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Amazon Luna: The irrefutable future of ALL gaming.


Amazon Luna represents the culmination of an idea which I have held a strong interest in for ages. For me, the start would be when I first saw Sega Channel (A Sega Genesis game subscription service delivered via cable networks in the 90's) at a friend's house. I was blown away and completely enamored with the idea right from the start. You just subscribe, and you have a library of games to play, all delivered digitally. No shopping, no trips to the rental store. My parents couldn't afford... well, anything, but I was pretty sure that I would have Sega Channel once I had a job and my own place. Sadly, that was not meant to be, as the service crashed and burned before then.

It wouldn't be until years later that a similar service would catch my radar. I was keenly interested in GameTap (A PC-based game subscription service from 2005) right from launch. I never actually subscribed tho cos I wanted a more console-like experience. I just wanted to browse and play games from my couch. I considered attempting some type of HTPC set-up, but ultimately didn't feel like I could accomplish this in a way that would replicate a console style experience authentically.

The next service to get me really excited was OnLive. This service launched in 2010, with the promise of streaming games to you that were running remotely on some server. This kind of tech magic was fascinating to me. It started out as a PC-thing, but they later introduced a micro-console. I tried it out on a laptop and it worked well enough. I kept following this project and told myself that I would buy it as soon as it had a good library. Sadly, that day never came. I'm pretty sure some of the games you had to pay extra for, but some were included in the subscription. So it wasn't exactly a Sega Channel type of experience. But in the end the only games ever released for the platform were Witcher, Saint's Row 3, and one of the Lego games I think. Okay, there were a couple more, but nothing worth remembering. Anyway, OnLive created the ultimate idea of how the Sega Channel experience could work with modern games. While Sega Channel games were technically downloaded, not streamed, they were small, so they downloaded rather quickly, whilst modern games were now taking me hours or even days in some cases. The instant gratification offered by streaming had a draw that could not be ignored, and I would continue to follow this development.

A couple more game subscription services you almost certainly are aware of, PS Plus and Games With Gold both appeared around the same time as OnLive. These were download-based, not streaming. They still match enough to fit the Sega Channel-esque gaming ideal established in my psyche, but they both were intended more as a supplemental service to exist alongside buying games, rather than a replacement. I never found either particularly satisfying.

The most immediate successor to OnLive came after Sony purchased them, and used the tech to build Playstation Now. This service definitely checked all the marks. A streaming service with a robust game selection offered as a monthly subscription. I was incredibly interested and this factored into my decision to buy a PSTV. Unfortunately, it didn't work well for me. My internet wasn't quite fast enough. PS Now actually demanded far more bandwidth than OnLive had, which put it just out of reach of my ability to use it. I could have upgraded my internet, but the cost of doing so, combined with the rather expensive cost of the PS Now service caused me to ultimately decide against it. Which was quite fortuitous, cos awhile later they dropped support for PSTV (as well as smart TVs) which would have really peeved me had I been an active subscriber at the time. Even more so had I bought one of those smart TVs. Now is a good time to mention that I'm kinda a minimalist. I saw the PSTV as a trial run, and figured I would love the clutter reduction of essentially having my console built in to my TV. Had the service ran well on my internet I likely would have bought one of those TVs with that express purpose. Over time, I got better internet, and PS Now got better pricing, and it is certainly a viable option. But after having dropped the support for TVs, PSTV, and Vita, there was a sorta bad taste in my mouth so that's that.

Most recently there have been more game subscription services available. Xbox Game Pass offers a hybrid of streaming and console downloads. I was going to try this, but as a TV gamer I would have wanted a console to play on, and they're nowhere to be found. Apple Arcade is a really great idea, and works really well. Most of the games are quick to download, as they are essentially phone games... which is also the problem, they're playable on TV via Apple TV, but they mostly just suck like mobile games tend to do. I'm actually still subscribed to Apple TV right now, but I'll probably drop it after I play Fantasian. Let's not forget Stadia, the streaming sevice with a PS Plus style subscription. This is essentially the problem that the subscription is supplementary and you are generally expected to buy the games. This just didn't fit what I was looking for. Oh, and Switch Online is a very cheap service that focuses on the retro games I love. Unfortunately, when Nintendo changed  their release cadence to "whenever we feel like it" it really lost any potential to be a primary gaming experience, rather than a supplemental one.

Enter Luna. When I heard that this service was entirely subscription-based, I was psyched. This is Stadia the way it should have been. The selection of games was relatively small, but had a really nice mix of games I already liked and ones I was interested in playing. It required asking for beta access and hoping you get in. I was definitely paying attention, but I never asked cos I didn't have a Fire TV device, and wasn't keen on the idea of playing them on my iPad. But the stars aligned perfectly to create the perfect conditions that I would end up with Luna.

Over the last couple weeks, multiple factors lead me down this road. Luna access was offered to anyone with Fire TV devices, no need to win a lottery. I got more excited when I saw Katamari Damacy added to the lineup. Not because I desperately wanted to play this game I already owned on Switch, but because it showed two important facts about the service. Firstly, that they are adding games at a nice pace; secondly, that those games are good. My TV was on the fritz, which helped me feel the choice to buy a Fire TV enabled smart TV was warranted. The government passing a new stimulus bill helped me feel like I could afford it. 

So, here we are. I now have a good collection of games, at a very fair ($6) monthly fee. The best thing I can say about Luna? Simply that you forget you're using it. I noticed a little lag a couple times, but mostly very good performance. You play a game long enough to get absorbed in it, and my mind is in a place no different than where it would be during console play. Just a sudden "wow, there's no console here" moment hits you. It just frickin' works.

Game subscription services have a huge potential to increase our quality of life. If used in lieu of game purchases, it yields the following benefits:

More Money: If you buy games a lot, that costs a lot of money. A solid service can keep giving us new gaming experiences, without the need to spend our hard earned moolah every time we want something different. I don't know what Luna will cost outside of beta, but $6/mo=$72/year, so at its current pricing, it's basically a game or two a year. I think most gamers buy way more than that. 

More Time: As money is a finite resource, I tend to do a lot of window shopping/research before purchasing a game. The idea is to save me money so I don't buy a game I won't like. But in reality, that still happens often, so then I waste time and money. No need to research potential games if you can just play them instantly.

Sunken Cost: After purchasing a game I hate, it's hard not to play it. I don't want to waste the money I spent, so I force myself to play it a little at least. Again, wasting time in addition to wasting money. If you're not buying games individually, there is less reason to bother playing a game you don't really like.

Variety: It's really difficult to buy games outside of my wheelhouse. I want to try new things, but when my money's on the line, I tend to stick more to what I'm used to. No reason not to try a new game when there's nothing to loose tho!

Those are just referring to a subscription plan. But game streaming specifically offers additional benefits beyond just those:

No clutter: When compared to physical games. If using a smart TV, also reduces the clutter of having a separate gaming device.

No running out of storage space: When compared to digital downloads.

No waiting for downloads: Which even applies to physical games with some of the gaint day one patches these days.

Less electricity: Modern consoles burn juice rather quickly. Not Switch, but the current gen most certainly. This could save on your electric bill. Technically, the servers running the games are using much electricity, so it isn't totally green. But that's not on me. Just like Tesla owners assume people will eventually stop making electricity out of coal, streaming gamers can assume that at some point they'll figure out how to make the streaming servers operate with more efficiency. My personal devices are using less electricity, so I'm good with that.

if you've read this far, I want to say three things. First, sorry, I didn't mean to make this so long, it just happened that way. Second, that title was just clickbait. There's lots of good gaming experiences out there. Lastly, I sorta fibbed when I said earlier that I'm "kinda a minimalist". The truth is, I'm an absolutely batshit crazy minimalist that has given away or very cheaply sold an incalculable number of consoles, games, etc. over the years. I once gave about 20 unopened Amiibos to Goodwill. I know that streaming gaming doesn't appeal much to collectors. But I am someone who is utterly incapable of being a collector because if things take up space without being used it's like hitting my serenity with an a-bomb. You probably have no way of comprehending the degree of joy I receive when I look at my TV and see that nothing is attached to it.

Before I wrap this up, let me say that the only aspect of Luna right now I am interested in is Luna+. There is supposed to be multiple "channels" of gaming content. So far, outside of the base $6 Luna+ plan, the only other plan is the $15 Ubisoft+ plan. Which equals $180/year. Or, three full-priced games. Do I spend over $72 on games each year? Yes, which is why Luna+ is perceived as a good deal. Do I spend over $180 on Ubisoft games each year? Not by a longshot! I definitely spend too much on games, but I'm not really an Ubisoft fan and that's a lot of scratch. I will say it would be epic if they made a specific Sega Channel to the Luna channels, thus bringing a literal return of the "Sega Channel" that kicked this whole thing off. Tho, if it costed $15, I would probably still refrain.

So, hey, I know Luna won't be for everybody. And if not, that's totally cool! But I'm just really feeling psyched right now. There's still a few question marks for me. I don't know how long games will stay up before they're removed. I don't know how much the price will go up when it leaves beta. I don't know which games will come in the future, nor what the release cadence will be. I don't even know whether or not Luna will simply crash and burn, whether it will even be here in a year or two. And now we've touched on the entire purpose of why I wrote this. I really like Luna. I really, really like Luna. But I'm not seeing a lot of love, hype, support. And so I asked myself what I could do to help Luna succeed. And this is it. I can write, and hope that you read. If more people support Luna, it will flourish. If no one supports it, it will vanish. I want to keep playing Luna for many years. If I convince just one of you to join me, I will be grateful.

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About Damien Quicksilverone of us since 8:25 PM on 12.22.2018

Near the beginning of the millennium, I wrote an opinion column titled "My Twenty-Five Cents" in a short lived zine titled "Classic Gamer Magazine" iirc. I used the pen name "Damien Quicksilver" at the time. I get thoughts about gaming that I feel the urge to write about from time to time, so this is something of a reprisal I suppose. If there is somehow anyone out there who remembers that zine, that would be amazing. It was made with a group of folks I met in rec.games.video.classic on Usenet. If there is somehow anyone out there who remembers what Usenet is, you're old. If you don't know what Usenet was, it was basically the cretaceous period equivalent of Reddit.