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Netflix opens new game development studio in California

Netflix's new California studio and an interest in cloud technology continue the streaming service's pursuit into games.

Netflix has opened another internal game development studio, this time in Southern California. Mike Verdu, its VP of gaming, broke the news during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, and the studio will be run by Chacko Sonny

If that name sounds familiar, it's because Sonny previously worked at Blizzard Entertainment and served as executive producer on the Overwatch franchise. In his internal email to Blizzard staff, he wrote that he wanted to "take some time off" after spending five years on Overwatch.

"We are building a team around [Sonny] and looking to him to help reinvent what games can be,” said Verdu at the conference. 

Netflix Games first launched in late 2021, and has nearly 40 titles (out of a planned 50 by the end of 2022) for users to play. When the "Basic with Ads" plan rolls out on November 3, games will be included ad-free in the package.

Currently, there are games based on hit Netflix shows such as Stranger Things and The Queen's Gambit on the service, along with ports of previously released games such as Oxenfree and Spiritfarer. It also recently entered a partnership with Ubisoft, and three mobile titles (including one for Assassin's Creed) will release exclusively on the platform. 

The Southern California studio follows the creation of a studio in Helsinki, headed up by Zynga's ex-Helsinki GM, Marko Lastikka. Earlier this year, Netflix also acquired the indie developers Boss Fight Entertainment (Dungeon Boss) and Next Games (The Walking Dead: Our World). 

Netflix isn't stopping at mobile, it's also making eyes at The Cloud

During that same Disrupt conference, Verdu said that Netflix was "seriously exploring" a cloud game service. The technology has become the talk of the town, with Microsoft in particular going to great lengths to make its Xbox Cloud Gaming service available through as many means as possible.

Verdu didn't go so far as announce a name or say anything definitive, but he did say the streaming service wouldn't just dive head in. "We’re going to approach it the same way we did with mobile, which is start small, be humble, be thoughtful, and then build out," he said. 

Such a service would be a "completely different business model," continued Verdu, from other offerings such as Xbox Cloud or Amazon Luna. "We're not asking you to subscribe as a console replacement. [...] The hope is over time that it just becomes this very natural way to play games wherever you are.”

With how cloud technology is getting a bigger push, and even with the incoming closure of Google Stadia, Verdu believes it's an area where Netflix Games can shine. "it is a step that we think we should take to meet members where they are, on the devices where they consume Netflix.”

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