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Game on…at Netflix? Streaming giant takes baby steps towards putting video games on the binge menu

By Benjamin Bullard
Netflix logo and PlayStation game controller

Netflix appears to be getting into gaming — or at least preparing to.

The streaming giant has hired a video game industry veteran to lead a new gaming division, the streamer has confirmed to SYFY WIRE. Bloomberg, which first reported the news, adds that Netflix plans to begin offering games to current subscribers sometime in the upcoming year.

Before we race ahead with visions of RPGs showing up in our recommended list or platformers we can play on our video streaming platforms, though, the specific details surrounding Netflix’s early plans are slight. Could we see familiar titles from third-party publishers in our Netflix scroll? New original games that can’t be found anywhere else?

So far, Bloomberg has reported that games are expected to be made available, at least initially, at no additional cost to subscribers. But there’s no early word on any agreements the streamer may have in place (or be courting) with established video game publishers.

Similarly, it’s not known whether Netflix has plans to develop first-party video game content that could appear exclusively on its platform — an aspiration that’s proven tough for otherwise big-name tech services like Amazon and Google. And intriguingly, we don’t know whether Netflix’s previous forays into interactive, choose-your-adventure hybrid storytelling, like the Emmy-winning Bandersnatch, could yield similar projects in the future under Netflix’s gaming umbrella.

But the first steps to a gaming future at Netflix appear to be in place. The company has hired former Facebook VP Mike Verdu as its new vice president of game development — a position that reports to Netflix COO Greg Peters.

Verdu’s most recent tenure came at Facebook, where he served as “VP of Content for Facebook Reality Labs, overseeing Oculus Studios as well as the teams bringing second and third party virtual reality games and other apps to Oculus VR headset,” according to a statement provided by Netflix. His earlier career included leadership stints at Electronic Arts’ mobile gaming arm, where he guided “mobile game studios that operated SimCity BuildIt, Plants vs. Zombies 2, Real Racing 3, The Sims Freeplay, The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, and other mobile game services,” according to Netflix. He also worked at Zynga, serving as President of Studios and Chief Creative Officer from 2009 to 2012.

Backing up to view the bigger picture, it appears as though Netflix is aiming to offer video games right alongside its customary lineup of original and licensed video streaming content, a potential move that would make picking up a controller within the Netflix ecosystem just as accessible, for just as many people, as dialing up Season 1 of The Witcher.

“The games will appear alongside current fare as a new programming genre — similar to what Netflix did with documentaries or stand-up specials,” Bloomberg’s report states, adding that “[t]he company doesn’t currently plan to charge extra for the content,” citing an unnamed source who asked to remain private.

In addition to Netflix originals, like the Black Mirror interactive feature Bandersnatch and the choose-your-path story in Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal, there’s a lot of shared DNA between Netflix and the video gaming world. The Witcher blew up as a video game adaptation of author Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels long before ever recruiting Henry Cavill (himself a big fan of the games) to suit up as Geralt. And Netflix has existing video game spinoff deals with third-party publishers that’ve tapped the franchise power of platform-exclusive hits like Stranger Things.

There’s also a long lineup of Netflix originals based on video games. From the just-concluded Castlevania series and its recently-announced spinoff anime, to the just-launched Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, to the upcoming Cyberpunk: Edgerunners anime (which is inspired by the CD Projekt RED game), there’s plenty of pop culture overlap that’s already put video game stories on Netflix subscribers' present-day radar.

Will we someday be able to play The Witcher on the same platform where we watch The Witcher? It’s still too early to tell — but Netflix does seem to be courting subscribers’ attention as a valley of plenty for fans who want to binge both ways.