What does Netflix gaming mean for the services subtitle standards?

Ben Bayliss4 minute read

Netflix, one of the world’s most popular streaming services that beam films and TV shows directly to your device may be planning to throw video games into the mix. And sure, this may sound appealing to some people, but for me, I’m a bit confused about how subtitles and captions will work with the company’s strict guidelines already in place for its other media.

Netflix confirmed to Bloomberg that Mike Verdu, a former EA, and Oculus executive, has joined the company as vice president of game development. A source told Bloomberg that the goal is to offer video games through Netflix’s streaming platform “within the next year” with no plans at current to charge extra for the games. With game dev roles being advertised, it looks like Netflix could be getting into the business of developing games, but there may be third-party games on the way too.

Steve Moser, editor-in-chief at The Tape Drive tweeted out some graphics. These included an “N Game” logo and a shark fin logo that is reportedly the working name of the gaming feature, “Shark”. These are apparently alongside Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut and an image of the DualSense controllers from the PS5, with Moser toying with the concept of a potential Sony partnership.

Netflix The Witcher edit with caption netflix overlay

But what’s on my mind is Netflix’s requirements for timed text, including subtitles and captions for sound. In 2016, Netflix revealed its plans for these in a blog post where it mentioned, that subtitles and closed captions are “a core component of the Netflix experience,” and that the sources sent in by a content provider go through major steps before that content can appear on the service. And then there are the general requirements themselves that detail specific standards that need to be met, such as only having 2 lines maximum, positioning, consistency, and even key on-screen text that is not covered by dialogue.

But with video games, subtitles are done by the studio and available within the game along with whatever customization features have been added. There are games that have over 4 lines of dialogue in some cases, and those that miss out on key dialogue, while other games do an exceptional job. But because there’s no industry standard in place for how different games from different studios implement their subtitles, every game is incredibly different. So how is Netflix gaming going to ensure that video games follow its requirements, or is it just going to let video games become the exception?

And then there’s the issue with the presentation. Netflix allows users to adjust different values for their subtitles to create a presentation that suits them. Different text sizes, background options, text color. It’s great and keeps the subtitles in a consistent style across all of the media users plan to watch. But with Netflix gaming potentially offering third-party games, then it needs to ensure that the games in question offer fantastic subtitle customization.

Ghost of Tsushima - Samurai holding a katana over his head facing white light

The rumor of Ghost of Tsushima heading to Netflix gaming under a Sony partnership would be good because throughout the story the subtitles are only present 2 lines at a time. However, they aren’t customizable to the extent Netflix allows its users. But perhaps games such as Ubisoft’s Far Cry 5, or Sony’s Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart that do let users customize the subtitle presentation would be better suited to the service? Which would mean the Netflix gaming feature would have to assess any third-party games to ensure they meet those requirements. Additionally, Sony has been doing fantastic work on subtitles in the last year specifically.

But then, if Netflix gaming is going into the business of developing games, perhaps the games we’ll see from the service will offer these accessibility features to change subtitles to suit preferences, maybe even just keeping them consistent with how we can view subtitles for film and TV shows. And with accessibility features in mind, a Polygon article in 2018 detailed that the streaming service was looking into eye-tracking technology, which if it’s shifting into game development, then that would be a good thing to include in its titles.

For now, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how Netflix handles the shift to Netflix gaming and whether it’ll be a curated list of third-party games, self-developed titles, or a mixture of both. I just hope we see a focus on ensuring the games available on the service are accessible. Maybe I’m overthinking this? Maybe this article was a waste of time? What are your thoughts?

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Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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