Are Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon ushering in a new era for gaming?

Karen Fraser

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New, major entrants to the gaming market are here – and they’re not who you might think.

Over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon are increasingly making inroads into the world of gaming, looking to gain a competitive edge by diversifying their content offering to subscribers. Here, we explore the reasons and technologies behind these moves while providing insight into the many intellectual property (IP) opportunities this new era of gaming creates.

The convergence of OTT and gaming

Ever since Amazon acquired Twitch back in 2014, it’s been clear that OTT platforms consider gaming to be a huge part of their future. We’ve now seen further collaborations between such platforms and more traditional gaming companies, with Disney teaming up with Xbox to gift Game Pass Ultimate subscribers free access to Disney+ and Netflix rumoured to be working with PlayStation to provide titles for its own gaming service, Netflix Gaming — a mobile service that comes at no extra subscription cost and doesn’t require any external hardware — which has been tested in Poland, Italy, Spain and Brazil. Even collaboration-shy Nintendo is partnering with Illumination (a leading producer of event-animated films) to produce a Super Mario Bros. film starring Chris Pratt, which could signal a tentative step towards a similar marriage between cinema and gaming. Not to mention the success of the Amazon Prime gaming service, which offers access to a wide variety of games alongside in-game perks and benefits.

Enabling technologies behind the new era of gaming

Most OTT providers are rapidly innovating and filing patents relating to technology that can facilitate and enhance the gaming experience.

These are focused in at least the following three areas:

  1. 5G — since it’s vital to have the telecoms availability and capability to deliver gaming content to a wide audience, innovating in 5G technology and integration improves how quickly and at what quality content can be delivered to your devices, improving things like download speeds, frame rates and lag.
  2. Adaptive bit rate streaming — this technology maximises the efficiency and quality of video delivery to each end-user. Essentially, once content reaches your device, playback speed and resolution are optimised based on network conditions and the type of device used, improving the user experience.
  3. Multiview and ‘watch together’ modes — viewers are now able to watch live events from various angles or synchronise the viewing of content across different devices, with the likes of Hulu, Netflix Party, Sling, BT Sports and Sky Sports all bringing forth such new experience avenues for end-users to enjoy.

Such developments show that OTT platforms across the board are heavily investing in technologies that can form the backbone of a cloud-based gaming business. Since much of this technology could, in future, eliminate much of the need for expensive hardware, waiting time for downloads and the need to pay premium prices for each game (preferring a subscription model), the likes of Netflix, Disney and Amazon could all be aiming to truly compete with gaming’s traditional big players.

Why gaming?

The primary reason for this converging of OTT and gaming is that OTT platforms already own a wealth of established content that is ripe for gamification. We have already seen the success of Netflix’s Black Mirror interactive story and the Stranger Things game adaptation, and Netflix looks to be enhancing its foray into gaming even further with its acquisition of Night School Studio, the developer of Oxenfree. Such moves suggest that Netflix is serious about gaming and looking to develop plenty of new titles off its own back.

The future possibilities are exciting. With the full release of Netflix Gaming on the horizon and the ongoing struggles of console-dependant gaming companies to mass-produce their required hardware, is the timing right for OTT platforms to shake up the industry?

New genres of gaming

While it may be a little early to predict a full industry shake-up, since the audience for OTT-produced games could be vastly different to that which streams TV shows and movies, one further reason behind the likes of Netflix moving swiftly into gaming is to grow its audience, introducing more of its subscribers to gaming and introducing more gamers to its TV and movie content. The production of games specifically for Netflix subscribers might therefore see new genres of gaming and storytelling, featuring more interactivity, crossovers and new possibilities like alternate endings to your favourite shows.

Since many prefer to play games using a controller or keyboard and mouse, the fact that Netflix Games seems likely (at least at first) to concentrate on mobile offerings may also suggest that it will appeal to a slightly different audience than the likes of Xbox and PlayStation.

Other new entrants to the gaming market

It’s not just OTT platforms that see huge potential in gaming — everyone from telecoms companies to social networks to fashion brands are getting in on the act.

In late 2020, German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom launched cloud-based gaming platform MagentaGaming, which enables users to stream games to Windows PCs, Macs and Android devices. The company has since launched its own controller. This may not be the only telecoms provider looking to enter the gaming market, as similar companies already have the technology — in terms of bandwidth, fibre optics and more — to facilitate high-quality gaming experiences. So why wouldn’t they think about what else they could deliver?

Twitter is another that is investigating what it can offer to gamers. Its partnership with Emerge eSports aims to provide benefits to both professional gamers and content creators, offering access to “exclusive platform features and monetisation opportunities”.

One further trend, which we have seen much of over recent years, particularly through immersive branded experiences in games like Fortnite — is brands partnering with games companies to create in-game content. One such deal is Asos’ link-up with eSports company Fnatic — an online and offline relationship involving branding, VR experiences and AR filters. Other brands like Adidas, Vans and Balenciaga have struck up similar deals, showing an increasing trend towards the convergence of fashion and gaming.

There’s so much collaboration and investment from non-traditional players in the gaming sector right now that it seems the industry is ready to explode at any second, becoming a far bigger market and influence than it already is.

The potential for patents (and other IP rights)

We know that OTT platforms have a wealth of patents relating to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) directed to content production, delivery and the blending of services to better engage audiences. The move towards gaming opens the door for even more innovation and future patent activity will give us an even clearer look at where such platforms are heading in the future.

When thinking about what types of software innovation could be patentable, we need to focus on the technical aspect of any new mechanisms involved.

For example, when we consider interactive content — the kind of blending of cinema and gaming that Netflix has done in the past — elements like dynamically adapting or changing storylines on the fly from existing content or making characters interact in a different way could come under the realm of dynamic content creation. It’s important to describe how this mechanism is implemented, so that we can point to the feature(s) that deliver it. So long as we can describe how an advantageous technical effect is achieved, patent protection may be possible.

Since we know that most OTT providers are innovating in the enabling technologies behind gaming, future patents could well be tailored to innovations capable of delivering high precision images at faster speeds, latching onto technologies like 5G and AI.

From a patentability point of view, these OTT developments are exciting — and while the business case behind IP protection might not be the first thing gamers think about when they hear the news, it’s certainly a driving force behind OTT providers and many others making moves into gaming.

There is also plenty of scope for other types of IP rights to be generated — as OTT providers launch gaming services and create their own games, any new brands, titles, characters, music and more could benefit from IP protection. The licensing of IP is also likely to be a key issue in partnerships such as that between Asos and Fnatic.

Only the beginning

This is only the beginning of the OTT gaming invasion. We can be certain to see plenty more partnerships between OTT providers and the traditional big games companies, as the market continues to move towards mutually beneficial relationships that enable innovation and additional benefits for subscribers.

Since the gaming market seems set to experience huge growth over the next few years, there is plenty of room for new market entrants with something innovative to offer — whether it’s in-game experiences, superior enabling technologies or on-point branding.

Such trends mean that there is huge scope for IP protection — get in touch with me to find out how our dedicated software and gaming team can support your business and protect your innovation.

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