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Will Amazon be the next giant in gaming?

Amazon's vice president of games, Mike Frazzini, talks about the gaming components of the Amazon Fire TV, a new device that allows users to stream video, music, photos, games and more through their television, on April 2, 2014 in New York City.
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Amazon's vice president of games, Mike Frazzini, talks about the gaming components of the Amazon Fire TV, a new device that allows users to stream video, music, photos, games and more through their television, on April 2, 2014 in New York City.

Just as video game publishers and console makers are getting used to the disruption Apple and Google brought to the industry, another shake-up might be looming.

Amazon, which previously only sniffed around the edges of the gaming world, seems to be positioning itself to become a much bigger player. The only question is: When?

The launch of Fire TV was a shot across the bow of not only Roku, Apple and Google, but to console makers as well. In addition to a music, movie and television streaming device, Fire TV is also being positioned as a gaming system—one that has the backing of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Sega and Disney.

The company does not have a formal presence at the E3 trade show for the gaming industry, but it will nonetheless cast a shadow on the show floor.

"Amazon may be the biggest player who's not at E3," said John Taylor, managing director of Arcadia Investment.

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Amazon downplayed the disruptive potential of Fire TV during its introduction, noting it wasn't trying to make a game console to take on Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's PlayStation. And that's fair, since Fire TV will largely bring tablet games to the television.

But analysts say this could be the start of a larger move into gaming.

"I think it's a 2015 push," said P.J. McNealy, founder of Digital World Research. "[They're] laying the groundwork for it now. There's developer interest and they're aggressively gathering content."

"I think we're going to see Amazon's name pop up more and more," adds Taylor. "They're looking at formats of the future, which are much more open and support a wider variety of business models. These fundamentally create less friction between the game provider, the developer and the user. "

While Amazon is working with established developers, it's also quietly building its own game-making studio. The first fruits of that effort were unveiled with Fire TV, with a third-person shooter called "Sev Zero." But the ambitions run much higher.

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In February, Amazon acquired Double Helix games, maker of "Killer Instinct" on the Xbox One and the classic title "Earthworm Jim." At the same time, it has been recruiting top-level talent from around the industry, including Kim Swift, designer of Valve Software's "Portal" and "Far Cry 2" lead Clint Hocking.

While the Fire TV (and Amazon's other hardware) isn't currently on the same graphical level as next-generation—or even last generation's—consoles, that won't necessarily be an issue. Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud computing division, is largely considered one of the best cloud providers around. And increasingly, game companies are looking at the cloud as a delivery system.

Sony's leading the charge with plans to launch PlayStation Now, a streaming gameplay service, later this year. PS Now utilizes the cloud to let PS4 owners stream older games, including those from the PS3, seamlessly and without lag. And some insiders wonder if Amazon could do the same sort of thing with the Web Services division—bypassing expensive hardware.

Granted, it wouldn't be easy. Sony, to expedite PS Now, purchased fledgling streaming company Gaikai in 2012 to utilize its technology in the space. Gaikai's chief competitor OnLive scaled back its game streaming efforts later that year, laying off its entire staff. (The company called the move a restructuring—and is still operational.)

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"What Amazon has is a massive cloud system and they have the balance sheet to support that," said Eric Handler, senior equity analyst with MKM Partners. "If they really wanted to ... do a cloud-based system, they could just buy something like OnLive or another Steam-like system [Valve Software's digital distribution service], because they're further along. They don't need to reinvent the technology."

So while Amazon certainly has the potential to be a gaming giant, it's one that's currently slumbering—or, perhaps more accurately, just beginning to stretch and wake up. It's not a threat to any traditional gaming company at this point, but experts say if it continues to expand and explore new avenues of delivery, it could quickly turn heads.

"I don't think Apple or Google or Microsoft or Sony is losing any sleep over Amazon right now," said McNealy. "But if Amazon keeps spending money and signs significant content deals—or buys more companies—that's a different story. That's when people start paying attention."

—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.

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