Netflix serious about cloud gaming — and it could succeed where Google Stadia failed

Netflix Games image showing library of titles on mobile and tablet.
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix has made no secret of its gaming ambitions, and has spent years trying to integrate gaming into its portfolio of content. How successful that’s been is up for debate, but it sounds like the company isn’t deterred. In fact one executive claims that the company is “seriously exploring” the prospect of launching its own cloud gaming service.

Mike Verdu, Netflix’s vice president of games, revealed this piece of news during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference earlier this week. The company already made a big jump into mobile gaming last year, launching a number of subscriber-exclusive titles on Android and iOS.

But those games had to be downloaded individually, and made you log into the Netflix app to use them. Cloud gaming could be a new chapter in the company’s gaming strategy, and at the very least make the process a little simpler to enjoy. And more widely available, because so far Netflix has done a poor job of promoting its gaming offerings on mobile.

“We’re going to approach this the same way we did with mobile, which is start small, be humble, be thoughtful, and then build out.” Verdu said, “But it is a step we think we should take to meet members where they are on the devices where they consume Netflix.”

The cloud gaming approach could allow Netflix to offer games beyond the current slate of mobile titles. Provided the user has a solid internet connection, the power of their hardware is pretty-much inconsequential. And, as Verdu mentioned, it means people aren’t restricted to playing on phones and tablets.

Because that will be a key barrier for users, primarily because of discoverability, and may explain reports that less than 1% of subscribers are actually playing Netflix's games.

Finding accurate stats on how people watch Netflix isn’t easy, but back in 2018 70% of its content was viewed on a television. Four years is a long time, and viewing habits do change. But at the very least having games available on all Netflix-enabled devices means there’s a much larger pool of users to draw in, especially if you’re offering something worth playing.

The possibility of being able to access those games from a single hub, be it the main Netflix app or a dedicated gaming one, is also a perk. That’s how the other cloud streaming platforms operate, and was a point of contention between Apple and Microsoft. 

Apple reportedly asked for Xbox Game Pass games to have their own standalone app, so they could be rated and approved for the App Store. Microsoft refused, because it complicates the whole process, forcing users to have several apps instead of a single centralized hub. Netflix could similarly benefit from this approach, especially if it means you don’t need to keep redirecting people to their respective app store.

Of course, cloud gaming has had some hurdles, particularly in the wake of Google killing off Stadia. There are reasons why Stadia failed, and Verdu claims Netflix shouldn’t face similar problems — because a cloud gaming platform would be a “value add” to Netflix’s business model. 

"We’re not asking you to subscribe as a console replacement,” Verdu said, “so it’s a completely different business model. The hope is over time that it just becomes this very natural way to play games wherever you are.” 

The implication I get from that statement is that Netflix may integrate cloud gaming into its existing subscription tiers — just as it has done with mobile titles. The idea being that instead of loading up Netflix to watch a TV show or movie, you play a game instead.

While we shouldn’t expect Netflix to enter the cloud gaming business right away, the company has emphasized its commitment to gaming in a number of ways. Earlier this week, the same day as Verdu’s announcement, Netflix revealed it has 55 games currently in development.

Last month we also heard that Netflix is opening its own game studio in Finland, led by former EA executive and Zynga founder Marko Lastikka. Verdu also confirmed that the company would be opening a second studio in California, led by Chacko Sonny — formerly of Activision Blizzard.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.