One month after its vague announcement of a new gaming-centric strategy, Netflix has explained how it will “publish” video games in the foreseeable future: as downloadable smartphone apps, available exclusively for 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 launching 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 PC and consoles); and Stranger Things: 1984, a brand-new, smartphone-exclusive game that seems to revolve around slow, puzzle-solving movement through pixelated TV-series environments. (Both games, coincidentally, were made by the same indie game studio, BonusXP, which is based in Texas, not Poland.)
To access this content, you’ll need to log in to Netflix’s Android app while using a Polish IP address, then open the region’s new “N Gaming” tab. From there, pick either of those games, and the app will direct you to their Google Play download listings. Once downloaded, go back into the Netflix app and boot the game of your choice from there.
No ads, no MTX—but also no iOS?
This process is a bit dizzying—and certainly not common among smartphone game or app platforms. It’s unusual to see one app vet the credentials of another app before allowing you to play a game (though we’ve seen this setup before in collections like icon packs). And it’s unclear how well such a credential passthrough system might work on iOS, which Netflix would arguably want to get such a service working on eventually—assuming the move doesn’t lead to an endless headache of Apple approvals, anyway. Arguably, Netflix could simply make these games available as standalone downloads with Netflix credential checks, but then it would lose a valuable metric opportunity: more people 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 key things within its controlled game umbrella: no in-game purchases (aka microtransactions, or MTX) and no advertisements. If a game is “N Gaming” branded, it’s in the clear on those fronts.
(If you’re wondering, Poland has recently become a more popular test region for game and app launches, with Sony’s PlayStation Plus Video Pass remaining a Poland-only promotion for the time being.)
Thursday’s Netflix Gaming launch clarifies that, for now, Netflix does not have designs on becoming “the Netflix of video games,” at least in terms of mimicking its popular video-streaming app to deliver video games. If you want cloud-streamed games, served in all-you-can-eat fashion for a flat subscription fee, Xbox Game Streaming and Amazon Luna remain your best options, so 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 lean on Netflix’s massive library of licenses. Considering how huge the smartphone-gaming market is and how much room there is for a recognizable service that promises ad-free, MTX-free fun with familiar characters and series, it’s arguably a better business call than competing directly with Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft.
Could Netflix have other platforms or delivery methods in its sights? It’s unclear. Today’s announcement reminds users that the company is “explor[ing] what gaming looks like on Netflix,” a statement that gives the company the legal wiggle room to say that it might one day announce a backpack-mounted VR-chess version of The Queen’s Gambit or a real-life escape room experience modeled after any of its docuseries about serial killers.
But Netflix’s choice to announce one specific game-production path today, without hinting at popular options like PCs, consoles, or cloud-streaming platforms, is quite telling. What’s more, it aligns with Netflix’s notable hire of Mike Verdu as the company’s gaming team’s head; his modern track record has mostly revolved around mobile fare on behalf of EA and Zynga.
Listing image by Netflix