In the wake of Google Stadia’s recently announced, entirely inevitable collapse, launching a new streamed gaming service might seem a little brave. But then, if you’re Netflix, you’ve certainly at least got some of the infrastructure in place. The streaming giant has made clear its intentions to leap into this space. And indeed announced it’s opening a new game studio, led by former Blizzard exec, Chacko Sonny.
For a long time, cloud streaming games (letting you play a game via an internet connection on tech stored elsewhere) has been a goal many have failed to score. From OnLive to Jump to LiquidSky to Google’s Stadia, it’s a graveyard of failure. But Netflix is apparently still willing to step over the corpses.
Reported by Protocol, Netflix’s VP of game development, Mike Verdu, spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday, saying, “We’re very seriously exploring a cloud gaming offering.”
It’s not exactly a surprising move. Netflix has been making moves in the gaming space for a while now, buying up companies like Oxenfree developers Night Dive, and publishing dozens of mobile games, including the excellent Into The Breach. Most recently, Netflix paid for mobile development on Sam Barlow’s latest FMV title, Immortality. But despite being a company most known for streaming TV and movies onto your television, their gaming offering has all been entirely separate mobile downloads. Tying the two together clearly makes sense.
Well, it makes sense in a universe where video game streaming has ever proven to be a roaring success. Despite being offered in various forms by Xbox’s Game Pass Ultimate, Sony’s PlayStation Plus (absorbing PlayStation Now), Amazon’s Luna, and Nvidia’s GeForce Now, none has become an explosive breakthrough, rendering home consoles obsolete. And Google Stadia’s recent embarrassing flop will surely have put off many others sniffing around the market.
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Stadia’s failure is easily put down to Google’s mayfly-like product lifetimes, but it’s important to note that it was an attempt to offer true game streaming independently of any other service. Where the consoles’ versions require, you know, the console, and GeForce Now piggybacks off your own previously purchased game collection, this aborted attempt was the “Netflix For Games” we’ve long been promised. So, perhaps it only makes sense for the next attempt to realize it to come from Netflix itself.
Protocol says that Verdu wants to take a slow, careful approach, “the same way as we did with mobile.” With 35 mobile games out already, and another 55 on the way according to a recent earnings report, it’d be a bit silly for them not to try.
TechCrunch quotes Verdu as saying that Netflix wouldn’t be looking to compete with consoles, but rather that “it’s a value add.” And regarding Stadia? Verdu attributes this to “issues with the business model.” The tech was there, he claims, but it didn’t reach customers. However, Verdu apparently wouldn’t be drawn on whether Netflix would develop its own controller.
On the same panel, Verdu revealed that Netflix is opening its own game development studio in Southern California, led by former Overwatch executive producer, Chacko Sonny, who left Blizzard for “some time off” during 2021's shake-up at the company following Cosby-gate. “He could have done anything, but he chose to come here,” Verdu said at the conference. “You don’t get people like that coming to your organization to build the next big thing in gaming unless there’s a sense that we’re really in it for the long haul and in it for the right reasons.” The goal is to have half the games published by Netflix be their own IP in the future.
Heck, if games start appearing next to the movies on my Netflix menu, and I can play them right on the TV screen, I’m not going to say no! And given the company’s focus on mobile gaming, it’s a much lower tech ask than trying to get top-end AAA blockbusters running with almost no latency.