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Nobody is playing Netflix games – but why?

It’s been a tough 2022 for Netflix so far. The streaming giant has had to contend with numerous unexpected issues in recent months – and, based on new data concerning its gaming division, things aren’t likely to improve any time soon.

According to Apptopia, an app analytics company, less than one per cent of Netflix’s global fanbase is currently playing one or more of its games (per CNBC). Presented in far more stark terms, only 1.7 million subscribers have played a video game on Netflix since its gaming section officially launched in November 2021.

Netflix may be buoyed by the fact that 23.3 million people have downloaded at least one of its gaming titles in the past nine months – a figure that makes up over 10 per cent of its subscriber base. However, once fans have installed the game on their device, very few are actually picking it up and playing it.

So, what gives? Why is Netflix struggling to convince you and many others to actually play its games? Unsurprisingly, there are multiple reasons behind Netflix’s inability to persuade its subscribers to try out its video game selection.

A screenshot of the number of iOS downloads for three of Netflix's game offerings, including Stranger Things and Exploding Kittens

Netflix's biggest games aren't even breaking the 50,000 downloads per month barrier on iOS devices. (Image credit: 42Matters)

The first – and perhaps most obvious – reason is to do with where Netflix games are available. According to the streamer’s own help website, users can only play its gaming titles on compatible mobile devices. That means you can only download and play games on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch (running iOS 15 or later), as well as an Android phone or tablet (running Android 8.0 or later).

The problem for Netflix is that the vast majority of its subscribers use the streamer’s app on their TV. According to data sourced by Finances Online, 70 per cent of Netflix’s user base streams its content through their television set. Compare that to only 10 per cent of users who stream the best Netflix movies and best Netflix shows via their mobile phone, and it’s obvious why Netflix is struggling to get people to play its games. Simply put: they’re not available where most subscribers access content on Netflix.

Furthermore, Netflix’s gaming division just doesn’t have the back catalog to entice – and, more importantly, retain – users who try out its basic selection of titles. Currently, there are 26 titles available on Netflix Games but, while some of them are enjoyable to play, none of these games can be defined as “must play”. 

Sure, there are some standouts among that number. Stranger Things 1984 and its sister title Stranger Things 3: The Game are gaming tie-ins for Netflix’s wildly popular TV series, which is set to get a fifth and final season sometime in 2024. Meanwhile, Into the Breach is a fantastic turn-based strategy game, and Poinpy is one of those classic mobile games that’ll eat away at your free time. 

A variety of devices running Netflix's variety of games

Netflix Games has seen slow progress since it launched in November 2021. (Image credit: Netflix)

Unfortunately for Netflix, though, it can’t offer the same gripping, AAA titles that Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, and other game developers can provide on Switch, Xbox Series, PlayStation 5, and game streaming services like Amazon Luna. Right now, Netflix simply can’t compete with the established elite. 

Sure, it has ambitious plans to do so. Netflix wants to double the number of games in its library by the end of 2022 (per The Washington Post), which will include titles based on its original programming slate, such as The Queen’s Gambit and Shadow and Bone. It’s also acquired three studios to begin its expansion into the gaming sector, as well as hiring key industry figures, such as former Riot Games director Leanne Loombe and EA executive Mike Vrdu, to lead its gaming division.

Without blockbuster titles among its selection – which are still years away as Netflix figures out what users want from its gaming platform (per Variety) – though, Netflix can’t take on the biggest game developers and publishing studios in the world.

And then there’s competition from mobile gaming companies and non-gaming corporations.

Per IGN, the Take-Two-owned mobile gaming studio Zynga helped its parent company’s mobile gaming sector to grow a whopping 41 per cent year-over-year in Q2 2022. Zynga is the owner of the Farmville series, plus other popular titles including Star Wars: Hunters. Add in competition from Niantic and its wildly successful Pokémon Go game, Roblox, and more, and Netflix has its work cut out in the mobile gaming space. 

That’s before you factor in ridiculously popular social media apps, such as TikTok, too. Netflix isn’t just competing with other game studios and publishers for people’s precious time – it’s also coming up against non-gaming companies in an effort to grab viewers’ attention.

Netflix may have suffered some substantial subscriber losses in recent months, but it can still boast a worldwide subscriber base of 221 million. Still, that’s nothing compared to TikTok, who revealed over 1 billion people were using TikTok every month in September 2021. According to DemandSage, that number increased to 1.39 billion in January 2022. In an era where short form content has become the go-to for a seventh of the world’s population, then, Netflix’s gaming division isn’t even close to competing with those figures. Given Netflix Games is positioned as mobile phone-first division, there are plenty of other ways for smartphone users to entertain themselves before most would even consider playing a game on the Netflix app.

Someone using the TikTok app on their mobile phone

Netflix Games can't compete with the sheer popularity of other apps including TikTok. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Of course, this isn’t game over for Netflix Games. The streaming giant will continue to make its push into this sector, slowly building a portfolio of titles that should be worth playing and incrementally increasing its gamer subscriber base. The likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo weren’t overnight successes, and Netflix Games certainly has the potential to grow even further. The arrival of its ad-supported subscription – a tier where Netflix could actively promote its in-house gaming content – could aid its push to put its games in front of more people, too.

Still, this is an inauspicious start for Netflix Games. It has a ready made subscriber base to tap into and, even with the variables currently working against it, the streaming company should have been able to entice more than one per cent of its fanbase to try out its gaming selection. Time will tell if this proves to be a sluggish start to an eventual money spinner or, like many other recent Netflix projects and productions, Netflix Games will be shelved before it’s even had the chance to load up.

For more Netflix-based coverage, check out every new Netflix movie coming in 2022. Alternatively, read up on the best Netflix documentaries available to stream.

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