Netflix makes a big hire as it expands into game development

Bloomberg reports that Netflix has hired Oculus VP Mike Verdu as vice president of game development. The business journal characterizes the move as Netflix's "first big move" toward an expansion into videogames.

Back in May, Netflix said that it's "excited to do more with interactive entertainment" following a rumor that it was planning to do exactly what we're hearing today: hire game development executives and make videogames.

Everyone's getting into games these days, eh? Amazon and Google have seemingly struggled with the business (Amazon hasn't released anything good yet, and Google shut down its Stadia studios before they made anything at all), but to its credit, Netflix has already released something you could call a successful videogame. It produced Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive movie that we quite liked. (You vs Wild was perhaps less successful, but James did enjoy making Bear Grylls eat bear poop.)

Videos with choices aren't quite comparable to New World, Amazon's repeatedly-delayed attempt at an MMO, but I wonder if Netflix will stop with a "bear poo" button. Perhaps it will follow in the footsteps of other film companies and get a major game studio off the ground before one day selling it to EA or Disney, who will then shut it down.

For real, though: Bloomberg does suggest that Netflix's push into gaming will be bigger than interactive shows, although it may start small and ramp up. The publication also points out that Netflix is accepting applications for a director of interactive product innovation

Even if Netflix starts slow, I wouldn't be surprised if it took some big swings in the coming years. There are lots of streaming services with movies and TV shows, so Netflix's value currently relies on acquiring and developing exclusive hits. Adding games to the mix would differentiate it from HBO, Disney, Hulu, and the others in a more fundamental way. And if game streaming is the future, as Google and Microsoft and Nvidia and everyone else seem to think, why shouldn't Netflix be the Netflix of games? That's what I'd be thinking if I were the sort of person who investors trusted to make them as much money as possible.

About this big hire: Verdu was VP of VR/AR content at Facebook, but making deals for Oculus games is just a sliver of his total career. He co-founded '90s adventure game studio Legend Entertainment, and continued to run it after it was acquired by Atari. He then went on to oversee EA Los Angeles for nearly seven years, went to Zynga for a few years, founded a mobile developer (which was acquired), and then ran EA's mobile games division for a year and a half. Verdu appears in the credits of Unreal 2, Command & Conquer 3 and 4, and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, to name a few.

Netflix hasn't publicly announced the hire, but confirmed it to Bloomberg and CNBC. We've contacted Verdu for comment. Netflix will be releasing its financial results for the second quarter of 2021 next week, on Tuesday, July 20, and may make more noise about its plans around then.

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