolling out on Stadia. But, at least Stadia has a platform! I want to compare this with the recently released Luna.
I’m a cloud gaming enthusiast; I've spent a long time with GeForce Now starting in the original NVIDIA Shield days. I’m generally excited to see new services in the cloud gaming space because it helps validate the entire ecosystem. I’ve got my invite request in for Luna (and particularly like that they have RTX!), but I’m not liking a lot of what I’m seeing and hearing about the overall service.
It looks to me like Amazon has put a bare-bones amount of work into this so far: To port to Luna it seems you 1. Download a generic copy of a PC game from a vendor site. 2. Launch it on AWS Windows server instance. 3. Slap a web interface on top to launch the games. I will, though, give them props for their search bar (good grief Google, where is that??) and being first out of the gate with a PWA on iOS on the front-end side of things.
While the above model certainly makes porting games to the service easy, it’s also bound to lead to a generally poor user experience. There seemingly isn’t anything at all to Luna. There is no platform. There is no foundation to the house!!
It seems closer to where Google was at with Project Stream than what they launched with Stadia, let alone where Stadia is at now. Luna’s ecosystem seems like playing on Windows before Steam came along to provide a proper platform and all the QOL/UX niceties.
As far as I can tell, there is nothing at all to Luna
- There are no achievements (yet anyway). More importantly, there doesn’t appear to be any achievements API in place (at least they haven't mentioned anything, though not 100% sure it isn't secretly in place). It doesn’t appear there is any way to collect achievements and hope a UI comes later to view them like Stadia's launch. This is a huge deal for people like me who like to run an instrumented life. Apparently, an Amazon rep said something vague about achievements coming down the line in some sort of new and novel form. I worry (I of course could be wrong) that this is code for: “We don’t actually have platform requirements for games, so we’ll create “something that we call achievements.” Like maybe something based on time of play or another high level stat?? Ubisoft’s games will use UPlay's separate achievement system. That sounds like a wild west solution where every channel will have to implement their own system!
- There is no Friends list and all that implies. Unless things change (or if the APIs are secretly already implemented), if multiplayer comes to games it looks like it will be up to each developer to roll some kind of sensible friends system on their own. This is probably OK for Ubisoft, but a mess in general. This is actually fairly important even in single-player games where you typically have leaderboards etc. that compare you to your friends so you can spur each-other on. There obviously isn't any friends messaging or party system since there aren't friends.
- It doesn't look like there are any cloud centric platform APIs in place - all the things Stadia has (in admittedly a subset of their games).
- It doesn’t seem like there is much in the way of ANY platform APIs that handle various small ways games interact with the platform. (e.g. the equivalent of the Platform SDK here - https://stadia.dev/about/). I assume Luna must have at least *something*, but it isn’t evident.
- There isn’t any online multiplayer what-so-ever at this point based on early reports? Strange! I have to believe this one at least will be rectified soon. After all, you don’t really need a bunch of platform APIs to do basic multiplayer.
Can’t Luna just add a platform after the fact?
Yes. They probably can. But, they appear to be already releasing 100+ games without it. That is a big precedent to set! It will be real hard to start enforcing platform requirements/integration after the genie is already out of the bottle. Again, unless this all already secretly implemented.
It would be like Google’s Project Stream 3 years ago launching with 100 Linux games in their generic state. Come 2020, they’d be on their knees begging those developers to start playing by their platform rules and probably dropping a lot of cash to fix the mess they created by not doing things right from the start. It is a lot harder to add a foundation to a house after it is built!
Well, at least Luna uses Windows so that makes it easier to port right?
Let me begin by saying that there is indeed some truth to this. Not every game has both DirectX and OpenGL/Vulkan support. But, it probably isn’t nearly as important as people think. 20+ of the games that Luna has that haven’t (yet) come Stadia are actually already on Linux or OpenGL/Vulkan!!
These include the following: Overcooked 2, Everspace, Shadow Tactics, Indivisible, Two Point Hospital, Atomik (Mac), Tacoma, Iconoclasts, Blasphemous, Yooka-Laylee, Tangledeep, Edna and Harvey (2 games in this series), Wonder Boy: The Dragon Trap, Deponia Doomsday, Obduction (Mac), Victor Vran: Overkill Edition, Aragami, CrossCode, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, Goodbye Deponia, Thimbleweed Park.
A bunch of Luna’s other games are already on Stadia.
I theorize that the reason it is quick to port to Luna is less about Windows vs Linux and more about the fact that Luna has seemingly no platform!! Again, unless platform APIs are all just secretly there and implemented in the games (which I find doubtful).
So, I think Amazon made a trade-off: its especially easy to port to Luna at the expense of a quality user experience.
Luna gets a pass for being “early access” though right?
I do think it was a strategic marketing mistake for Google not to release under a “beta” tag. That would have bought them some slack.
On the other hand, Luna is going to be out there with 100+ games soon (as I said above, it isn’t going to be easy to build a platform underneath them after the fact), they are charging real money for subscriptions, and they are actually showing early access players ads before games launch (a real puzzle of a thing to do during early access).
In some sense, a label is just a label, and when people put up real $s, they expect something in return
. So, I think calling their service “early access” buys Amazon a little bit of spare rope, but it isn’t a get out of jail free card.
So, then Luna is garbage?
No! I’m still anxiously awaiting my invite. Probably if Amazon sees this, I’ll be moved to the back of the line. However, I have basically every streaming video service. I'll happily use multiple streaming game services - especially if they are complimentary in any way.
But, it pretty clearly isn’t going to replace Stadia as my #1 cloud service anytime soon. It'll probably slot into position #3 after GFN.
I can't find any evidence that there is any kind of platform integration or platform defining set of APIs for Luna that provide an experience near Stadia or Steam in place. I could be wrong, and an entire fleshed-out underlying platform is actually secretly in place and integrated into games just waiting for the UI to be built up. But... I doubt it.
Stadia will likely stay #1 in my books for quite a while. Stadia may be missing some platform features. But, at least it has
Edit - Been enjoying the conversation below and will try to respond more tomorrow! If you like the topic, u/one2escape
and Rokk host "Luna Cast" on twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/thelunacast
- I'm sure they'll also be entertaining lots more discussion about how the service will create a compelling platform or not.