Streaming’s next move should be gaming

It’s high time for streaming services to add good video games to their inventory.

By Andy Marken

“Listen, genius. You’re saying my plan is running at 14%? Yours is zero! You haven’t been beat up, strangled, or shot defending this rig today. So, I think you’ll find I’m kind of f***ing motivated here.”—JJ Collins, Interceptor, Netflix, 2022

A few weeks ago, it was our turn with the streaming controller (taking turns eliminates a lot of arguments). So, we finally got a chance to watch Netflix’s End of the Road. We’re a sucker for Queen Latifah action projects. We really enjoyed it. My wife watched intensely. My daughter followed the film in between her social media “duties.” My son probably saw some of it in between his online computer gameplay.

That just about sums up the entertainment activities for the ordinary family. Millennials-plus are satisfied with series/movie entertainment; Gen Zers have their own favorites when it comes to entertainment: social media, video games, music, and then streaming content. Sure, they’re never far from their online social communities. But according to Deloitte, when it comes to entertainment, playing video games is their first choice (26%), followed by listening to music (10%). Watching movies/shows came in fifth with the younger crowd, as only 10% said it was their favorite form of entertainment.

Netflix has often said their biggest competition isn’t HBO Max or Disney+. Or for that matter, not even sleep… it’s video gaming! Before buying Next Games and Boss Flight, Netflix officials told its shareholders, “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO.”

 It will be a long time before the two mobile gaming companies turn any profit for the company, but this isn’t about winning in streaming media or the gaming industry. It’s about winning in the entertainment industry.

Sure, video gaming is important. It’s projected to be a $103.5 billion industry this year—double the size of the movie industry.

Every gaming segment is interesting and offers strong financial rewards for hardware/software firms that focus on them. Mobile gaming accounts for 53% of the global sales potential.

As with most streaming activities, gaming is a global market. APAC accounts for 55% of the worldwide player activity.

The industry has over 3 billion video game consumers. With a subscriber base of more than 222 million (on a good day), that’s a huge new target market, and the churn isn’t as bad as it is in today’s streaming video market.

Part of that is because video gaming opens the entertainment door wider than just passive screen viewing. 

Choices—With video games, you can choose your own intensity. From the innocence of Candy Crush to the evil of Diablo to the military tactics of Call of Duty. No one judges.

Video gaming enables Gen Z (and every generation) to step into totally new, different, impossible worlds that enhance and deepen player/subscriber engagement.

It’s not a Netflix epiphany. Actually, it’s a page out of Disney’s Flywheel playbook that Walt Disney developed back in the mid-1950s. Disney (or one of its team) sketched out how the company could feed its own success.

Flywheel—Disney’s infrastructure might look chaotic, but each piece is important and feeds/supports other portions of the world’s leading entertainment organization.

Things went slowly until Bob Iger became boss in 2005; flywheel cogs were added, including an official fan club and today’s Disney+.

Netflix already has their own online shop, titles based on video games (Witcher, Castlevania, Cuphead, Arcane), titles that are becoming games (Squid Game, Stranger Things, Formula 1: Drive to Survive), and more opportunities to blur the lines between video content and gaming.

Gaming blends perfectly with Netflix global aspirations, giving subscribers sit-back entertainment as well as downloadable content about the show/characters and the ability to express themselves, become immersed/part of the story, connect with others, and just relax.

Put together, it could/should reduce churn!

Part of the increased interest in cloud/streaming gaming is the fact that it’s now available to almost everyone.

Cloud play—Streaming or downloadable video gaming has become increasingly popular because it minimizes the need for gamers to continually upgrade their system to enjoy the entertainment.

Sure, there are a lot of dedicated gamers who are constantly in newer, better, more powerful hardware to pit their skills against the latest, most demanding games. But they aren’t our kids or the millions of folks of all ages around the globe who like to be a part of the gaming community.

 Of course, Netflix, Disney, Apple, Amazon, and the other streaming video services are also entering an arena where there are some major competitors with lots of extensive experience. Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Sony’s PlayStation Now, and Xbox’s Project xCloud already have a heady lead in the serious gaming arena and are very interested in moving down-market to attract the casual gamer with multiplayer opportunities, branded content, and virtual goods to provide folks of all ages with a totally involved social experience.

Virtuality—There are reasons to want to be in the virtual world, but the people who really get it want to be whole. Jensen Huang, Nvidia CEO, put his complete avatar in a presentation, rather than half of a floating body. Real virtuality counts.

We realize that a lot of people are trying to convince us that now is the time to step into the metaverse. You know, strap on a headset and go about your work/play like it’s absolutely natural, logical. Sorry, but if we’re going to be in a meeting, we want to actually be in a meeting… how dangerous can it be?

The idea of virtual shopping isn’t as satisfying as touching the fabric, trying the clothes on, thumping a watermelon, or test-driving a couple of different EVs. However, when it comes to taking on a bunch of lizard people, fending off zombies, or battling to save the universe on a distant planet, actually being there isn’t such a smart idea.

In other words, meta stuff is great for a break from the real world when we want to unwind and take a break from the challenges around us to log a few hours of virtual game play.

Serious play—They just wanted to make a space-battle movie, but with Star Wars, George Lucas and the ILM team built the foundation for a totally different otherworld entertainment industry.

If you want to really understand VR, the best place to learn about it is to go back to its real beginning—Disney’s Light & Magic docuseries, which you can watch on Disney+. Of course, George Lucas and the ILM crew didn’t have a clue that when they were trying to make a movie called Star Wars, that they’d give movies and video games something new, different, and more real.

The stepchild of VFX, which we now know as virtual reality, is tied to VR headsets; and since then, idea borrowers have struggled to make people believe that the headset should be/is a natural part of tomorrow.

 Dude… it ain’t!

The VR headset technology is improving, and the headsets are becoming lighter, more comfortable, more portable (free of wires), and less expensive, but a natural part of your everyday life? Sorry, we just don’t buy it.

Two worlds—Ready Player One got it right when they showed people could move between two worlds—the real and the virtual worlds—but it’s difficult (impossible?) to be in the two worlds simultaneously. It simply doesn’t work.

Every year, industry analysts and headset manufacturers tell us VR and AR sales will double; but every year, they continue to be a niche made popular by people who want to not just play a game, but be a part of it. Before you say, “but what about…”, let us say, yes, VR/AR technology is proving invaluable in training, health care, and similar areas where plunging headlong into stuff without some advanced education and experience can be dangerous and even lethal.

All of the responsible companies in the industry (Nvidia, Microsoft, Google, and Apple) are careful and professional as to how they refer to the technologies and their applications because they’re not interested in overstepping the boundaries of credibility and ruining their reputations with their boss… the consumer.

Sooner or later, metaverse hawkers will get a warning similar to what JJ Collins gave Alexander in Interceptor… “Hey. Another thing. Never call a woman by anything other than her name. Not honey, or honey pie, or sugar, or sugar pie, or sweetie, or sweetie pie. Not baby, sweetheart, ho, bitch, and above all, most of all, beyond all else, don’t ever, ever call her darlin’.”

Especially if you’re stuck on a small platform in the middle of the ocean.