Move over, Xbox: Netflix has plans in the gaming space

Unless you get a weird joy from pressing the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ button next to the latest show, nobody would claim that Netflix is brimming with games content. But the company’s latest hire shows pretty clearly that it intends to put foot firmly into Xbox and PlayStation territory.

Netflix has just hired its first VP of games development, which is a pretty big clue that the company intends to do some game development. Or, if not, it’s a pretty cushy job for the new hire, Mike Verdu.

You may not have heard of Verdu, but he has a pretty strong track record of putting games in places where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to thrive. At Zynga, he was chief creative officer, helping plant a million virtual farms on Facebook with Farmville. At EA, he worked on putting key franchises like The Sims on smartphones. And at Facebook, his most recent employer, he was VP of content for Facebook Reality Labs: Oculus virtual reality games, in other words.

Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Netflix’s early experiments in gaming have been in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style, where viewers can pick what happens in the show they’re watching from a limited selection of choices like in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, pictured above. But a more fully baked definition of gaming isn’t beyond the reach of a company with piles of cash as big as Netflix, and the likes of Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass prove that big budget triple-A games can be streamed to pretty much any screen as long as the internet connection is capable enough.

Bloomberg, which first reported the news, said that gaming would be a section of the software, rather than a different thing altogether like Apple Arcade is to Apple TV. The report also says that Netflix isn’t planning on using this as a justification to raise prices, which seems sensible given those that just want to binge watch The Circle in peace probably don’t want to subside someone else’s Fortnite addiction.

When approached for comment, Netflix confirmed that Verdu had indeed been hired, which is fortunate for Bloomberg’s reporting. They wouldn’t, however, be drawn on much else, pointing us instead to comments made by chief operating officer Greg Peters during a recent Q1 earning call. 

“There’s no doubt that games are going to be an important form of entertainment and an important sort of modality to deepen that fan experience,” he said. “So we’re going to keep going, and we’ll continue to learn and figure it out as we go.

“We’re in the business of creating these amazing deep universes and compelling characters and people come to love those universes and they want to immerse themselves more deeply and get to know the characters better and their back stories and all that stuff. And so really we’re trying to figure out what are all these different ways that we can increase those points of connection, we can deepen that fandom. And certainly, games is a really interesting component of that.”

Read into that what you will. Bloomberg claims that gaming will be introduced to Netflix in the next year, so plenty of time to read between the lines.

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