Five Things: July 22, 2021

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Netflix Will Focus on Mobile Games First, Won’t Charge an Additional Fee for Games | Matt T.M. Kim

“According to Netflix, the streaming company says it views ‘gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation, and unscripted TV.’ Netflix also added that when games do launch on the platform it will ‘be included in members’ Netflix subscription at no additional cost similar to films and series.'”

I laughed years ago when Netflix claimed they were aiming to become the next HBO, and eventually had to admit I’d gotten that one very wrong, primarily because I couldn’t fathom how much money they were willing to invest in content. A few years and some great (and not-so-great) content later, I applauded their understanding that they were now competing with Fortnite more than HBO.

Most recently, I was highly skeptical when word first came out about their gaming aspirations because game development is arguably the hardest form of media creation, for a variety of reasons. (More on that in a moment.)

When they clarified their focus would initially be on mobile games in a hybrid Prime / Game Pass-esque model rather than a Curt Schilling-esque wild pitch, it made a bit more sense to me. If they go after gaming with a more focused but similarly aggressive approach as they did content—especially with the global audience they’ve built over the past few years—I can see them becoming a notable player in the industry. They’ll likely be a big step below Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo for a while, but I can see them very quickly moving ahead of Amazon and Google’s lackluster attempts to-date.


Number of U.S. Video Gamers Hits 227 Million, and Most Say They’ve Played More During COVID: ESA Study | Todd Spangler

“About 55% of those surveyed identify as male (vs. 59% last year) with 45% identifying as female (vs. 41% in 2020). The average video game player is 31 years old (and 80% of players are over 18), with 38% of gamers 18-34… Games remain among the most popular sources of entertainment among younger people. A Deloitte study earlier this year found that Gen Z consumers in the U.S. ranked video games as their No. 1 entertainment activity — while watching TV or movies came in fifth.”

Why would Netflix want to get into gaming, you might ask?

Gaming isn’t a niche. “Gamers” aren’t a monolithic stereotype. Gaming is far larger and more diverse than the publishing industry, and stands toe-to-toe with movies for revenue and reach.

I’ve been into gaming since getting an Atari 2600 as a kid in the 70s, and currently have an Xbox One S with which I’m squeezing every dollar’s worth out of my Game Pass subscription. I’m not much of a mobile gamer beyond crosswords, although I’ve dabbled with some of Game Pass’ touch-enabled offerings on my slow tablet. I’ll pretty consistently choose immersing myself in a game over a book or TV when I have individual free time to spare, and, way too often of late, even when I don’t.

If you’re in media in any capacity, ignore what’s happening in gaming these day at your own peril.


Video Games Are a Labor Disaster: A Review of Jason Schreier’s “Press Reset” | Alex Pareene

In an industry worth $150 billion, mass layoffs and untenable working conditions are surprisingly common, though rarely examined. Most of the video game press is aimed at either the consumer or the investor, and most outlets concern themselves with how a game plays, or how much it sold. Instead, by looking at the labor of video games, Schreier sets out to answer one of the industry’s weirdest mysteries: Why is making video games, something an entire industry of highly paid, intelligent people has been doing for decades, so difficult?”

I wouldn’t have pegged The New Republic for accessible, clear-eyed coverage of video games, but Pareene does an excellent job of making the mechanics of video game development, and key differences between it and filmmaking, accessible to non-gamers. Spoiler: Greedy, clueless execs and strong unions play leading roles.

It’s also a great recommendation for Jason Schreier’s Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, which is now on my B&N wish list in case you’re looking for gift ideas for my birthday next month!


Marvel, DC Offer ‘Shut Up Money’ As Comic Creators Go Public | Aaron Couch

“Comic creator Jim Starlin turned heads in 2017 when he publicly noted that Warner Bros. paid him more for a minor character that appeared in DC’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice than he received for Marvel’s major Guardians of the Galaxy characters Thanos, Gamora and Drax combined. After Starlin’s airing of grievances, Disney renegotiated his deal for Thanos, the villain of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Those films went on to gross $4.83 billion globally, and Starlin, while not sharing details of his deal, walked away happy.”

Speaking of labor disasters, work-for-hire is still the standard creative model at Marvel and DC, and the billions of dollars they’ve made from movies over the past decade-plus owe more than just a thanks to dozens of creators over the years who, despite working with a variety of colorful, over-the-top villains in comics (on page and behind the scenes), never imagined the future we now live in. That both companies continue to selectively and begrudgingly compensate creators is definitely bad, but knowing Ed Brubaker makes more money from residuals for a brief cameo in a movie than from royalties for the many stories and characters he created that inspired those movies also says a lot about the financial limits of the publishing industry itself.

Comics may be the one medium that actually pays creators for “exposure” while arguably exploiting them even more than those that don’t pay anything at all.


Comics Go to School | CCC’s Velocity of Content Podcast, featuring ME!

“Even with the explosion of comics for kids over the past 10 years, there’s still a significant percentage of parents and educators who – mostly out of ignorance, I think – don’t understand comics’ value because they still think of comics from the reference point of childhood – superheroes and comic strips.”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Christopher Kenneally on his Velocity of Content podcast recently to talk about the day job and comics in libraries & schools, giving props to some publishers, and throwing shade at the entire 90s. It was perfect timing in light of the latest data showing graphic novels made up almost 20% of adult fiction unit sales in the first half of 2021. With 16.2 million copies sold, they’re now the second-largest adult fiction subcategory.

If you want to see how much I talk with my hands, check out the video version of our chat.

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