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Netflix's video game future is likely "tied to IP"

Putting the "game" in "Squid Game" and probably missing the thematic point of the show.

Netflix COO and chief product officer Gregory K. Peters offered investors a small preview of the company's vision for video games during its quarterly earnings call last week. In a Q&A tied to its 2021 fourth-quarter results, Peters dropped some notable insight on where it wants to take its video game subscriptions business.

In response to a series of inquiries about Netflix's game industry goals, Peters explained that its technology-building deals and studio acquisitions are building toward a process that can "get value" out of its notable intellectual properties. Over time, he hopes that the company can build toward a place where it "[delivers]...interactive experiences that are tied to the IP that we're excited about, that are timed with that," he said.

It's no surprise that Netflix would want to wrangle more cultural juice out of popular shows like Bridgerton, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Stranger Things in the video game world, but those comments take on extra meaning when you pay attention to the phenomenon that's emerged around the release of Squid Game.

After the dystopian Korean TV show became a worldwide phenomenon, game developers across the world of mobile games, creator platforms like Roblox and beyond built up a cottage industry of implementing the show's murderous twist on childhood games in playable form. You could even find knockoffs in high-profile titles like PUBG Mobile.

So even though Netflix reaped the financial benefits of Squid Game the TV show, it missed out on money to be made in Squid Game the video game recreation phenomenon.

It's an extrapolation (but not a far-fetched one) to assume Netflix is aiming to claw some of that revenue back into its own coffers.

Investor interest in the success of Squid Game is high elsewhere in the Q&A. CEO Reed Hastings noted that it's building out its consumer merchandise arm with the goal of putting show's eye-catching teal tracksuits on sale, and it's the only show that earned a "when's the next season" coming question during the investor's call.

If you're a savvy (and skeptical) reader, you're probably already thinking about the fact that while Netflix can get lots of eyes on its popular titles, it doesn't necessarily know what will be popular when it lands. Predicting "the next big thing" is always a major guessing game.

Also, not every show on Netflix's platform can translate directly into such convertible game mechanics. But you'd be surprised by how many probably do. Netflix has also leaned hard into reality and nonfiction TV production, with shows like Love is Blind, The Circle, and Nailed It! performing well on the platform (to say nothing of 2020's pandemic fever dream Tiger King).

Can Netflix make successful games out of its many shows? Would developers working on these games have enough time to turn them into viable products, since film/TV and game development operate on two entirely different types of timelines? The answers are yet to come, but it shouldn't be a surprise if such a product emerges with the debut of Squid Game's next season. 

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