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Netflix Games had its best month yet in December

Too hot to handle?

Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: This whole gaming things seems to be working for Netflix.

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Netflix sees success with games based on its shows

Netflix has been able to more than double the audience of its mobile games last year, according to new data mobile intelligence company Sensor Tower shared with me this week. The streaming service nearly reached an estimated 5.4 million downloads of its mobile games in December. That’s up 135% from December 2021, a month after the company began making games available to all of its members.

Some of that is simple math: Netflix released 55 titles across iOS and Android since it began to embrace mobile gaming; this week, the company announced plans to release an additional 40 titles this year. More games lead to more usage, so it’s not a surprise that Netflix is seeing growth in this area. However, with its catalog growing, there’s also an opportunity to identify a few trends.

Some things seem to work better than others for Netflix. December was actually the best month yet for Netflix gaming, and a lot of that was driven by “Too Hot to Handle: Love Is a Game,” an initiative story game the company released at the beginning of that month.

  • “Too Hot to Handle” is closely tied to the Netflix reality show of the same name, which had its fourth season premiere in December as well.

  • “Too Hot to Handle” was Netflix’s most-downloaded game in December, followed by “SpongeBob: Get Cooking,” “Scriptic Netflix Edition,” “TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge” and “Classic Solitaire NETFLIX,” according to Sensor Tower.

  • The title also got a call-out from Netflix External Games VP Leanne Loombe this week, who called it one of the company’s most-played games to date. “We saw our community flock to the title when it was released alongside Season 4 of the series and stay engaged through the weekly drops of in-game episodes,” Loombe said.

  • “Since launch, the game has been the second top-downloaded Interactive Story game,” noted Sensor Tower Senior Insights Analyst Dennis Yeh. “This sub-genre of games leans into Netflix’s narrative strength and lends itself well to a variety of IP, including fantasy, anime, and reality.”

Netflix’s goal for gaming has long been to build franchises. Titles that keep viewers engaged, and paying their monthly subscription fees, while they wait for a new season of their favorite show.

  • “Too Hot to Handle” isn’t exactly the MCU, and it’s not particularly high-brow either. But it’s clearly working for the company, which is why there are already plans to release a sequel in partnership with games studio Nanobit later this year.

  • Netflix clearly wants to do more of these tie-ins. The company has already published games related to “Stranger Things” and “Narcos,” and hinted at plans for another franchise this week: The company has partnered with Super Evil Megacorp to work on an “exclusive game based on an upcoming Netflix release,” according to Loombe. The game is still said to be in early development, so it may be a little while until its release.

  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that Netflix could do a lot more of these franchises, as there appears to be clear demand for games related to popular Netflix titles: “Squid Game” alone has inspired hundreds of mobile and Roblox games.

  • Some of these games were quite successful: Netflix released “Squid Game” in September of 2021. By October, three of the top ten mobile games in most countries were inspired by the show, according to GameAnalytics.

Netflix Games are growing internationally. Next up: Cloud gaming. Much like “Squid Game,” Netflix’s mobile games do seem to find an audience around the world.

  • In Q1, the top markets for Netflix game downloads were the US, Brazil, France, Mexico and the UK, according to Sensor Tower.

  • One thing that is still holding Netflix back is its reliance on mobile in general, and mobile app stores in particular. Most Netflix content gets watched on TVs, but the company’s games are only available on iOS and Android mobile devices so far.

  • What’s more, Netflix can use its mobile app to showcase games to its audience, but people willing to give a game a try still have to be redirected to the App Store or Google Play to download the title.

  • That could potentially change once Netflix embraces game streaming: I broke the news last year that Netflix was building its own cloud gaming tech to bring games to TVs and other connected devices. Netflix has since confirmed those plans, and Loombe told reporters this week that work on the service was “underway.”

Netflix is also pouring money into new first-party games. In addition to building tech that could one day take Netflix Gaming beyond mobile, the company is also investing in a broad catalog of titles. The company revealed this week that its own game studios are currently working on 16 games, and that it has struck deals for 70 games built by third-party studios. A year from now, the company should have more than 100 games available on app stores, and many more in the pipeline.

What else

BitTorrent and its owner have been sued over crypto sales. For close to two decades, BitTorrent avoided major lawsuits while other file sharing apps got shut down left and right. Now, it’s in trouble over the alleged illegal sale of crypto securities and alleged market manipulations.

Twitch is laying off 400 employees. The layoffs are part of Amazon’s new massive job cuts.

Netflix’s ad-supported plan has one million domestic subscribers. That’s according to Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw, who also reported that the company is now meeting the metrics it promised advertisers.

YouTube TV is getting more expensive, now costs $72.99 per month. Remember when internet-based TV services were supposed to be a cheap cable alternative?

Tubi is now responsible for 1% of all TV viewing in the US. That’s according to Nielsen, which also reported that streaming as a whole is now facilitating 34.3% of all TV viewing, with cable and broadcast TV coming in at 30.2% and 23.8%, respectively.

Amazon has sold 200 million Fire TV devices. The company is also introducing a new budget line of smart TVs (told you so 😃 ).

Cancelling cable could get easier soon. Newly-proposed FTC rules could be good news for cord cutters, bad news for TV services.

Oculus isn’t dead, after all. Meta is now using the Oculus name for it VR game publisher, which currently has 150 third-party games in the pipeline.

That’s it

Like everyone else, I’ve been playing a lot with Google’s new generative AI Bard this week. I asked it about everything from unannounced Google products (sadly, no notable revelations) to its position on defunding the police (surprisingly nuanced). However, my very first query was a bit more practical: I didn’t know what to cook that night, so I just told the AI what I had in my fridge (gnocchi, asparagus and mushrooms), and asked it to come up with a recipe. Bard’s answer: Gnocchi pizza.

Gnocchi. Pizza. I’ve been thinking a lot about this one, and I think I’ll have to try it one day. I mean, cooking with AI … what could possibly go wrong?

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