One month after its vague announcement of a new game-centric strategy, Netflix has explained how it will “publish” video games in the foreseeable future: as downloadable smartphone apps, available exclusively to paying video streaming subscribers.
The news coincides with the company’s public launch of Netflix Gaming on Thursday as part of the service’s smartphone app … but only in Poland – and only on Android. The company’s American Twitter translated Thursday’s Polish announcement, which explains how the service works. It also announced the two games that were launched as part of the service today: Stranger Things 3, a 16-bit beat-’em-up that was previously available as a standalone Google Play purchase (and is still live on PCs and consoles); and Stranger Things: 1984, a brand new, smartphone-exclusive game that seems to be about slow motion-releasing movements through pixelated TV series environments. (Both games happened to be made by the same indie game studio BonusXP, which is based in Texas, not Poland.)
To access this content, sign in to Netflix’s Android app while using a Polish IP address, then open the region’s new “N Gaming” tab. Choose one of these games from there, and the app will take you to download listings on Google Play. Once downloaded, go back into the Netflix app and launch the game you want from there.
No ads, no MTX – but no iOS either?
This process is a bit dizzying – and certainly not common among smartphone games or app platforms. It’s unusual to see an app examine the credentials of another app before playing a game (although we’ve seen this layout before in collections as icon packs). And it’s unclear how well such a credential password system can work on iOS, as Netflix would no doubt want such a service to work eventually – provided the move does not lead to an endless headache of Apple approvals anyway. No doubt Netflix could simply make these games available as standalone downloads with Netflix credentials, but then it would lose a valuable metric opportunity: more people are downloading and using the dedicated Netflix smartphone app on a regular basis.
The good news about this access method is that Netflix can promise two important things in the controlled game umbrella: no in-game purchases (aka microtransactions or MTX) and no ads. If a game is marked “N Gaming”, it is clear on these fronts.
(In case you were wondering, Poland has recently become a more popular test region for launching games and apps, and Sony’s PlayStation Plus Video Pass is currently a Poland-only campaign.)
Thursday’s launch of Netflix Gaming makes it clear that Netflix is doing so for the time being not has the design to become “Netflix for video games”, at least when it comes to mimicking the popular video streaming app for delivering video games. If you want cloud-streamed games, served on all you can eat for a flat subscription fee, Xbox Game Streaming and Amazon Luna remain the best options, as long as you live in a compatible region.
The move seems less interested in the delivery method and more in pumping out easily accessible games that rely on Netflix’s massive library of licenses. Given how large the smartphone gaming market is and how much space there is for a recognizable service that promises ad-free, MTX-free fun with famous characters and series, it is without a doubt a better business conversation than competing directly with Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft .
Can Netflix have other platforms or delivery methods in sight? It’s unclear. Today’s announcement reminds users that the company is “explor[ing] how games look on Netflix, “a statement that gives the company the legal leeway to say that maybe announces one day a backpack-mounted VR chess version of The Queen’s gambit or an escape experience in real life modeled after some of the documents about serial killers.
But Netflix’s choice to announce a particular game production line today, without suggesting popular options such as PCs, consoles or sky-streaming platforms, is quite telling. Also, it’s in line with Netflix’s remarkable appointment of Mike Verdu as the company’s head of the gaming team; his modern track record has largely revolved around mobile pricing on behalf of EA and Zynga.
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