I tried Netflix's new mobile video games. They're a work in progress with a glaring challenge, but lay the groundwork for bigger ambitions.

·5 min read
netflix games
  • Netflix launched globally in November mobile games that are included in a user's subscription.

  • It's clear that Netflix is in the early stages of its gaming strategy, but it has grand ambitions.

  • The games have to be downloaded as separate apps, which was an unexpected annoyance.

Netflix began rolling out in November mobile video games to the world, marking a new venture for the streaming giant.

Today, more than a dozen games are on Netflix, included with a user's subscription.

Netflix is adamant that it is not a gaming company — the games are more content, like its movies or TV shows. But the company still has grand ambitions: it's in the process of building an internal games studio; it's making major hires, including former Facebook exec Mike Verdu as its head of gaming; it intends to develop games around its IP; and it bought the game studio Night School Studio.

I tested a few of the games and they're definitely early days, which Netflix is also adamant about.

First off, in order to play the games, you have to download separate apps for each. I was the under the impression that "included with your Netflix subscription" meant I would be able to play a game in the Netflix app. That's not the case. You just need a Netflix account to download and play them.

Mobile-data company Apptopia explained in a recent blog post that Netflix is working around app-store rules. Basically, Netflix would act as a competing app store to Apple and Google if the games weren't downloaded separately.

Cloud-based gaming could potentially overcome this challenge, as users would stream the games from a remote server without having to download them, Piers Harding-Rolls, the research director for games at the data firm Ampere Analysis, told Insider.

But that's a "long-term vision," he said.

Netflix didn't respond to a request for comment.

According to Apptopia, Netflix's mobile games have been installed more than 8 million times since they started rolling out. By comparison, the company has 222 million global subscribers.

Its most popular game so far is "Teeter (Up)" an arcade-style game where the player has to maneuver a ball into a hole, with about 820,000 downloads since November.

asphaltxtreme netflix game
Screenshot from "AsphaltXtreme."Netflix

Netflix is still experimenting with various game formats

As for the games themselves, they're fun — to an extent.

I took a crack at "Teeter (Up)"; the racing game "AsphaltXtreme"; the sports games "Bowling Ballers" and "Shooting Hoops"; and the fantasy strategy game "Arcanium: Rise of Akhan."

They all have their pleasures, but players' mileage may vary. Mine did not last long. They're casual games for casual consumers who might want to kill time.

Netflix also needs to work out some kinks, it seems. The game "Teeter" didn't register when I tapped the screen sometimes, for instance.

Personally, if I'm spending time mindlessly on my phone, it's scrolling TikTok. And if I'm going to play a video game, I'd much rather start up "Halo." These could be barriers for Netflix in the gaming space.

Mobile in itself is a huge category of gaming. But these kinds of casual games won't necessarily move the needle for Netflix. Right now, they're mostly giving the company an idea of what its users are engaging with.

Netflix is taking bigger swings, though. It made a splash on Tuesday, when it launched two new games, including the "League of Legends" spinoff "Hextech Mayhem" that it licensed from developer Riot Games. Netflix's "League of Legends" animated series "Arcane" was a hit for the service last fall. It reflects the possibilities for Netflix in the gaming space.

The company also hinted that it intends to expand into console and PC gaming, which might be more attractive with the right games. A current job listing for a video game tech artist says that the ideal candidate "has shipped three or more console or PC games as an engineer or equivalent."

hextech mayhem league of legends
"Hextech Mayhem," a "League of Legends" spinoff game, launched on Netflix on Tuesday.Riot Games

Netflix is betting on games to boost its slowing growth

Netflix is entering gaming mainly to attract and keep subscribers. The company's subscriber growth has slowed in recent quarters. Netflix added 8.3 million subscribers in Q4, slightly below projections, and its stock tumbled last month as the company forecasted soft year-over-year growth for Q1.

Video-game sales hit a record $56.9 billion in 2020, according to the research firm NPD. Netflix recognizes that gaming opens up new opportunities as it faces a shrinking — but still dominant — market share in the streaming space due to increased competition from the likes of Disney and WarnerMedia.

So far, I wouldn't bet on the available games to solve Netflix's slowing growth. But they lay groundwork for what's to come.

The company told investors last month that it plans in 2022 to expand its games portfolio across "both casual and core gaming genres as we continue to program a breadth of game types to learn what our members enjoy most."

Netflix is in the process of building its gaming infrastructure — it just might take time before we can relish the results.

Read the original article on Business Insider