John Smedley, the former president of Sony Online Entertainment and co-creator of EverQuest (opens in new tab), is to leave his role as head of Amazon Games’ San Diego studio. “After a lot of thought, I’ve decided it’s time for me to try my hand at something new” wrote Smedley in an email to staff obtained by Bloomberg (opens in new tab).
Smedley had been at Amazon Games since 2017, so six years, and did not ship a game in that time. Which is not all that unusual at Amazon Games, which has had a rocky ride over the last decade including cancelled games, launched-and-cancelled games like Crucible, and abandoning projects like the Lord of the Rings MMO.
Part of the company’s early strategy, spearheaded by studio head Mike Frazzini, was big ticket hires: developers like Kim Swift (Portal), Clint Hocking (Far Cry 2), and Smedley. All of these people, including Frazzini (opens in new tab), have now left Amazon Games. That’s not to suggest the publisher is in trouble—recent years have finally seen it win some success with New World and Lost Ark—but it does seem notable that so much talent has been-and-gone from Amazon Games without ever shipping a game. Smedley’s had his moments (opens in new tab), but EverQuest is arguably the foundational MMO, and this is someone you’d want to see more games from.
“John is a game industry legend, and we’re grateful for his contributions to Amazon Games over the past six years,” Amazon told Bloomberg. The San Diego studio “remains focused on bringing their unannounced project to life” and Smedley will stay for a transition period.
The most recent news from Amazon Games has an interesting aspect in light of this: It will be publishing and co-developing the next Tomb Raider game (opens in new tab). Given the success Amazon has found with Lost Ark, and the not-great track record it has with solo projects, you can see why this hybrid approach may seem a more attractive strategy.