Netflix console chief has Wii background, PS3 connection

Recently hired head of game platforms helped cocreate Wii MotionPlus at former employer--which just announced a technology deal for Sony's console.

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Shortly before the Electronic Entertainment Expo, rumors that the Wii would be getting Netflix streaming flooded the Web. Such speculation will likely return with the revelation that the chief of the video-rental house's game-console efforts has had extensive experience with the Wii platform--and a connection to the PlayStation 3.

Netflix's new console chief...
Netflix's new console chief...

According to his LinkedIn resume, Netflix's newly installed "head of game platforms" is one John Funge. Before he began leading "the newly forming game platforms group" at the Los Gatos, California-based company, Funge was the chief AI researcher at AiLive, the Mountain View, California, company he helped cofound in 2000.

According to Funge, AiLive also "cocreated the Wii MotionPlus hardware," the motion-sensing-enhancing peripheral bundled with the just-released Wii Sports Resort. Indeed, the official AiLive Web site outlines the company's extensive collaboration with Nintendo, which also led to the development of its LiveMove 2 development tool. As shown in video below, the tool is designed to help developers make games that take full advantage of the Wii MotionPlus' 1-to-1 motion-tracking capabilities.

In June, around the same time Funge started at Netflix, AiLive also unveiled a version of LiveMove 2 designed for the PS3. Said announcement avoids any mention of the DualShock 3 controller, which incorporates Sixaxis tilt-sensing technology. However, it does refer to "sword fighting" and "martial arts moves" similar to those demonstrated by the PS3's just-unveiled motion-sensing controller, which is already in the hands of developers.

...cocreated the Wii MotionPlus.
...cocreated the Wii MotionPlus.

When asked to comment on how Funge's Nintendo background and Sony connections might help him at his current gig, a Netflix corporate communications spokesperson said the company "doesn't comment on specific individuals' job responsibilities." When asked whether or not his hiring presaged Netflix streaming expanding to other gaming platforms--as an April Netflix job listing explicitly stated--he offered the following statement:

"As we've said before, Netflix aspires to have its streaming client on many consumer electronics devices, but the game console that instantly streams movies and TV episodes is the Xbox 360, the success of which pleases all of us very much."

Netflix, whose CEO Reed Hastings sits on Microsoft's board of directors, has good reason to be pleased. In February, Microsoft announced that over 1 million Xbox Live Gold subscribers had downloaded and installed the service. (Xbox Live Silver subscribers cannot use it unless they upgrade.) Since then, analysts estimate over 500,000 more have signed up--a major boost to Netflix's attempt to reach 12 million overall subscribers by year's end. However, so too would expanding streaming to the Wii's massive domestic installed base--over 20 million, according to the NPD Group--and the 8 million-plus US PS3 owners.

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