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What the Tech: Don’t get too excited about Netflix’s gaming gamble

Netflix has shown ambitions to compete in the world of video games, but don’t hold your breath about its potential in this sphere.

It’s becoming hard to remember the world of television before Netflix, and frankly who would want to remember it anyway? There is so much more choice now, and more flexibility with it that there’s almost no point in comparing the time periods. The brand has undoubtedly revolutionised the way the world watches telly, and in having done so it of course made a few enemies too; the likes of Disney Plus and HBO Max are armed to the teeth with content of their own, and won’t give up without a fight.

In order to once again lead the pack by offering something unique, Netflix has turned to video games, and is reportedly hoping to release its first few titles as soon as next year. But if you’re expecting the brand to sweep the winds of change through this market in the same way it did with TV shows, you probably need to manage your expectations.

Firstly, the brand has a slim track record in the field, and from what we’ve seen so far there doesn’t seem to be all that much to base our hopes on. The divisive Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and pedestrian Minecraft Story Mode are not particularly promising first steps, not to the mention the fact that the very limited “gameplay” only qualifies to be called as such if you’re playing a bit fast and loose with the definition.

Secondly, the experienced hand they’re getting on board to help with this venture (Mike Vergu)  has previously specialised in social games rather than console options; specifically he was part of Zynga when it ruled the roost on Facebook with FarmVille. That’s not the kind of news that will whet the appetite of most serious gamers, and hints that Netflix is more likely to be concerned with time-killing point-and-click experiences rather than anything more substantial.

On top of that, it has proved very difficult to dislodge the big players in this particular industry. On the one hand, PCs, the PS5, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch don’t seem likely to give up their stranglehold on the video game scene any time soon, while attempts by other content creators to broaden their appeal have so far proved fruitless too. Even the otherwise all-conquering Disney was met with failure when it sought to produce its own video games in-house, eventually resigning to just licensing the rights to its valuable properties rather than doing it all single-handedly (and even this has not been as successful as was hoped).

The gaming market is a tough one to crack, and given Netflix’s seemingly modest ambitions, I’d advise against raising your expectations too high for its late entry into the pool. It could cause a few ripples, but probably not a big splash.



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