Amazon’s ‘New World’ is already Steam’s most-played new game of 2021

(Amazon Image)

Amazon’s long-awaited New World launched on Steam on Tuesday morning, and in news that should have Amazon execs breathing a little easier today, the early buzz around the game continues to be solid.

Even with server queues, New World is already Steam’s most-played new game of 2021. The previous contender, the Swedish Viking simulator Valheim, topped out at just over 500,000 concurrent players in February. At time of writing, SteamDB has pegged New World‘s peak at 707,230.

This is reportedly enough to put New World into the No. 5 all-time spot for concurrent players on Steam, behind PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and last winter’s Cyberpunk 2077.

At time of writing, New World also has fluctuated between 798,000 and 850,000 viewers on the Amazon-owned Twitch network, with streamers like shroud and Fextralife playing for an audience of thousands. Several high-profile streamers have specifically partnered up with Amazon to run giveaway promotions, so this isn’t entirely organic, but it’s still an impressive figure to throw around.

New World is only the third original video game from Amazon Game Studios, despite years of effort and false starts, and its launch has widely been perceived as a make-it-or-break-it moment for Amazon’s ambitions as a mainstream game developer.

In New World, players take the role of shipwrecked survivors on the mysterious island of Aeternum, in an alternate history roughly based off of 17th-century Earth. On Aeternum, magical forces have run mostly out of control for centuries, which has created both miracles and monsters over the course of time. Players must band together into three factions—the Marauders, Syndicate, and Covenant—for protection against both Aeternum’s hostile natives and each other.

It’s a slightly strange pick for Amazon, as New World is a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), a subgenre that’s currently dominated by World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. As opposed to those two games, however, New World features a real-time combat system, and doesn’t have any sort of character classes.

Instead, your character gains Core Attribute points as you level up, which you can spread out among five primary stats, and you can grind out gathering, crafting, and refining professions as you see fit. Likewise, fighting with any of the weapons in the game slowly earns experience points towards Mastery for that specific weapon. It’s an open-ended approach reminiscent of an Elder Scrolls game.

As a general rule, MMORPGs are some of the hardest games to fairly review. They’re deliberately built as long-lasting time sinks, and many of them change dramatically once you hit their endgame. New World has a level cap of 60, and few if any people will be able to reach that point before this coming weekend. Amazon itself recommends that critics get at least 40 hours deep into New World before trying to write about it, which seems entirely fair.

As such, there aren’t many actual reviews of the game at the moment. There are a few critical previews, such as PCMag’s, but at time of writing, New World‘s Metacritic page is a big fat “to be continued.” A proper critical evaluation (such as our own) is going to have to wait for a bit.

New World is currently suffering through the typical day-one problems that any online game has, such as server queues, which is getting it “review-bombed” on Steam. A lot of people want to be playing New World right now, but can’t, and are finding their own ways to express that frustration.

Read an update regarding New World Launch #NWstatus


— New World (@playnewworld) September 28, 2021

It is a little weird that Amazon, home of Amazon Web Services, is having queue problems with New World, but that’s also fairly typical for any online game at launch. Most studios will opt to have queues in their game’s first week rather than expand their server capacity, because that’s cheaper overall for the developers. It’s perceived as a safer bet to assume that your population will drop and stabilize than to assume everyone in your day-one audience will stick around for the duration.

I also have to wonder how much of New World’s early popularity comes down to Amazon picking a very solid release window by what has to have been pure accident. World of Warcraft, the reigning champion of American MMORPGs, has quietly been bleeding players and behind-the-scenes talent for most of the last year.

This is due to both lackluster updates to its current expansion and a series of revelations about developer Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture, the latter of which culminated in a lawsuit filed by the state of California against Activision Blizzard in July. While it’s too early to say that World of Warcraft is in any danger of shutting down — it’s reportedly shed half of its player base in the last four years, which still puts it comfortably at 26 million monthly active users — a lot of dedicated, high-profile WoW fans have found excuses lately to check out other games.

Final Fantasy XIV has inherited most of those players, but if New World‘s endgame can keep people interested, it may have appeared at just the right time to pose a real threat to WoW.