Netflix has started placing a priority on video games. What does it mean?

Netflix is clearly making a play for a larger gamer audience. The streaming service struck animated gold when the Castlevania Netflix series became an unexpected sensation, and since then, the platform has been rife with new adaptations in the pipeline. Minecraft Story Mode and Skylanders landed on the platform to decent reception as well, but Netflix’s real attempt to court gamers begins now.

The Witcher Netflix adaptation is in the works, which will prove just how much Netflix really wants to appeal to the gamer crowd. The Witcher will be using the books as its source material but there’s a natural and huge connection to the video game series, in particular 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Careful consideration on how to bridge the gap between those two sources will be needed in order to snag the attention of the millions who played through Geralt’s adventures under CD Projekt Red’s steady hand. Success will come if The Witcher ends up hearkening back to the characters we fell in love with during play, like Triss, Yennifer and Dandelion.

That’s likely to happen, though, given how obvious it is that Netflix sees video game adaptations as the future. Beyond The Witcher, there’s also the recently announced Cuphead animated series. Cuphead The Show is another serious test for Netflix: if it succeeds as a Disney-esque cartoon series, the sky feels like the limit for video games. Netflix could become the home of mature fare like Castlevania and Witcher, and lighter adventures like Cuphead.

The cast of the Witcher on the left and a villain on the right

Darker stories for the adult crowd

Darker Stories

Netflix is betting huge on adult fans becoming a central part of the video game adaptation demographic. That’s evident with two confirmed series that appear very early in production: Diablo and Devil May Cry. Both franchises have several things in common, but the most striking is that they rely heavily on hell and imagery related to demons in order to enthrall audiences. It’ll be hard to PG those ones, and it would be surprising if Netflix ever tried.

Diablo and Devil May Cry are both games with hardcore followings, too. Diablo could use another major win, and Netflix could easily provide that by staying true to the game’s lore. Devil May Cry is riding high off a sublime last installment, and fans are clamouring for more. Both of these properties will help cement Netflix as the place to go for gamers to acquire more from the franchises they love, whether they’re family-friendly or dark and full of terrors.

Three characters from Devil May Cry video game

Netflix video games are coming, too

Netflix Games

Perhaps even more important than video game adaptations coming to Netflix are the Netflix games emerging from the platform’s biggest shows. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics will accompany the upcoming series, while Stranger Things 3: The Game recently launched to accompany that show’s third season. The latter wasn’t much of a success, and indicates that Netflix is still very much finding its footing in the world of video games, but it’s an important start.

As Netflix begins to strengthen its ties with the game developers behind its adaptations, could we see more large-scale Netflix shows based on games? It’s certainly a possibility, and it’s hard to imagine many developers turning down the chance to work on a AAA adaptation of Stranger Things or Black Mirror. Should The Dark Crystal do well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some big partnerships announced further down the road.

Screenshot from video game version of Netflix TV show Stranger Things

Why is Netflix so interested in video games?

Growth

While there are a lot of metrics behind it, the answer to why Netflix wants the video game audience is simple—it’s growing. Gaming was the most profitable entertainment sector in the world in 2018, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down this year, despite being in a state of transition for next-gen. Despite that, the console market actually increased the most last year to generate $38.3 billion.

Netflix is huge, but it’s actually not as profitable as many people think. While a Q1 2019 earnings of $4.52 billion is nothing to sneeze at, Netflix reported a net cash flow for the quarter of negative $380 million, up from negative $287 million over the same period last year. The video game industry is a lucrative venture for Netflix that could see it attract a bigger audience, which would help bolster its bottom line.

Beyond that, it’s about content. Netflix Originals often have impressive household viewership totals, with The Umbrella Academy hitting 45 million in its first month while Triple Frontier achieved 52 million. Owning the direction of television series and responding to fan requests is a vital tool in keeping Netflix relevant, and video game Originals would offer the company that level of control.

It’s really no surprise that Netflix wants to be the destination for video game fans. Nearly 67% of all Americans play video games on at least one type of device, and that number is expected to grow in coming years. There probably isn’t a more lucrative—and relatively untapped—market out there for Netflix.

Hundred dollar bills spread out with Netflix logo and game console controller in circles in the middle

seperator

Cody's Take

Author

Netflix is doing what the company needs to in order to expand, and it’s doing it wisely. Video game fans are an amazing demographic when we’re treated well, and high-quality shows about our favourite properties will go a long way. It’s also a crowd that’s very used to subscription services that provide good value, whether it be PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live (the less said about Nintendo’s online service, the better).

The evidence is all there, too. It would be smart for video game developers to line up and hope that theirs is the next adaptation that gets tagged for Netflix production. Given that TV and games have stood adjacent to each other for so long, it will be interesting to see how they collaborate more frequently moving forward. Are full-length Netflix films helmed by Hideo Kojima something we could see eventually? What about simultaneous game and television series releases?

That’s up to Netflix to decide, but we’re looking at the future. For Netflix, that will be establishing itself as the place for gamers to go watch content they care about.