clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Netflix is moving — very gently — into cloud gaming

The latest ‘Netflix for games’ is, in fact, Netflix

A graphic shows Oxenfree available to play on Netflix on a TV and a latpop, with a phone screen showing a virtual controller Image: Netflix
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Netflix has announced a move that many have been waiting for the company to make ever since it started to get into gaming: game streaming direct to TVs.

In a low-key announcement, Netflix’s gaming boss Mike Verdu said it has begun “a limited beta test to a small number of members in Canada and the U.K.,” allowing them to play two games on their TVs. Support for playing on PCs via browsers will follow in the next few weeks, Verdu said.

Rather than support bluetooth controllers, at present the Netflix cloud gaming service will use a bespoke smartphone controller app (which had already been spotted on the iOS App Store late last week). The app appears to put a simple, virtual stick-and-button layout on the phone screen, with a big, fat A button surrounded by small B, X, and Y buttons — an arrangement familiar from Nintendo’s much-loved but seldom imitated GameCube controller. On PCs, mouse-and-keyboard control will be supported.

The games playable in the beta test are Oxenfree, the cult narrative adventure game from Night School Studio, which was acquired by Netflix in 2021, and something called Molehew’s Mining Adventure. The latter game is a total mystery — unlike Oxenfree, it’s not part of the existing catalog of games that can be played natively on smartphones as part of a Netflix subscription. According to Verdu, it’s a “gem-mining arcade game.”

“Our goal has always been to have a game for everyone, and we are working hard to meet members where they are with an accessible, smooth, and ubiquitous service. Today, we’re taking the first step in making games playable on every device where our members enjoy Netflix — TVs, computers, and mobile,” Verdu said.

“This limited beta is meant to test our game streaming technology and controller, and to improve the member experience over time,” he added, taking pains to point out that “we’re still very early in our games journey.”

The tentative nature of the announcement contrasts with Google’s noisy but ill-fated push into cloud gaming, Stadia, which launched in late 2019 and closed just three years later. While many expect cloud gaming to a key part of the future of video games, there are many technological and other barriers to its growth, and uptake for rival services like Xbox Cloud Gaming (which is technically still in beta) and Nvidia’s GeForce Now has been slow. In that context, Netflix’s caution in entering the competition to establish what is often called the “Netflix for games” makes sense.

Another challenge for Netflix is that its gaming catalog, while actually pretty high-quality, has been built around mobile gaming so far, and many of those experiences won’t translate well to TV screens. It seems a safe bet to expect its streaming service to focus more on titles where there’s an existing PC version, like Into the Breach, and less on mobile originals such as the wonderful Poinpy.

Nevertheless, Netflix seems serious about its gaming ambitions. It has steadily been both acquiring and founding studios over the last two years, and says it has 16 games in development in-house — including a “AAA multiplatform game and original IP” led by Bungie veteran and Halo and Destiny co-creator Joseph Staten.