Netflix is making a game show based on Squid Game, and my only question is why it took this long.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, Netflix is having a pretty bad time. It’s been hemorrhaging subscribers, which has led the company to lay off about 2 percent of staff. It’s further said that because of its money woes, it won’t be funding big budget auteur projects like it used to.
Squid Game was one of those auteur projects that Netflix once relied on for clout. The show was both a fun, twisty mystery and also a specific piece of art put together by an artist with a singular point of view. It took series creator Hwang Dong-Hyuk ten years to get Squid Game greenlit—this is the kind of passion project Netflix once courted. Squid Game was about a group of people trapped in a deadly game show, competing for a cash prize that would eliminate all their debts. Critics and audiences picked up on the unsubtle condemnation of capitalism, and that aspect of the show specifically made it special to its fans.
But despite being a show with an anti-capitalism message, it’s also been produced in a capitalist world. It didn’t take long for random third parties to monetize Squid Game by selling halloween costumes, or for a YouTuber to slavishly recreate the sets from the show in order to host a non-deadly and non-ironic game show of his own. Now, Netflix has greenlit its own version of the reality show from Squid Game, with an open casting call and a grand prize of $4.56 million.
Obviously, this misses the entire point of the reality show, in which poor people are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of the rich, just to get a little taste of the monetary stability that the rich enjoy. Looking at it from Netflix’s perspective, this is a business decision that couldn’t be simpler, though. Other people are making money off Squid Game, in the form of ad deals on their YouTube videos, or unlicensed merchandise, so why shouldn’t Netflix? Sure, it’s absolutely shameless, but shame is not necessarily a function of a media company.
Corporations like Netflix are only beholden to a need to make money. Given the ways that people have taken the iconography of Squid Game, divorced it from its original message and then turned a profit on it, it is clearly in Netflix’s best interest to do so. For a time, Squid Game was one of the streaming service’s most watched shows. If you strip it of its content, look at it purely as a financial opportunity, then there is clearly a lot more oil in that well. Netflix has made a lot of public statements saying that it needs exactly this kind of money; the Squid Game game show was inevitable.
It’s also worth noting that Netflix produces a lot of reality and competition based content, likely for the same reason these kinds of shows became popular on normal television—they are cheap to produce. One of the first booms of reality television took place after the 2008 housing crisis, which led to a recession, and economic experts are saying we’re heading into another one soon. Netflix has not at all missed the point of Squid Game in that context. It’s the kind of game show that would only exist in a capitalist world where the disparity between the economic classes is only getting greater. It’s inevitable that someone would make it.