Netflix games boss Mike Verdu wants to make “the definitive Stranger Things game”


Is Oxenfree creator Night School Studio busy at work on a Netflix-exclusive Stranger Things game? Probably, judging by a recent interview with the streaming giant’s games boss Mike Verdu.

The former EA, Zynga, Kabam and Oculus exec is now heading up the games effort at Netflix as it continues to roll out games on the service. And Verdu has said that his long term goal is to “create what we might think of as the equivalent of Netflix originals” for the tech giant’s growing games arm. 

It has already announced forthcoming games based on Netflix properties like The Queen’s Gambit and Too Hot To Handle, but Verdu says he is also keen to tackle one of the platform’s biggest properties.

“I gotta say there are a number of Stranger Things games that are already on the service and some out in the world on app stores but I feel like we haven’t made the definitive Stranger Things game yet, so definitely look out for that,” he says. “And boy, I would love to play an Ozark game, but I don’t think that we’re going to make one of those just yet.”

Later in the same interview, which was recorded in April but published recently, Night School Studio founder Sean Krankel adds that Oxenfree and Stranger Things “share some pretty similar creative DNA” as they are both “supernatural coming of age” stories. But don’t expect a Stranger Things game anytime soon: Night School is focused on Oxenfree 2 right now, which is currently slated for 2023. 

Image credit: Netflix.

Verdu says all Netflix-owned studios like Night School, Boss Fight, Next Games and the new outfit in Helsinki are being tasked with creating games in a variety of genres, some based on Netflix IP, but also entirely new properties “that might have transmedia potential going the other way.”

“The lack of pressure to monetise and the availability of great IP will shape the games that we built internally, but I do want to set expectations – games take a long time to build and we’re very early in the game rollout here,” he says. “So I wouldn’t expect to see our big internally developed games on the service for a couple of years.”

He also outlines what Netflix looks for in a potential acquisition, suggesting that established teams with years of experience together are considered the best bet for what Netflix wants to achieve in games. 

“What all of these studios have in common [Night School, Next, Boss Fight] is that they’re comprised of game makers that have worked together for a while through multiple game development cycles,” says Verdu. “And I tend to think of game teams as almost like rock bands – like you don’t just put a bunch of individuals together and expect magic to happen, no matter how talented any of these folks might be in their individual disciplines.”

“You need time for these teams to figure out how to work together and figure out where their strengths and weaknesses are and figure out where the magic can get made by working together. And that means that acquisition is a really viable way to build out game development teams. Because you’re essentially able to acquire these teams that have this muscle memory and cohesion and history of working with each other over multiple games.”

Verdu says when Netflix is looking to acquire developers, it prioritises teams with several years’ experience working together.

Elsewhere in the interview, Verdu also addresses some of the problems he sees out in the games market currently, including game discoverability, crunch culture and representation.

“My hope is the personalisation and recommendation system that underpins the selection of movies and shows can be adapted for games, because game discovery is one of the biggest challenges in the game industry,” he says.

“If you go to a typical app store, there are millions of games and it’s hard to know what you might like in that in that sea of content,” he continues. “One thing that we can do at Netflix is figure out how to connect you to the games that you’ll enjoy. And we think that will build trust and just make life a whole lot better for for members.”

On burnout and workforce diversity, he adds:

“These are all areas that I think those of us who work in the industry are super aware of. I am pleased that we’re making progress, the industry in 2022 looks a lot different than the industry did 20 years ago. We’re getting there, but we do need to acknowledge the problems where they are. When we hire people into our teams organically or when we acquire a company, it’s really important that we align with people in terms of the fundamental values and the mission that they’re on and that we’re on.”

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