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Although Netflix is best known by far for its big place in the world of online video streaming, like many tech companies, it has ambitions that go beyond that. Nearly two years ago, the streaming giant launched a free mobile gaming service for Android, bringing it to the iPhone a few days later.
Mobile gaming always seemed like an odd fit for a company traditionally focused on the big screen. However, even in those early stages, it became apparent that Netflix was trying to capitalize on its brand of original programming with titles like Stranger Things 3: The Game and Narcos: Cartel Wars Unlimited.
However, as Netflix’s gaming service grew, it also offered many more titles that had no relationship to anything on the video side of its streaming service. What was also significant is that Netflix eschewed the cloud-based approach of others, like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass. Instead, the Netflix app on iOS/iPadOS and Android provided what was essentially a catalog of games that could be downloaded directly from the App Store or Play Store. The catch? You had to have an active Netflix subscription to actually play them.
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As we said in late 2021, it’s a somewhat ironic twist considering that Microsoft and others have used the “Netflix for Games” analogy to describe their cloud-based game streaming services. Yet, the company that inspired it is doing things in the very way Microsoft and others object to — forcing users to “download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud.”
Nevertheless, it’s how Apple requires things to be done, and it’s exactly how its own Apple Arcade gaming subscription service works. This lets Netflix promote its games directly from the Netflix app that its users know and love. Others like Microsoft, Amazon’s Luna, and Nvidia’s GeForce Now are forced to run through Safari.
Netflix Gaming on the Big Screen
However, this week Netflix Games will no longer be limited to mobile devices, with the company officially unveiling its plan to expand its gaming service to the big screen.
We’ve heard murmurs that this was coming for a few months now, and it shouldn’t be a big surprise considering that was likely Netflix’s ultimate plan all along. In March, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported on hidden code in the Netflix app found by developer and code sleuth Steve Moser that referred to games played on TVs that would use a phone as the controller.
Now, it looks like Netflix has taken the first big step to unleashing games on the TV with a free Netflix Game Controller app on the App Store.
The app was discovered by 9to5Mac which notes that it doesn’t do much at this point other than prompting you to “choose a game on your TV and follow the directions to connect.” Since there are no games available on the other end, there’s no way to move past this point. A note at the bottom indicates that “Netflix Games on TV are in beta” and “some devices may not be supported at this time” and provides a help link that also doubles as an indirect way to sign up for Netflix through the browser — something that Apple finally allows, at least for certain categories of apps.
The streaming giant has yet to make an official announcement, but the app’s description on the App Store reads: “Coming soon to Netflix. Play games on your TV with the Netflix Game Controller. This Game Controller app pairs with your TV and allows you to play games on Netflix using your phone or mobile device.” With the app’s appearance, we could likely hear more about it within the next few days.
It also remains unclear exactly how Netflix plans to approach TV gaming. There are currently 68 game titles that Netflix offers on the App Store, but these remain iPhone/iPad-only affairs.
Since the Apple TV offers excellent native game controller support on its own, a Netflix Game Controller app would be pretty redundant on that platform. This leads us to believe that Netflix will go with a cloud streaming approach for TV gaming.
Netflix plans to make a much more serious play with its TV-based gaming service. In October, Netflix VP of game development, Mike Verdu, told Protocol that the company was “very seriously exploring a cloud gaming offering” with the goal of launching “more than just casual games on TVs.” Around that time, the streaming provider also launched a new gaming studio led by a former executive producer of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch franchise.
The extension into the cloud is really about reaching the other devices where people experience Netflix.Mike Verdu, Netflix VP of game development
This makes a lot of sense for the company since it would make its games available on a much broader range of platforms — theoretically, any smart TV where the Netflix app is available — but it also might leave the Apple TV out of the mix.
After all, Apple’s policy on game streaming services hasn’t changed, and it’s unlikely to make its first exception for Netflix, a company that’s never made any real effort to play nicely within the Apple ecosystem. On the iPhone and iPad, game streaming services like GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass can use the Safari browser, but no such option exists on the Apple TV. This could end up being one of those “devices \[that\] may not be supported at this time.”
That might not be a huge loss for Apple TV owners, though. Right now, Netflix lags well behind Apple Arcade in the number of titles, but there’s also a quality versus quantity argument to be made, and we’ll have to wait and see what kind of a game catalog Netflix comes up with.