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Netflix acquires its first game studio in deal with Oxenfree creator Night School Studio


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Netflix has acquired its first game studio with the acquisition of Oxenfree creator Night School Studio. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

The Glendale, California-based game studio has 21 people and a history of pushing the boundaries for storytelling in games. It published Oxenfree in 2016 and has been working on Oxenfree II: Lost Signals for the Switch.

And yes, this means that Netflix is serious about moving into games, and it isn’t just focusing on mobile as the company hinted in an earlier earnings call. The original Oxenfree is available across eight platforms on mobile, console, and PC.

“We’re in the early stages of creating a great gaming experience for our members around the world. So we’re excited to announce today Night School Studio is joining Netflix,” said Mike Verdu, head of games at Netflix, in a blog post.

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Founded by Sean Krankel and Adam Hines in 2014, Night School Studio is best known for the studio’s first game, Oxenfree.

“We’re inspired by their bold mission to set a new bar for storytelling in games,” Verdu said. “Their commitment to artistic excellence and proven track record make them invaluable partners as we build out the creative capabilities and library of Netflix games together.”

Above: Oxenfree was a narrative title that came out in 2016.

Image Credit: Night School Studio

Verdu noted there will be no in-app purchases and no ads in the Netflix games, which will be available via subscription to Netflix.

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In a blog post, Krankel said, “Night School wants to stretch our narrative and design aspirations across distinctive, original games with heart. Netflix gives film, TV, and now game makers an unprecedented canvas to create and deliver excellent entertainment to millions of people. Our explorations in narrative gameplay and Netflix’s track record of supporting diverse storytellers were such a natural pairing. It felt like both teams came to this conclusion instinctively.”

He said the team will keep making Oxenfree II and keep cooking up new game worlds. It will also have room for more new hires “to help feed the office hermit crab.”

Gaming ambitions

Above: Mike Verdu is head of gaming at Netflix.

Image Credit: Kabam

The deal doesn’t mean that Netflix is going to be in a mad rush to make more acquisitions. Verdu said the company will expand its game efforts through a combination of working with established developers as well as making new hires.

Back in July, Netflix said it hired former Oculus and EA game development leader Verdu to head its fledgling game efforts.

The company has been hiring game people for a while, and Verdu was the biggest name yet to come on board at the streaming service for movies and TV shows. The move shows the company is serious about expanding into games, which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings once described (pointing out Fortnite in particular) as Netflix’s biggest competition for the time of its customers.

Verdu reports to chief operating officer Greg Peters. Verdu was Facebook’s vice president in charge of augmented reality and virtual reality content. He also served as senior vice president of EA mobile, president of studios and chief creative officer at Kabam, CEO of TapZen, and chief creative officer and co-president of games at Zynga.

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Netflix has dabbled in games before with titles like a Stranger Things game and The 3% Challenge. The latter is a voice-controlled game. And Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a game-like experience, as it’s an interactive TV show in which the audience makes choices that influence the end of the story.

These were baby steps into games. But Verdu is a serious game leader whose career has focused on building entire portfolios of games for companies.

Netflix’s move into games has been anticipated, as all of the big tech companies have acknowledged the power of gaming, which has grown to a $175 billion industry, according to market researcher Newzoo. In the wake of the pandemic, gaming is also growing faster than many other forms of entertainment and media, according to a report this week by PwC.

More mobile games

Scene from Stranger Things 3: The Game.

Above: Scene from Stranger Things 3: The Game.

Image Credit: Netflix

Meanwhile, in other news, Netflix is moving into mobile games with the launch of three new mobile titles in select European markets. The casual games include Shooting Hoops, Teeter Up, (both from developer Frosty Pop) and Card Blast (from Rogue Games). They are available to Netflix members in Spain, Italy, and Poland. Netflix recently started marketing a members-only mobile game service via Android in Poland.

The new titles are displayed via a new Games tab inside the Netflix Android app. Netflix subscription credentials are required to play games. Netflix previously launched a couple of Stranger Things titles, Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3: The Game.

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