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Apple reportedly takes on Microsoft with its own ‘Netflix for games’

Project xCloud: Gaming with you at the center

Apple will reportedly be the next company to throw its hat into the “Netflix for games”  business, following in the footsteps of Sony, Microsoft, and Google.

According to Cheddar, Apple began discussing plans for a subscription-style game streaming service in the latter half of 2018 and had reached out to developers regarding potentially offering their titles on the service. The report said Apple has also talked about potentially being a game publisher. If Apple were publishing a game, this could hint at it being exclusive to the service. Apple is already familiar with publishing exclusive games, including Thatgamecompany’s Sky.

Thus far, there isn’t a set price structure for Apple’s service, which is apparently early enough in production that it could still be abandoned at some point.

The game streaming space is quickly filling up, with a number of companies already offering some sort of plan on the PC. Jump gives indie game fans the chance to play a selection of titles for $5 per month, and Google’s Project Stream lets you play games directly from your Chrome browser. During its technical test phase, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was available and though it lacked the fidelity of other versions, it played remarkably smoothly and didn’t demand any sort of expensive hardware.

Microsoft’s Project xCloud might be even more ambitious, with plans to players to enjoy games on everything from Xbox consoles to their mobile phones. On devices with touch screens, there will be special control schemes to make it easier to play, and they will also support traditional controllers. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has called it the “Netflix for games” internally and it builds on the on-demand approach the company also takes with Xbox Game Pass.

Even Amazon looks to be jumping into game streaming, but with several companies entering the same space, it seems likely that the market could be too fragmented. We’re seeing Netflix lose access to Disney’s properties as it plans its own streaming service and we can’t imagine players will want to subscribe to more than one or two of these, particularly if they’re still paying for Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus on top of it.

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Gabe Gurwin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Gabe Gurwin has been playing games since 1997, beginning with the N64 and the Super Nintendo. He began his journalism career…
Netflix expands its game lineup with new titles from Ubisoft and more
The Netflix Games logo on the Pixel 4a.

Netflix is doubling down on its commitment to gaming. During a presentation attended by Digital Trends, the streaming service's games team teased four new titles. It highlighted how many games are in the works for Netflix as it continues to put its mark on mobile gaming and ramp up its efforts on its cloud gaming service.
The four games Netflix discussed were all from external studios. Following Valiant Hearts: Coming Home, Netflix is collaborating with Ubisoft again on the action roguelike Mighty Quest: Rogue Palace, which is based on the game Mighty Quest for Epic Loot and launches on April 18. 
Ustwo Games is bringing complete versions of both Monument Valley titles to Netflix in 2024, building on the partnership established with Desta: The Memories Between. Netflix also confirmed that it is working with Catalyst Black and Vainglory developer Super Evil Megacorp on a tie-in game for an unannounced Netflix IP.
Finally, Netflix confirmed that it is working with developer Nanobit on another game based on the show Too Hot to Handle. Their previous tie-in game for that show is the most popular Netflix game.

Netflix made it clear that it understands that people like games that tie into known franchises and that there are plenty of titles still in the works. Leanne Loombe, vice president of External Games, confirmed that Netflix is currently working on 70 games with external developers, in addition to 16 titles that are in "early ideation" at its internal studios. She explained that the ultimate goal is for Netflix to release batches of new games that appeal to a wide variety of gamers every month.
"It's going to require us to release a variety of different games and take some risks, and not everything we launch will be a hit," Loombe explained. "But everything is going to be a great opportunity for us to continue to evolve our strategy and also our approach around games to make sure that we're bringing those most-played games to our members."
In the near term, that means the focus will remain on mobile games that players download on the App Store and Google Play Store before authenticating them through Netflix. Loombs also reaffirmed Netflix's efforts to build a cloud gaming platform, albeit slowly and steadily.
"We are very early in that side of our journey, but we are very committed to making sure that games can be played wherever you have Netflix," Loombe said. "We do believe that cloud gaming will enable us to provide that easy access to games on any screen, be frictionless, and provide that accessibility into gaming experiences. But we do want to be super thoughtful about how we build that and how we bring it to our members, ... just like we're doing for mobile games, we will take it slow."
Don't expect Netflix to be an immediate competitor for Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo, but don't be surprised if it ends up becoming very relevant in the mobile and cloud gaming spaces in the future. 

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With Valiant Hearts: Coming Home, Netflix finds its video game voice
The playable characters of Valiant Hearts: Coming Home all standing together.

As we are in the earliest stages of Netflix’s foray into the games, the company is still trying to discover what a “Netflix game” really feels like. We’ve seen ports of fun console beat ’em ups and enjoyable puzzle games, but I don't feel that those really define the platform’s emerging identity. Valiant Hearts: Coming Home, on the other hand, does. A sequel to a 2014 narrative adventure game set during World War I, it's a thoughtful and emotional journey that naturally reflects some of the film and TV content available on Netflix.
Valiant Hearts: Coming Home | Official Teaser Trailer | Netflix
It’s both highly educational and a solid sequel to one of Ubisoft’s most underrated games. Like Before Your Eyes, narrative is a clear priority, as is the distinct visual style that would work even if this was a traditional animated show. Netflix is known for evolving prestige TV and defining what storytelling in a streaming-focused series could be, so it would benefit from giving its exclusive games a similar focus. Valiant Hearts: Coming Home might not be a perfect game, but it’s a solid example of what a premier Netflix game could look like in the future.
War stories
Valiant Hearts: Coming Home, like its predecessor Valiant Hearts: The Great War, is a narrative-focused adventure game that hops between several stories from soldiers (and a medic) who served during World War I. Familiarity with the first game is helpful, as some characters reappear, but not necessary as the sequel tells a new story mainly focused on the Harlem Hellfighters, a group that fought with the French after the U.S. joined the conflict. It’s a story about the horrors of war and the family and friendships that wither through it all that focuses more on human stories rather than the bloody combat that games typically like to highlight. 
While its story doesn’t feel quite as intertwined as The Great War’s, Coming Home is still enlightening, shining light on parts of the war that aren’t typically covered in your standard history class. I’d even recommend it as a good entry point for kids learning about World War I, especially because the game features plenty of collectible objects and facts that allow players to learn more about the battle. Like the best content on Netflix, it’s a creatively rich and additive experience.
It does all that with a minimalist style, as its characters speak in pantomime, only saying a word or two as a narrator eventually cuts in to fill in narrative blanks or give context on the state of the war. While it might seem disrespectful to represent such a brutal war in a cartoonish manner, the horrific moments stand out all the more clearly as a result. One particularly memorable set piece doesn’t contain any dialogue. It has the player walking across the bottom of the sea as you see bodies and ships from the Battle of Jutland sink to the seafloor. It’s equally awe-inspiring and horrifying, bolstered by Coming Home’s distinct visual style.

The gorgeous 2D art is colorful, looks hand-drawn, and almost feels kid-friendly despite how grave the subject matter it’s portraying is. Netflix is home to some great animation, so it would also make sense for that artistry to apply to its games. On the gameplay front, Coming Home is comparatively simple. Players use touch controls to easily walk around, climb, and interact with objects throughout the game to solve simple puzzles. Occasionally, some minigames with unique mechanics, like treating and patching up soldiers’ wounds, spice up the game. It is approachable in design and never particularly complicated, but that also means the gameplay never gets in the way of its storytelling and art.
The biggest downside to is that it’s regularly interrupted by loading screens. Even though they were very brief on my Google Pixel 7XL, they dampened some scenes’ artistic and emotional flow.
What makes a Netflix game? 
Valiant Hearts: Coming Home is a beautiful narrative-focused game that feelsat home on Netflix. It demonstrates how titles with compelling stories can be just as engaging on a phone as they are on PC and consoles. That mentality is a perfect match for a platform that made a name for itself mostly through serialized, story-driven TV shows and movies, and now also offers games with strong stories like Desta: The Memories Between, Before Your Eyes, and Immortality. 

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This console generation isn’t about games or hardware. It’s about services
A character stands below a ship in Starfield.

It’s been over two years since the start of the current console generation, which launched with a rocky start at the end of 2020. You'd think it's been more than long enough to understand what it's all about, but for many, there's still confusion. That might be changing this year. As Tomas Franzese wrote earlier this month, 2023 could be the year where we finally see what games define this generation’s consoles, at least in terms of exclusives. He also noted that games could stop being cross-platform, launching on just current-gen consoles instead of simultaneously on last-gen ones.

While that'll finally give us some memorable games, it doesn't bring us closer to defining the hardware itself. Besides a few extra teraflops and new ultra-fast SSDs, there isn’t much that helps the PS5 and Xbox Series X and S stand out from their predecessors. Sure, the PS5 looks like a giant spaceship, and the Xbox Series X is built like a fridge, but we didn’t know what these devices could offer that the PS4 and Xbox One couldn’t besides some pretty lighting effects and virtually non-existent loading times.

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