Streaming giant Netflix has long seen gaming as both a direct competitor for its subscribers’ attention, and a potential area to grow its own business into. Three years ago the company took its first steps to explore the latter, launching a small selection of games made for mobile. Now, the company has revealed an expanded push into the space, announcing tests of cloud gaming and controller technologies which will allow Netflix to run games on a wide range of devices including TVs and desktops.
The company is running games tests in the UK and Canada with a small number of users on specific TVs, as well as on PCs and Macs via its web browser site. Initially two games – Oxenfree from Night School Studio, a Netflix Game Studio, and Molehew’s Mining Adventure, will be available.
Unlike on mobile, where users are directed to download games individually from the iOS or Android app store, these games will be delivered via cloud streaming. With cloud streaming, games are run on remote servers, rather than the end-user’s device. The user’s inputs are sent to this remote computer, which streams the video and audio back to the user’s device. This allows users to play games without having to download them and install them, and without the need for a high quality hardware. Cloud gaming technology isn’t perfect – it’s prone to glitching and buffering in the same way a TV stream might. But both gaming heavyweights like Microsoft and new entrants are betting heavily on the technology going mainstream.
On desktops, subscribers will be able to use their mouse and keyboard to play Netflix’s titles. On TVs, which don’t come with a gaming-ready controller, subscribers can use their phones as the controller, via capabilities built into the Netflix app.
“By making games available on more devices, we hope to make games even easier to play for our members around the world,” said Mike Verdu, Netflix’s VP of games. “While we’re still very early in our games journey, we’re excited to bring joy to members with games.”
Netflix’s moves into advertising, alongside its crackdown on password sharing, have taken a lot of focus over the past year. But the company certainly seems serious about gaming as a potential new subscription driver, given its investment in the space.
As mentioned earlier, Netflix has framed gaming generally as a significant competitor for its subscribers’ time and attention. The company famously named popular video game Fortnite as its biggest competitor back in 2019. With its own games offering, Netflix is looking to attract and keep users who might not have so much interest in its TV and film titles.
And gaming offers a way for Netflix to expand on some of its most popular IP. Two of its first five games launched back in 2019 were based on its Stranger Things franchise. However the fact that neither of the titles available in this cloud gaming trial are based on Netflix titles is significant – suggesting Netflix sees value in gaming beyond just fleshing out its IP.
This week’s news shows that Netflix has big plans for its gaming offering. The investment in cloud streaming of games is particularly significant. Cloud streaming will allow the company to offer much more graphically sophisticated titles to its users, without the need for users to own high end gaming hardware. This opens up the possibility for Netflix to license major AAA gaming titles, competing with the established games distributors like Microsoft, Sony, and Valve.