For Free? Netflix Launches New Mobile Gaming Service to Take on Apple Arcade

Netflix officially announced the new service yesterday, but it’s off to a much slower start. It’s available only on Android at this point, with a mere five mobile games available at launch — all of which appear to be geared primarily toward casual gamers.

Naturally, Netflix says it plans to improve the service in the coming months, but unlike Apple’s Arcade launch, the company is making no promises as to how many games it expects to end up with, or even when new titles can be expected to appear.

By contrast, Apple Arcade launched in late 2019, and while the service initially fell short of the 100 games that Apple had promised, it still launched with 62 fully playable titles, and hit the promised 100-game milestone a few weeks later.

So, if you think Netflix Games seems anemic by comparison, you’re not wrong.

As of today, the catalogue includes three general casual games — Shooting Hoops and Teeter Up by Frosty Pop, and Card Blast by Amuzo & Rogue Games — accompanied by two titles that appear to be designed to tie in with Netflix’s popular Stranger Things franchise: Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3: The Game, both by BonusXP.

No Extra Charge?

The upside is that Netflix isn’t charging any more for its game service, nor does it sound like it plans to. Instead, it will be included as part of your Netflix subscription. This presumably includes all three tiers of Netflix, from the basic $8.99 plan to the premium $17.99 package.

Netflix also says there are no ads, additional fees, or in-app purchases to worry about, so in that sense, it’s definitely taking a page out of Apple’s book, but it’s also likely to attract a wider audience simply because Netflix subscribers are already paying for it.

Bringing Netflix Games to the iPhone Is More Complicated

Netflix’s press release doesn’t say anything about when its games will come to the iPhone, however a Tweet from the official Netflix Geeked account shared that iOS support is “on the way.”

In light of Apple’s restrictions on game streaming services, it’s unclear exactly how Netflix will approach this, but it almost certainly won’t be as seamless as it is on Android.

Apple has long prohibited game streaming apps, and it only slightly relaxed that policy last year by allowing for two alternatives:

  1. Developers can publish “catalogue apps” that allow subscribers to find all the available games on the App Store. However, each game must still have a separate App Store page and be downloaded separately like any other app, although they can be offered as free downloads and share a common subscription. However, users won’t be able to just jump in and start playing right away like they can on Android.
  2. Developers can do pretty much whatever they want on the open web, allowing users to play games through Safari on the iPhone and iPad. This is the approach that pretty much every other streaming service has taken, including Amazon’s new Luna, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, Google’s Stadia, and even Facebook Gaming.

While the obvious answer would be for Netflix to also go with door number two here, that may not necessarily be the case. Netflix could provide the same sort of Games tab in the Netflix app and simply send users over to Safari to actually play the games, but the catch is that Netflix plans to make at least some games in its catalogue available for offline play — something that’s considerably more difficult to achieve with browser-based games.

While Netflix may be able to make this experience fairly seamless — especially if Apple allows them to launch the games directly in an in-app Safari window — it’s also possible that Netflix may instead choose to go against the grain, and become the first big third-party gaming service to actually publish its games as individual apps on the App Store, with the “Games” tab in the Netflix app simply linking out to each App Store page.

In this case, it would be fairly easy to tie each app to a Netflix subscription simply by requiring the user to sign in at launch, just like they do in the main Netflix app.

At this point, we’re not certain if Netflix has even figured out which approach it’s going to take, and although the company says it’s working on it, it’s provided no timeline as to when Netflix Games will come to iOS.

Netflix Games Credit: Netflix