IT’S BEEN NEARLY two years since Netflix began its big push into gaming, and the streaming giant’s presence as a household name isn’t quite translating. According to recent findings from analytics company Apptopia, 99 percent of the service’s users have never touched a single video game on the platform. If you’ve played any of their titles, congratulations: You are the one percent.
Although perhaps not shocking, this news is eyebrow-raising. Netflix lost some 970,000 subscribers last quarter, and it seems the company is unlikely to recoup them by recruiting gamers. The stats obtained by CNBC via Apptopia reveal that games on the platform have an average of 1.7 million daily users—a fraction of Netflix’s subscriber base of 221 million. The total number of downloads for those games is about 23.3 million.
Tech giants dipping into gaming is hardly new. Amazon and Google have tried their hand by hiring all-star talent and working on in-house studios. Yet despite their best efforts, big companies with money have been unable to brute force their way to success. Video games are a yearslong endeavor requiring the hard work and talent of teams that can range from a handful of independent creators to hundreds of developers across the globe. Even when they produce decent games, as Netflix has, it takes more than a few titles to lure people away from their PlayStation, Switch, Steam, or Xbox ecosystems—or even the new season of Bridgerton—to play them. Netflix knows that its biggest competition for attention on your phone comes down to apps like TikTok.
Part of the problem, for Netflix at least, might be about awareness. Despite acquiring outfits like Oxenfree creator Night School Studio and Dungeon Boss developer Boss Fight Entertainment, the company’s investment into games doesn’t show in the way it markets and promotes them. (Just look at sites publishing well-read how-tos for finding Netflix games.) The streamer doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to luring eyes to some of its more original ventures. The largely unknown fan site it launched in December had barely begun to germinate when it cut the majority of staff. It’s canceled dozens of shows after just one season—a list that continues to grow. With games, it seems, Netflix barely let users know they were there at all.
It would be easy to say the streaming giant isn’t gaining gamers because their offerings are bad, but they’re not. Titles like sci-fi strategy game Into the Breach and card game Exploding Kittens are established hits that have done well on other platforms ahead of their mobile releases for Netflix. Originals that expand the company’s streaming universes, like its Stranger Things games, have built-in fanbases. Critics have positive things to say, seemingly in spite of themselves. The games just haven’t been given time to gain traction.
Netflix did not respond to requests for comment about Apptopia’s findings or its handling of current titles, though the giant has been clear about its continued ambition for mobile gaming. The company has plans to offer roughly 50 games by the end of 2022, including new releases such as Telling Lies creator Sam Barlow’s next title, Immortality. Netflix is fond of iteration and its self-described “crawl, walk, run” model. Evidently, gaming is still in that infant stage.