People with iPhones have finally stretched their hands out like a cartoon character and sat down with their phones. After months of study and rewriting about Netflix’s highly anticipated, if bizarre, foray into gaming, to watch what all the fuss is about—and get a better idea of what the world’s most popular streaming platform sees its role in the gaming space as being.
Many have to wait for their turn as iOS users; Android users could download the new games from the Google Play Store on November 2, the same day a new ‘Games’ option appeared within the Netflix app on their phones. Those in the Apple ecosystem must download games in a similar convoluted manner due to Apple’s strict restrictions requiring games to be downloaded as standalone entities from the App Store. If you’re intrigued, the five new games appear to be very playable.
Stranger Things: 1984 is a whimsical 8-bit RPG that does a fantastic job of replicating the fun of the TV show (“Looks like I picked a horrible day to quit smoking,” a tiny pixelated Jim Hopper laments in the game’s first scene when you tap on his ashtray). Stranger Things 3: The Game, which was launched in 2019 to mixed reviews, is also included; the other three games aren’t expressly Netflix-branded, but they’re nevertheless entertaining in the same way that putting a ball in a hole or playing cards may be entertaining on public transportation.
The fact that the games are enjoyable isn’t surprising, though. When Netflix bought Night School Studio, an independent game developer famed for a pair of cult masterpieces, back in September, it was an indication that the streaming service had its finger on the pulse of the gaming community and was looking to nail the kind of narrative gaming it had set out to do. In actuality, the more intriguing question has always been “Are these games good?” rather than “Are these games bad?” ‘What are they doing here in the first place?’ and, more importantly, ‘What are they doing here in the first place?’
While Netflix is the unquestioned king of streaming, it’s clear that the company is worried about how to keep its crown, especially as Disney+, a relative newcomer, moves into its lane and threatens to supplant it by 2024. After all, Netflix has the market share in defending and stockholders to placate; it isn’t going down without a fight. However, what has emerged from the platform in recent months has been nothing short of an unstoppable tsunami of efforts to distance itself from its streaming competitors, which, to put it frankly, stink of desperation and are odd as hell.
In truth, Netflix’s strategies for increasing members in 2021 appear to fall into one of two categories, both of which I’m sure executives believe very cool young people want: Have fun with games and TikTok. In March, the platform introduced “Fast Laughs,” a TikTok-style infinite scroll feed that acts as a highlight reel of the platform’s humor services. Netflix also revealed that it was testing a “Kids Clips” feature just one day before its games arrived on iOS, ostensibly to help expose young viewers to its extensive collection of children’s material.