Netflix hires Oculus and EA veteran Mike Verdu to lead games

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Netflix has hired former Oculus and EA game development leader Mike Verdu to head its fledgling game efforts.

The company has been hiring game people for a while, and Verdu is 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 will be vice president of game development, reporting to chief operating officer Greg Peters. Verdu was previously Facebook’s vice president in charge of augmented reality and virtual reality content. He also previously 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.

Netflix has dabbled in games before with titles like a Stranger Things game and The 3% Challenge. The latter was a voice-controlled game. And Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was a game-like experience as it was an interactive TV show where the audience got to make choices in the plot to influence the end of the story.

These were babysteps into games. But Verdu is a serious game leader who has historically 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.

But moving into games isn’t easy. Google spun up a studio to make games for its Stadia cloud gaming service, and then it shut down the internal game studio headed by Jade Raymond. Amazon has also had mixed results with games like Crucible, and it recently decided to open source its Lumberyard game engine. Facebook owns the Oculus virtual reality business, and it is experimenting with cloud gaming now, and it is touting services for game streamers. Apple, meanwhile, is working on augmented reality and virtual reality technologies.


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