When Netflix first announced it was pushing into video games, the news was met with some healthy skepticism. By that point, we’d seen a few non-gaming companies like Google and Amazon try to elbow into the space with services that struggled to deliver strong, consistent content. Netflix seemed doomed to go down the same path when it launched its first batch of games, an unimpressive list that included mobile games. That slow start may have put the steamer on the wrong foot as only 1% of subscribers were reportedly engaging with its gaming offerings earlier this year.
A lot has changed in the past few months. Netflix has gone from zero to 60 since June, seemingly releasing a notable new game every few weeks. That sudden explosion hit another high note this week with the release of Desta: The Memories Between, a standout mobile title that’s exclusive to Netflix members.
While Netflix may not have a true killer app just yet, it has built up an impressive library of games in just a few short months. If you already have a Netflix subscription, you might want to start paying attention to what’s included with your monthly payment. By the end of the year, you might find yourself playing Netflix games more than you watch shows on the service.
Mobile done right
Netflix’s growth as a serious gaming competitor is sudden, but not necessarily surprising. The company turned heads in 2021 when it acquired Oxenfree developer Night School Studio. It was a statement acquisition at the time. In picking up an indie studio with a critically beloved game under its belt, it seemed like Netflix understood that content was king. Just having games wouldn’t be enough — they needed to be good.
Netflix was slow to capitalize on that moment, but that changed in June. The first signs of success came when the streamer launched Poinpy, one of its first notable exclusives. Created by the studio behind mobile hit Downwell, the colorful vertical platformer gained positive buzz from major gaming publications like Gamespot and Polygon. At the moment, it’s the second-best-reviewed mobile game of 2022, according to Metacritic, just behind a port of 2019’s Dicey Dungeons.
The streamer would make two key moves the following month. July brought two top-tier indies to Netflix subscribers: 2021 hidden gem Before Your Eyes and a new mobile version of the critically acclaimed Into the Breach. It wasn’t just that Netflix had locked down two great games, but rather that it landed versions of them that benefitted from a mobile port. The unique webcam-controlled setup of Before Your Eyes is less cumbersome on a phone, while a tactical grid-based game like Into the Breach feels like it was built for touch controls.
That seems to be an intentional strategy so far when it comes to ports of existing games. The service just added a mobile version of Oxenfree, a narrative game that only requires some simple taps to play. The service will get a mobile version of this year’s Immortality too, which could wind up being the definitive way of playing it if all goes well. Even those who have played titles like this before may find themselves wanting to revisit them with more tactile controls.
Netflix’s original offerings are nothing to write off either at this point. Just this month, the service added two solid titles from indie developers with histories of success. Lucky Luna is a maze-like platformer from the team behind Alto’s Odyssey that plays like a modern reimagining of Pac-Man. Its latest game, Desta: The Memories Between, comes from Monument Valley studio Ustwo. While it’s a total departure from that classic, it’s a charming tactical dodgeball game with an emotionally resonant narrative at its core.
What’s perhaps most important about all the games mentioned is that none of them include microtransactions or the usual financial trappings often associated with mobile gaming. Like Apple Arcade, Netflix seems intent on giving subscribers complete experiences that aren’t loaded with ads and hidden fees. In a year where Diablo Immortal has raised ethical questions about the sometimes predatory nature of free-to-play games, Netflix is currently offering a much-needed counterpoint.
Netflix’s game library is still growing, but there’s a lot of promise on the horizon. We already know that the service will add another standout indie gem in Spiritfarer and a mobile version of Devolver Digital’s upcoming Terra Nil, a promising reverse city builder. If you want to avoid having a gaming backlog as long as your Netflix queue, you might want to start playing now.
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