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Amazon hires John Smedley to lead new San Diego studio

SOE veteran tells us he's encouraged by Amazon's "desire to do big things in gaming"

John Smedley, the former Sony Online Entertainment and Daybreak CEO who briefly went indie with Pixelmage Games, has landed at Amazon after he unfortunately had to shutter his startup last month. Amazon Game Studios has today announced that it's launching a new outfit in San Diego and the studio will be led by Smedley.

"John's pioneering work helped define the modern MMO, and his influence can be felt in thousands of games that followed," Amazon said in a statement. "He helped create the blueprint for fusing massive game worlds with vibrant player communities, a vision that we share at Amazon Game Studios... His team is already hard at work on an ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.

"From the high-fantasy role playing of EverQuest, to the intense FPS action of Planetside, and the brutal survival sandbox of H1Z1, John is no stranger to bucking trends and creating unforgettable games. It's early days, but we can't wait to see what John and his team create, and share it with you."

While Amazon and Smedley are not yet ready to discuss their new project, Smedley told in an email interview that he's excited to have Amazon's resources at his disposal and he's happy to see Amazon's desire to "do big things in gaming." Of course, part of doing big things involves Amazon-owned Twitch, which is changing the way many players engage with and consume gaming content.

"[Twitch] opens up entirely new types of games where the Twitch viewers are actually participants in the game itself in a lot of different ways"

"Twitch has been a seismic shift in the gaming industry. It's changed every aspect from how we market the games (Twitch dominates this now) to how we think about interactions between people watching streams and people playing the games," Smedley commented. "That relationship is becoming a two-way street, which means fans are going to be able to give a lot more feedback to developers, but it also means we're able to try new things where we are connecting the audience of a game on Twitch right to the game itself."

He added that Twitch ultimately "opens up entirely new types of games where the Twitch viewers are actually participants in the game itself in a lot of different ways."

Having worked on MMOs for years, Smedley has witnessed numerous changes to the genre, and that's only going to continue. While he and Amazon haven't definitively committed to an MMO, it certainly would not be surprising to see Smedley shepherd another online classic.

"I think we're seeing the evolution of the MMO into a lot of different forms. I look at Destiny and I think it's an amazing MMO, but it's nothing like WoW. I think we're also seeing the realization that content is incredibly time consuming to make, and keeping up with the players is a difficult thing to do," he said.

"For someone trying to make a WoW-MMO they have to deal with 12 years of content. That's going to mean a focus on more player-owned systems and games that are more open ended (Day Z or H1Z1 are great examples of this) where other players are the content. We'll still see great MMOs, we're just going to see them evolve from what they are now."

With the ability to leverage Amazon Web Services, Smedley hinted at the chance "to do really big and ambitious games that just wouldn't be possible without the amazing backend of AWS that's easy to access thanks to Amazon Lumberyard."

As Smedley and the San Diego team get going on their first project, you can be sure that the audience will be kept in the loop. Player feedback is increasingly important in this era of open development.

"I learned two important lessons from Daybreak - first is to listen to customers no matter what. The second is to work with great people. I'm happy to say we're doing both," Smedley said.

James Batchelor also contributed to this story

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James Brightman avatar
James Brightman: James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.
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