Netflix makes its debut offering as part of its new games initiative, but the service’s current ambitions are lackluster and confusing.
Xbox Game Pass, PS Plus, and PS Now are starting to show how AAA games can be changed and evolved through subscription services, but it certainly wasn’t the first industry to do so. Film and television broadcasting was obviously the first, with Netflix acting as one of the main pioneers of an entertainment media subscription service. Granted that the company started out as a physical media rental service, the online streaming side exploded after starting in 2007, leveraging YouTube innovations to make internet video streaming a reality. Now, games are undergoing a similar evolution with subscription services, something that Netflix may also be participating in.
Earlier this year, Netflix hired Mike Verdu, a former executive who has experience with companies like Oculus, Zynga, EA, and more. Given the diversity of the console and mobile gaming experience, many were unsure what Verdu’s role would be in Netflix’s gaming initiative. However, starting this month, Netflix has officially launched its game offering as part of existing Netflix subscriptions. After a trial period in some countries, there are now several titles available to anyone with a Netflix account and an Android device. “Android” is a key element here, because according to Netflix’s future game plans, the service is disconcertingly focused solely on mobile games.
Netflix’s gaming potential looked promising, at first
Many thought that in the wake of similar offerings from other gaming platforms (Google Stadia, Xbox Cloud Gaming, PS Now, etc.), Netflix would dive into streaming games. This was first evidenced by some of the first-party interactive experiences that the streaming service was hosting on its platform, such as Minecraft: story mode and Black mirror: Bandersnatch. The company then announced the acquisition of Night School Studio, the independent studio behind games like No oxen. However, the streaming service’s gaming initiative is starting with the mobile platform, and it could expand beyond Android / iOS as its gaming initiative develops in scope.
Oddly enough, Netflix is diving headfirst into one of the most competitive gaming markets, rather than creating its own proprietary experience, it makes perfect sense. The company clearly intends to start small just as an indicator of its subscriber base, which should help determine how the service intends to expand the reaches of its gaming initiative. Offering popular mobile games for free to existing Netflix subscribers is a comparatively quick and easy way to get some preliminary data on your existing subscriber base on game interest. However, the execution of this plan is certainly puzzling, for multiple reasons.
Netflix’s current gaming initiative offers nothing new
For one thing, the mobile games offered with a Netflix subscription aren’t exactly new and proprietary titles exclusive to the streaming service. For starters, Android and iOS gamers got access to Stranger Things: 1984, Stranger Things 3: The Game, Trigger hoops, Card Blast, Teeter Up, and more recently, cakes, and Asphalt Xtreme. In particular, Asphalt Xtreme emphasizes the strangeness of Netflix’s initial game list; Most of the games are at least a few years old and not relevant to most fans of modern mobile games in 2021. Compared to the most popular games in the Top Free or Top Paid lists on Google Play, not even they are close.
Even setting aside complaints like a meager starting library or exclusivity, there is nothing in this current line of games that has a unique and useful offering for the debut of Netflix’s playability on mobile devices. It is debatable whether the Strange things Mobile games are enough of a hook for Netflix subscribers to check out the games section, but there is still no hot and popular game exclusive to the Netflix platform. Conventional games like Raid: Shadow Legends or one of the many Grand Theft Auto mobile ports, or even something comparatively specialized like Fantasy O Behind the frame, it would make sense as an attractive Netflix exclusive game.
The current library of mobile games will not do Netflix any favors, regardless of whether the company intends to add more games in the coming months. Without making a particularly great entry into gaming, many are perplexed as to why these mobile games even exist as a part of the Netflix subscription. Netflix believes that expanding into games is one way the service differentiates itself from streaming competitors, many of which are acquiring shows with exclusivity offers. However, in this initial outing, Netflix’s gaming initiative has gotten off to a very slow start offering nothing different than what mobile app stores already offer.