Netflix said in its Q1 results in April that "games are going to be an important form of entertainment," and then suggested a month later that it was preparing to move into the field itself, telling TechRadar that it is "excited to do more with interactive entertainment." Last week it took its first real step in that direction, hiring former Oculus content VP Mike Verdu as its vice president of game development.
Netflix is obviously committed to the cause, but as we noted at the time, its actual plan—beyond "we're doin' games"—wasn't at all clear. We now have a little more clarity on that front, though, thanks to today's second-quarter letter to shareholders, in which the company revealed more about its fledgling game development efforts—including that it will prioritize mobile game development at first.
"We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation, and unscripted TV," the letter says. "Games will be included in members’ Netflix subscription at no additional cost similar to films and series. Initially, we’ll be primarily focused on games for mobile devices.
"We’re excited as ever about our movies and TV series offering and we expect a long runway of increasing investment and growth across all of our existing content categories, but since we are nearly a decade into our push into original programming, we think the time is right to learn more about how our members value games."
It's a much more cautious approach to making games than what we've seen so far from Amazon and Google, both of which have struggled to find success in videogames despite having virtually unlimited resources at hand: Stadia is stalled, and Amazon still hasn't managed to release anything, although the New World MMO went into closed beta today and is set to go live on August 31.
But Netflix isn't targeting the same audience: By concentrating first on its existing users and making games accessible through mobile devices, it's perhaps opening the door to people who might not consider themselves gamers. It's a strategy that eschews the "core gamer" demographic that Amazon and Google are pursuing, but I think it's a good bet that it will pay off.
While the approach may be relatively deliberate, there is an urgency behind it, driven by other services—including game platforms—that are jostling for a limited number of eyeballs in an increasingly crowded media world.
"In the race to entertain consumers around the world, we continue to compete for screen time with a broad set of firms like YouTube, Epic Games and TikTok (to name just a few)," Netflix said. "But, we are mostly competing with ourselves to improve our service as fast as we can. If we can do that, we’re confident we can maintain our strong position and continue to grow nicely as we have been over the past two-plus decades."
As for when the games might start rolling out, there's still no sign: Netflix said only that it is still "in the early stages of further expanding into games."