Streaming monolith Netflix recently announced they have begun hiring staff to develop a triple-A first-person shooter.
We’ve been watching Netflix and their efforts to get into gaming for a short while now. They currently provide a handful of games for your Android or IOS devices that are only available through having a subscription and they’ve also gone on to acquire a handful of video game studios.
We know why they are doing this: they are trying to sweeten the deal, and give you more reasons to stay subscribed to their service over and above the latest season of Bridgerton.
It appeared to me, that they were taking a slow and steady approach to this new venture. The games are all mobile-like, or small indie experiences that work well on a mobile device. Some of the games were already successful established games on other platforms, i.e Into the Breach. Of the studios that they acquired, two are mobile-only studios and the other one is a well-known developer of small narrative indie games.
This felt in stark contrast to Google Stadia’s big bang attempt to buy their way into the gaming industry, recklessly throwing money at everything and claiming they were going to shake it all up. Well, we all saw how that went...
However, this desire to deliver a AAA live service shooter, makes me think that maybe Netflix really isn't committed to going slow and steady. Quite frankly it has me worried, and I have absolutely no confidence that they will achieve this goal.
For one, the live-service shooter genre is the moonshot genre. Many studios and gigantic publishers try every single year to create a successful game in that genre and they nearly all fail. It reeks of an out-of-touch executive saying “make me the next Fortnite”. We've all seen, despite games like Apex Legends achieving popular support and success, it has proven impossible to match the success of Epic's battle royale beast. For the most part, viral success is something studios stumble upon, which is why studios with more experience than Netflix have a long list of failed games in their history. It takes a lot of trial and error.
It also requires an absolute shed-load of experience, of which Netflix has none. At the time of writing, Netflix has not delivered a single game they made themselves. All existing games have been made by experienced game studios, who for the most part just had to port an existing game to mobile. A triple-A game is too much of a leap to make. It’s like claiming you are going to win an Oscar for your first movie.
Now, I will acknowledge that the head of the internal Netflix studio is formerly of Blizzard, where they were a producer on the Overwatch franchise. They will no doubt hire a team of experienced people, and though I don’t mean to doubt their personal expertise, history has proven that this isn’t enough. Amazon's failed Crucible was headed by experienced game developer Louis Castle. Ubisoft’s Hyperscape, which was shut down in April this year, was led by a team of very experienced staff; and we all know that Anthem had BioWare’s best and brightest attached and yet was still a flop.
This all takes more than warm bodies with experience.
For one, any studio Netflix creates needs to get into its groove by delivering smaller, more achievable games first. They need time to prototype, and time to understand their technology and workflow. Even more importantly than the studio getting into the groove, the Netflix management needs to as well. We’ve heard countless stories over the years of inexperienced management being the death-knell to a project, making the wrong calls and providing poor leadership.
And to get even more cynical, I’m not entirely convinced that Netflix won’t shut this experiment down in the next year or so. Video games are expensive both in time and money, something Google clearly didn’t appreciate. Netflix has already shown a propensity to shut projects down in a knee-jerk manner whenever their financial status looks threatened.
You don’t dabble in video games, you commit fully with a lot of time and money and I just don’t think Netflix has the heart to stick this out.
This is something I’m very empathetic to, across the industry. So many people who work in game development either see their project shut down prematurely or poorly managed into a failed launch. I can’t imagine what job satisfaction looks like in this industry and I genuinely fear for the developers whose time may well end up being wasted on yet another failed game.
The last thing that gives me concern is the business viability of this idea. Now details are scarce but let’s outline what we do know. A PC-only, first-person shooter live-service game that will be tied to your Netflix subscription.
Launching this type of game only on PC seems a bit strange given you can watch Netflix on a PlayStation or Xbox. If you want a game to be a success, especially in the live-service space, you need it to be on as many platforms as possible, with PC hopefully going first and consoles following on a bit later on to account for the differences those platforms bring.
I also wonder who Netflix is competing with; from whom and what game is this new project hoping to take players from? Is it Destiny, a story-rich adventure? Is it Valorant, a highly technical and competitive hero shooter? Or is it the likes of Fornite or Apex Legends, which are arcade shooters where it’s all about friends being able to easily jump in and play whatever the newest event is? Are we going to get a Fortnite clone where every week is themed around the newest Netflix launch? I'm not going to lie, that does sound cool in theory.
This leads us to speculate on the pricing model. If people want to play this game and don’t have a Netflix subscription, do they need to subscribe? Will this carry a monthly subscription model like Final Fantasy 14? Because if it is, I don’t think that will convert as many players as Netflix would like. The reason why all the other live-service shooters are free to play is that they know any cost is a deterrent for many potential players. Will the game be free to play and having a Netflix subscription gives you the battle pass, similar to an Amazon Prime subscription? These are questions that could make or break the game's appeal to its intended audience.
This is all before we’ve even heard what the game will actually be; what will make this game more appealing than the current slate of established live-service first-person shooters?
I was a lot more confident and supportive of Netflix when I thought they would be approaching a foray into games conservatively. It meant that they would learn the hard lessons at an acceptable pace, they could deliver an iterative experience to their customers, and the staff they worked with would find their feet and be given the time to grow and experiment. Now that may still be true for the other studios under Netflix, however this new studio and its goals worry me. There is too much public evidence that more experienced developers have tried and failed in this endeavor, and Netflix expects to hit it out of the park the first time. Not likely. Please Netflix, don’t make the same mistake Google did.
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