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Netflix: The Gaming App You Don’t Know You Have

by Jason Robbins

Netflix has always been an innovator when it comes to home entertainment. From its beginnings as a DVD-by-mail rental service, something that completely changed the game from the brick-and-mortar rental stores like Blockbuster Video, it went on to launch the first successful streaming service in 2007. Since then, it has remained a leader in the streaming video industry, producing a plethora of original movies and shows. And it continues to introduce fresh ideas, such as interactive programming in the form of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Trivia Quest, and more. However, there’s been one major addition to Netflix’s services that has gone largely unnoticed by its subscribers since its introduction in 2021: mobile video games.

For the past couple of years, anyone with a Netflix subscription using the app on a mobile device could see there were a large number of games available to play at no extra cost. That is, unless they happened to scroll right past the gaming section, which is not a difficult mistake to make. But the crux of the problem is that more than three-quarters of all streaming subscribers use their services on a television set rather than on a mobile device, according to video analytics firm Conviva. Since the games have thus far only been available on mobile devices, many Netflix users have remained completely ignorant of the fact that they could be enjoying free video games on their phones and tablets.

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Of Netflix’s 248 million subscribers, less than 1% play the service’s games on a regular basis. This is an unfortunate state of affairs for the company, as it has steadily ramped up its gaming division over the past two years to attract more subscribers at a time when the streaming service business has become saturated. In the past year alone, Netflix has grown its selection of games from 24 to 77–and many of these titles aren’t just half-measures to attract the casual gaming crowd, but full-blown high-quality experiences that have become hits on other platforms.

For instance, Immortality, the latest game from pioneering developer Sam Barlow and his company Half Mermaid was released for Xbox Series X/S and PC in August 2022 for full price and was made available to Netflix subscribers a few months later in November for free. This is a highly acclaimed indie darling that won a BAFTA Games Award for its narrative. Netflix went on to acquire Night School Studio, the developer of Oxenfree and Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals before the latter was even released so that Netflix users could play it on Day 1. Both titles have earned much critical and consumer praise and have done well financially on consoles and computers. Other lauded games in Netflix’s library include world-building simulation Terra Nil, story-driven adventure Spiritfarer, and surreal interactive story, Before Your Eyes.

Combined with a large selection of more casual games and titles based on Netflix properties such as Stranger Things and Love Is Blind, the gaming library Netflix has curated is actually quite impressive and warrants more attention than it’s presently receiving from subscribers. However, the lack of interest in the streamer’s gaming offerings has not deterred the company’s efforts in the slightest. As described by Netflix Co-CEO Greg Peters regarding the company’s games on a pre-recorded earnings call, “This trajectory is not dissimilar from what we’ve seen before. When we’ve launched a new region — or when we launched new genres, like unscripted [we had to] crawl, walk, run, but we see a tremendous amount of opportunity to build a long-term center value of entertainment.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, plans are in the works to adapt even more of Netflix’s hit programming into game form, including Wednesday, Black Mirror, and Squid Game. These are meant to provide fans of these shows with something to do in between seasons, and keep them from abandoning Netflix for other streaming services.

Additionally, Joseph Staten, the Creative Chief behind Xbox’s Halo Infinite joined Netflix to develop a brand-new IP into a AAA multiplatform game. Ubisoft is also apparently working with Netflix on a new Assassin’s Creed entry to take advantage of the hype surrounding the live-action series that the two companies are producing.

The question ion remains, how will Netflix garner more interest and attention from its subscribers toward its gaming efforts? Well, as most customers utilize television as the primary (and often only) method of using streaming services, Netflix has strategized a method to make its games available for play on the small screen.  The company has already begun testing this system, first with some select subscribers in Canada and the UK, and now in America. Players will install and use a special app on their phones (below) that will turn the devices into controllers for the games on the television. While there is some worry about bandwidth usage and lag, Netflix seems confident that this will be optimized to make its games the new revenue stream it’s been looking for.

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Image courtesy Netflix

In the meantime, gamers with a Netflix subscription should really check out the offerings on their mobile devices. There are titles there that people paid full price to enjoy on other platforms and original games that fans of Netflix shows will surely like. Paying for a subscription and not experiencing and enjoying all the content provided is an unfortunate waste of money and entertainment value.

Jason Robbins is a features editor and writer, attorney, computer scientist, bio-exorcist and inventor of the piano key necktie.

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