Unreal, man: Amazon pitches new 3D VR kit at dev newbies

Streamed direct from the Amazon storage fishbowl, natch

Amazon announced a preview for its new AR, VR and 3D app editing and hosting service, Sumerian, today. It is hoping new augmented and virtual reality web developers will pick its new cloud-based platform over Unity3D and Unreal Engine.

The blog post boasts that you can make apps "with ease" and "don’t need any 3D graphics or specialized programming knowledge to get started".

While it's not exactly clear that augmented and virtual reality will deliver the wonder that will set us all free, firms have been exploring applications such as gaming and education. There's a hefty dose of big players suddenly up and offering their own AR and VR development apps, including Apple, Google and even Microsoft.

In an FAQ, Amazon said Sumerian does "share similarities in feature sets" with its existing downloadable video game engine, Lumberyard, but Sumerian is web-only. You both build and host apps on Amazon infrastructure.

As far as support goes, you can plop in 3D assets in the FBX 2017 or OBJ file formats. There is also apparently ARKit support, but no ARCore or Unity Projects yet (just a vague promise of "coming soon").

You can edit scenes in Firefox Quantum 57 and Chrome 62 freely, or chance "a slightly degraded experience" in Edge or Safari browsers. Apps are deployed via Amazon's Sumerian engine and viewable on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Daydream, a mobile device, or a browser supporting WebGL or WebVR (although for VR "Firefox Quantum 57.0 is recommended").

Per month, Amazon charges $0.06 per GB of 3D asset storage. It also charges $0.38 per GB of scene views, and extra for using additional services such as Amazon Lex or Polly.

For the first 12 months, new users get a single 50MB scene with up to 100 views per month for free.

For comparison, the Unity3D program is free for individuals or companies with less than $100,000 in funds or revenues. Unreal Engine costs 5 per cent of gross revenue after $3,000 per product per quarter, or upfront licence fees.

Even with all the buzzwords, though, it's not really clear at all if this thing will work out for Amazon, or if it will make it much money.

Andy Nye, managing director at AR/VR development firm New Moon Studios in York, told The Register, "it will face resistance."

In terms of performance, he said "we can definitely do a lot more with native Unity" builds than WebGL or WebVR. He said the low-level hardware support for Unity builds is still better than WebGL's at this time.

But beyond that, Unreal Engine and Unity3D – desktop apps – both offer WebGL builds and are are well-established tools in industry. "Professionals will be less likely to switch tools now," he said.

He said his firm might try it, but it'd mostly be useful for "hobbyists" just starting out.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The preview is currently available to Amazon account-holders, who will have to sign up for it. ®

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