Netflix: Expansion into gaming is a 'natural extension'

bbc || Shining BD

Published: 8/30/2023 7:10:51 AM
The Queen's Gambit game is a chess simulator based on the adventures of the series' main character Beth Harmon

The Queen's Gambit game is a chess simulator based on the adventures of the series' main character Beth Harmon

You probably think of a memorable television program or movie when you think of Netflix.

What did you enjoy the most? game of squid? Bridgerton? Perhaps Stranger Things?

The streaming service hopes that soon video games will be vying for a spot on that list.


Netflix is gradually ramping up plans to offer more gaming experiences to subscribers, saying that games are a crucial component of its proposition to remain relevant with audiences in the years to come.

Games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment today, so it really is just a natural extension for Netflix to include them as part of the subscription, says Leanne Loom, vice president of external games at Netflix, to BBC News.

"The distinctions between the various ways we enjoy entertainment are becoming more hazy. We want to make sure we have something for you when you're in that situation, whether you want to sit and watch a movie or be more active and play a game.

"Our goal is to have a game on the service for everyone. Not focus on making one big experience, but rather a selection of titles that members can choose to play."

The Queen's Gambit video game is made in Liverpool by Ripstone Studios

Since November 2021 games have been available to play on the Netflix app, but this development passed many users by. Loom says the streaming service has deliberately not been "shouting from the rooftops" but instead taking their time to understand the market place first.

So far, what's being offered are mobile games, with some tied to famous Netflix franchises (like Stranger Things) and others independent of the service (like Reigns: Three Kingdoms).

Currently they're only available to play on mobile devices, although tests are under way to see how they could work on TVs and computers.

This low-key approach is a sensible move according to games journalist Shay Thompson, who explains the industry is "littered with the failed attempts" from legacy media brands to get into the world of gaming.

"When other mainstream entertainment organisations have tried to enter the game space they've really struggled," Thompson says. "I think it's often down to companies fundamentally misunderstanding what it is about games as a form of entertainment that make them so compelling to players.

"Amazon Games is an example of this, they've had titles like Lost Ark and and Crucible with big budgets but those titles lacked the creativity and uniqueness that we've come to expect from the games space. That's a significant reason why those titles haven't ended up making a serious impact."

Experiences such as this and tech giant Google, who closed its Stadia console this year, show how difficult it is to find a place in the games space for companies.

"Focusing on the mobile games first is a clever strategy that could work in Netflix favour," says Thompson. "It looks as if they're talking the time to understand the landscape and gamers. I know their reputation has been a bit shaky on the streaming side-recently, but it certainly seems like they're trying to work with the games space and not against it.

"However giving gamers what they want, not what a big organisations think they want, will be the key to making this work. That is creativity and being unique."

Amazon have been making games, like multiplayer experience New World, since 2012

In future, Loom says we can expect to see Netflix leverage its intellectual property even more. "Connecting shows, movies and games together from our universes is what we're trying to accomplish," she explains.

In a trendy office space in central Liverpool, that's exactly what the team at Ripstone Studios are trying to do.

In amongst the exposed brick, succulent plants and pop culture memorabilia littered on the desks are developers and programmers busy creating the next update for their first partnership with Netflix. The Queen's Gambit is, as you may have guessed, a chess simulator based on the adventures of the television series' main character Beth Harmon.

The team won the contract to make the game after Jaime Brayshaw, the creative executive, sent Netflix an email out of the blue.

"I asked them when will Netflix become the Netflix of games?!" he laughs.

Ripstone, who have a long history of making chess games, became one of the first companies to partner with the streaming giant to work on their games offering.

Brayshaw says the relationship is not just a licensing agreement, but rather a "collaborative partnership" with both companies sharing expertise with each other.

As well as offering more content to Netflix customers in an increasingly competitive market, Brayshaw thinks their collaboration is a chance to help grow gaming as a form of entertainment as well: "Netflix has an audience 238 million people now," he says.

"Many of them will never have played a game before, so we had to think about designing one that is accessible to as many people as possible, even if they've never played a video game.

"Its exciting because it potentially allows more people to experience the joys of playing games and it could broaden the popularity of the medium."

Netflix started offering games, such as Stranger Things 3: The Game, to subscribers in 2021

Confident that this agreement is a "win-win", Brayshaw isn't worried about joining the long history of failed game and movie or television tie-ins.

"Yes there are lots of bad examples from yesteryear with tie-ins that are bad, but it's usually because there are timelines involved," he argues.

"Netflix has a more mature approach, where the products don't have to tie together at release, so fewer compromises are needed."

The streamer will be keen to learn from the other big media organisations renowned for working in film, television or tech who've tried to cross the divide into the games space.

Google's cloud gaming service Stadia was discontinued in January, while Amazon's games division has developed its own titles with mixed success.

It is currently working on a new Lara Croft game but none of its releases so far have challenged the popularity of titles like Fortnite or Call of Duty. There were redundancies at the studio earlier this year.

By focusing on mobile titles, which are cheaper to make than big console releases, there is less financial risk for Netflix. It isn't investing millions in one experience that has to compete with well established brands to be deemed a success.

Should a project fail to reach lots of players, the financial ramifications are not as significant.

The Queen's Gambit is the latest example of Netflix leveraging its intellectual property in the gaming space

However the other side of the coin is that in such a competitive space, if players are not impressed with what they're seeing, if they feel it lacks scope or ambition, they will very quickly move on to something else. It can be difficult to regain an audience that has moved on to other games.

This bottom-up approach is different to what we've seen before and we wont be able to judge its success for some time.

As Loom reiterates: "We're very early in our games journey right now. When it's such a big industry like games, and there's already some fantastic titles out there in the market that players really love, we just want to make sure we were doing things in the right way."

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