Amazon’s Secret Weapon in Gaming: EA Veteran Bing Gordon

Amazon has assembled all the pieces necessary to become a force in the video game industry. And to help put those pieces together, Amazon has turned to video game veteran Bing Gordon.

Gordon, a former Amazon board director who is best known for helping build video-game maker Electronic Arts into one of the industry’s dominant companies, has been advising Amazon on its various gaming-related efforts for the past two years, The Information has learned. Among other things, he has made suggestions about how Amazon should scale its live game-streaming platform Twitch and how it should market games. He has even played some of the video games Amazon is developing and offered his opinions. His role as an adviser on gaming hasn’t previously been reported.

The Takeaway
Amazon’s reliance on a well-known video game industry veteran shows how the company is aiming to strengthen its gaming business units, including the livestreaming platform Twitch and its efforts to develop original video games.

“Clearly he’s building the 21st century Electronic Arts [at Amazon],” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, referring to Gordon. “I know he has grand aspirations and he’s smart and capable, so I’m sure he’s doing something right, but we don’t know what it is yet.”

Amazon likes to say that it hopes to shape the future of gaming, which is shifting from a business concentrated in packaged games played on consoles to a streaming-based business. That transition has the potential to expand the size of the gaming industry by eliminating the need for players to buy costly consoles. And it could give Amazon a more direct role in the industry than simply selling video games, as it has done since its early days. When games are streamed, they’re run on powerful computers run by cloud providers like Amazon Web Services or inside other companies’ data centers.

Amazon has taken a series of steps to gradually build up its gaming businesses. In 2012, Amazon launched a game development unit, which now has studios in Seattle, San Diego and Irvine, Calif. Two years later it acquired the livestreaming platform Twitch, which is now part of Amazon’s cloud computing unit Amazon Web Services. In 2016 Amazon introduced Twitch Prime, connecting the social platform for gamers to its e-commerce membership program. The company is also developing a service for streaming video games over the Internet, The Information reported in January.

Gordon, who quit the board of Amazon in March 2017 to become a consultant to the company, is working closely with the leaders of each of those units, including AWS CEO Andy Jassy along with Emmett Shear, the CEO of Amazon-owned Twitch, and Mike Frazzini, who runs Amazon’s games unit. Other Electronic Arts veterans have also joined Amazon’s games division, including the prominent game makers Richard Hilleman and Louis Castle. 

The hiring of Gordon shows how intent Amazon is on strengthening its gaming efforts. The company is sure to face lots of competition in game streaming, both from fellow tech giants and from gaming incumbents like Valve’s Steam. Two months ago, Google unveiled pricing and other details for its own game streaming service called Stadia. The search giant last year hired former Xbox executive Phil Harrison. Microsoft, meanwhile, has said it would begin public trials of its game streaming service, Project xCloud, in 2019.

Gaming History

Gordon, 69 years old, is well suited to guide Amazon. At Electronic Arts, where he joined in its early days, he worked on everything from marketing to product development. He also served as its chief creative officer from 1998 to 2008, when he joined the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. He was a director on Amazon’s board from 2003 to 2017, when he resigned “in order to provide consulting services” to Amazon, the company said in a securities filing. 

It didn’t give details, other than saying that he would receive a restricted stock unit award of 3,100 shares vesting over two years as part of the consulting agreement. Those shares are currently worth $5.5 million.

Gordon last year renewed that commitment for another two years, according to a person familiar with the matter. Gordon declined to comment on the record. 

In a statement, Amazon didn’t address Gordon’s role but said, “We are deeply committed to games and continue to invest heavily in AWS Game Tech, Twitch, Twitch Prime, Amazon Game Studios, our retail businesses, and other areas within Amazon.”

The company’s gaming efforts have faced some challenges. The games unit has yet to release a blockbuster game. Earlier this year it released a game based on its Prime video original show The Grand Tour, which has not made much of a splash. The video games publication Kotaku reported in June that Amazon had laid off dozens of employees in its game development division. 

There have also been some bright spots. Twitch Prime, which gives members nearly $60 worth of subscriptions to channels on the streaming platform as well as regular Prime features, has helped Amazon’s Prime program sign up customers who otherwise did not seem inclined to pay for it, a person familiar with the program said.

Wedbush’s Pachter said that while Amazon has been working on developing games for several years, it’s still too early to tell how successful it will be, even with an industry veteran such as Gordon on its team. Like other entertainment businesses, such as movie and film, creating blockbuster video games is a slog, Pachter said, “even if you have all the resources in the world.”.

“Every game company you can name is 25 years old. It’s not like you can just decide to be in business tomorrow and start something up,” Pachter said. “It’s hard to make good games.”