Amazon’s Luna game-streaming service adds $3-for-family tier, Prime-linked tease

Amazon’s Luna game-streaming service adds $3-for-family tier, Prime-linked tease

by Tech News
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Luna begins to shine —

Paying subscribers can now spin up “Luna Cloud” sessions—friends join for free.

Sam Machkovech

  • The official Luna Controller from Amazon. It’s not required to access any of this week’s new developments, but it directly connects to your router for the sake of quicker cloud-gaming response times.

    Jeff Dunn

  • Which gaming service lives in a pineapple under the sea?

  • Why, it’s the $2.99/mo Luna Family Channel.

  • If you’re a paying Amazon Prime member, you have seven days, starting right now, to access these four games through Amazon Luna—and essentially test whether the service is up to snuff on your streaming device and Internet connection of choice.

  • Should you start paying for Luna, you can share links to your co-op and versus sessions to friends, who can join for absolutely free, no membership or payment required.

It has been a while since we’ve heard anything major from Luna, Amazon’s game-streaming service that largely resembles Google Stadia, Xbox Game Streaming, and other cloud-based ways to stream video games from a server farm to your screen of choice. Today, Amazon breaks its recent streaming silence with a few new ways to get more players into Luna for less money.

The first move involves Amazon’s massive Prime service, which is finally becoming an instant, free-with-your-subscription way to stream Luna games. Starting right now, paying Prime members can either load Luna’s website or install the Luna app on any compatible device, sync a compatible gamepad, and play the entirety of four very solid video games: Resident Evil 7, Metro Exodus, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.

This access doesn’t require signing up for a Luna free trial, and it doesn’t pause any of these games after an arbitrary limit of hours or in-game progress. But there is a catch: the Prime access to these four games runs out in seven days, on September 15—at which point anyone who wants to keep playing those four games can formally sign up for the “Luna+” tier for $5.99/month (with a free seven-day trial, if you haven’t claimed one of those yet). Before September 15, at least, no formal Luna sign-up is required.

Should you stick around, your progress in those games will be saved and carried over, and you’ll get access to an even larger library of streamable games: up to 95 in Luna+ as of press time, which range from relatively new to pretty darned old. That cost compares favorably to the $14.99/month cost of Xbox Game Streaming: 60 percent less, with roughly 60 percent fewer games. But why doesn’t Amazon add longer-lasting Luna access to the $129.99/year Amazon Prime pile and skip this series of hoops, already?

As we’ve seen in the past, Amazon likes to arbitrarily give, then take away, various Prime perks. Gamers in particular have felt that sting in the form of sweeping changes to what was once Twitch Prime and is now called Prime Gaming. Perhaps this seven-day trial is a tease of more ways for Luna and Prime to connect in the future, or maybe it’s a temporary test to see if Amazon’s bean counters think that Prime-related Luna giveaways are worth maintaining.

Luna Family: Quite a bit for $2.99 a month

The company’s second major software-and-pricing move comes in the form of Luna Family, a new tier of game access that costs $2.99/month and focuses on curated E-for-everyone fare. And its game selection (printed in full at the article’s end) isn’t too shabby.

A primer for the uninitiated: Luna offers subscriptions to various tiers that interested gamers can pick up and put down as they see fit, with some tiers being publisher-specific. Luna Family can be your only Luna subscription, or you can toss it as a cheap add-on atop other game collection subscriptions.

The 35 games that make up Luna Family’s opening roster include the critically acclaimed likes of Death Squared, Super Mega Baseball, and Overcooked, the perfectly serviceable 3D platforming of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, and the mediocre racing of Garfield Kart. You’ll also get additional kid-approved games that land somewhere between those on a quality scale. Considering that parents might not flinch at a $30 sticker price for a recognizable child-friendly video game, the $36/year estimate for 35 Amazon-approved Luna Family games is respectable.

Amazon goes one step further by emphasizing shared-screen and co-op friendliness for many of its Luna Family games, and its sales pitch has a rare cloud-specific component: load a Luna Family game on two devices, each streaming from the cloud, and they’ll be able to load the same cooperative or versus game. Each player will still see the exact same feed, as opposed to giving each player, say, their own unique first-person view on their own screen. But if you’ve ever seen two-of-the-same-screen arcade kits for series like Street Fighter and want to give your kids the same experience with two tablets and the same Garfield Kart feed, there you go.

Luna Couch as a free path to sharing, plus: Ubisoft+, “retro” tier

Speaking of shared-screen functionality: if you’re a paying Luna subscriber on any of its tiers and you want to host a facsimile of couch co-op, even with nonpaying friends, the new Luna Couch feature is for you. Load a compatible game, then create a “Luna Couch” link and share it with anyone else online, whether they live nearby or far, far away. Anyone can join for free, no payment or Luna account required—though exactly how international sharing might work remains to be seen.

Should your friend load your link in either their web browser or their compatible app, they’ll instantly take over one of the game’s controllers. That’s because, again, you’re all connecting to a single cloud server, so it can beam the server farm’s game session to everyone in equal measure. Amazon has yet to clarify exactly how many Luna Couch slots a single game instance can support or whether each of its players can arbitrarily take over controller slots (e.g., myself in one slot, a friend and their spouse in the second slot, and another friend by themself in the third).

This functionality in particular resembles DIY cloud-multiplayer services like Fightcade, which let people spin up cloud instances and play “online” multiplayer in games that never formally supported such a feature. Luna Couch does not appear to work in such a “universal” manner, however, so either a Luna game formally supports Luna Couch, or it does not—and we can’t yet say whether its offering exceeds other DIY services’ GGPO adoption. Either way, no other formal, paid cloud-gaming service currently has a comparable “I subscribe, you join my session for free” option, which means Amazon has soundly won this round of cloud-gaming combat on a service.

Today’s news also includes an expansion in the number of games made available as part of Luna’s Ubisoft+ channel, which will now include brand-new games the instant they’re out on other consoles. That means this fall’s Far Cry 6 and Riders Republic. As a result, Amazon is raising that tier’s price to $17.99/mo, up from the current $14.99/mo; if you want to keep the old price, start a subscription before September 30 and maintain it. And Amazon has hinted at a “retro” Luna tier to come in the future, made up of games from SNK, Atari, and other classic publishers. The company, however, has yet to confirm a price, launch date, or full library.

But the perennial issue with a games-from-the-cloud service is your connectivity environment. Do you live close to a particular service’s cluster of servers? Can you play on a hardwired streaming box? Can you tolerate whatever lag emerges? And how big are your bandwidth caps? But gaming companies continue plowing ahead with increasingly competitive streaming options, and in a chip-shortage universe—where new consoles sell out and regular game patches take forever to download—these aren’t the worst backup options for quick, affordable gaming.

Luna Family’s selection of games

(Any game listed in bold is compatible with Luna Couch.)

  • Beach Buggy Racing 2: Hot Wheels Edition
  • Bee Simulator
  • Bridge Constructor Portal
  • Buildings Have Feelings Too!
  • Death Squared
  • DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
  • El Hijo – A Wild West Tale
  • Garfield Kart – Furious Racing
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
  • Melbits World
  • Momonga Pinball Adventures
  • Monster Truck Championship: Rebel Hunter Edition
  • Overcooked!
  • PictoQuest
  • Pile Up! Box by Box
  • Race the Sun
  • Skelittle: A Giant Party!!
  • Smoots Summer Games
  • Smoots World Cup Tennis
  • Snake Pass
  • Space Otter Charlie
  • Sparklite
  • Spirit of the North
  • Spitlings
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated
  • Summer Paws
  • Super Kickers League Ultimate
  • Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
  • The Adventure Pals
  • Tracks – Toybox Edition
  • Transformers: Battlegrounds
  • Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia
  • Tumblestone
  • Urban Trial Playground
  • Wandersong
  • Yono and the Celestial Elephants

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Listing image by Amazon

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