The dream of a “Netflix of gaming” has long been the most exciting prospect in the industry, and now Netflix itself has finally entered the gaming space with its own gaming service. Right now, we’ve already seen some of the biggest companies in the world attempt to enter the gaming space — and fail universally. Even game-focused companies like Sony haven’t quite broken the mark of a successful game streaming platform yet.
Netflix is the gold standard for movie and TV streaming, so from the outside it makes sense that it also knows how to make a great game streaming service. However, streaming a game and streaming a movie are two completely different beasts. But more than that, creating an attractive gaming service is not at all comparable to creating an attractive TV and movie service. Looking at how the platform has rolled out, plus the context of Netflix’s operations as a whole, reads like Netflix’s desperate move to differentiate itself from its competition – companies that have already had lunch.
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There are plenty of examples of why gaming, streaming, or otherwise isn’t a space businesses can easily slip into. Google Stadia and Amazon Luna had the power of two of the largest companies in the world behind them, and both services are struggling to get off the ground. I’m sure Netflix isn’t short on money, but throwing a war chest of money at a gaming service won’t magically make it work.
Even if it did, Netflix has yet to show how much it is willing to invest in gaming. The service launched with five mobile games and Netflix only made one powerplay by purchasing Ox free developer Night School Studios. The flowing giant only dips his toe in the water when it comes to content.
The problem is that non-gaming companies are trying to fit gaming – both consumption and creation – into their own structures. Netflix may have a great pipeline for making series and movies, but that doesn’t apply to making a game. Google was so bad at managing its own game studio that it shut it down before even producing a single title.
TV and movie streaming used to be Netflix’s game and no one else could even compete. Now there are countless options, each with exclusive content that has helped them loosen Netflix’s deadly hold on an industry it has built. We’ve seen reports that it’s losing subscribers quickly and the pivot to gaming seems like a way to handle that. It seems like a simple power game on paper. Just throw some games on the service people are already using, right? Who wouldn’t subscribe to Netflix if they had all the TV and movies, plus free games? It is idealistic, but does not inherently work in practice.
A reactive move to gaming could be doomed to fail, especially if Netflix’s launch is any indication of how it plans to continue this service. The five games, which are already a small offering, are all small mobile games that have mediocre reviews at best. A service with bad games, or even good games, won’t appeal to many players. Unlike TV and movies, people won’t just binge any boring game.
Games are not passive. They’re not something you can just throw in the background and pay half attention. Netflix is the king of dumping tons of content on users. Some of it is bad, some of it good, and every now and then there’s a gem that really takes off. That’s not how games work. It will take time and work to develop and offer a quality library of games. Those hits are nowhere else to be found.
Netflix hasn’t shown, at least in its initial rollout, that it’s very serious about games. It made two games based on Strange things, but both are small-scale, seemingly low-budget titles. It owns one studio, which has barely had time to work on a game for the service. Nothing about the run-up to the rollout indicates that Netflix is still really committed to games as a core branch of its business — and you can’t be successful at half-measure games.
The last and most important aspect that Netflix doesn’t seem to understand is that people simply aren’t interested in having games. Again, we can return to Stadia and Luna as prime examples. Neither cloud gaming service has provided players with the kind of “platform seller” that encourages players to use platforms. Exclusives are an obvious draw, but even if you only have strong third-party games could work. Shooting Hoops and Card blast aren’t exactly groundbreaking games. If a launch lineup isn’t even remotely exciting, why would potential players buy?
Having games on a service alone is not a selling point. Grain boxes have games on them. You can play games on the back of an airplane seat. It’s hard to be in a situation where you can not play a game these days as long as you are near something with a screen. The difference is quality, not quantity. At this point, Netflix offers no reason to take people away from playing on console, PC, or even other mobile games. Until it scores some big, high-quality games, I’d rather do the maze and word search on the back of a Lucky Charms box.