Netflix continues expansion into games with Exploding Kittens project
With the announcement of an upcoming smartphone game/TV series crossover project Netflix is continuing its unexpected pivot into the gaming space. This follows several moves to add video games and experimental interactive content to its streaming TV and film platform.
The new Netflix announcement reveals in May this year it will release an exclusive version of the smartphone game Exploding Kittens. The release of the game precedes an animated TV series of the same name to be released next year that will be produced by Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, Silicon Valley) and Greg Daniels (The Office).
“The co-development of a game and animated series breaks new ground for Netflix,” said Netflix’s head of Adult Animation, Mike Moon. “And we couldn’t think of a better game to build a universe around than Exploding Kittens, one of the most inventive, iconic and original games of this century!”
The crossover release of a game and TV series by Netflix follows on from the hiring of Mike Verdu last year to head a new game development department. Verdu formerly worked for Electronic Arts on games such as The Sims.
In November last year the first fruit of Netflix’s new gaming ambitions appeared on its Android and iOS apps. Dubbed Netflix Games the new page on the streaming app offered subscribers access to a number of exclusive ad-free smartphone games. Some of the games even tied in with Netflix shows such as a retro 8-bit Stranger Things game.
Another arm to Netflix’s blurring of the boundary between film or TV content and gaming has been its ever expanding experiments with interactivity. Beginning in 2018 with a choose-your-own-adventure episode of Black Mirror titled Bandersnatch, Netflix has increasingly been looking to find new ways of turning traditional audio-visual storytelling content into more game-like experiences.
The Netflix interactive technology has mostly been deployed so far in children’s content, although the company has experimented with interactive Bear Grills Man Vs Wild documentaries and a guided meditation piece called Unwind Your Mind.
Most recently Netflix has really pushed its interactive technology in the direction of gaming with a month-long experiment running in April called Trivia Quest. The show/game offers subscribers a new 10-minute interactive quiz every day for the entire month.
This diversification of Netflix’s content comes as the streaming service faces a major slowdown in subscriber growth. Following a huge spike in new sign-ups at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, things quickly slowed down for the streamer.
Last year was the lowest 12 months of new subscriber growth for Netflix since 2015. And it is perhaps no surprise, as new services have flooded the streaming market over the past few years forcing consumers to become a little more selective over where they send their money.
A report Netflix sent to its investors mid-last year offered insights into how the company may be positioning itself. Instead of looking to expand into other forms of televisual entertainment such as live sport, news, or even broadcast channels, the service sees its main competitors as games, YouTube and TikTok. From Netflix’s perspective the future is about dominating all forms of screen time and not simply streaming movies or television shows.
“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” Netflix said to investors last year. “We’re excited as ever about our movies and TV series offering and we expect a long runway of increasing investment and growth across all of our existing content categories, but since we are nearly a decade into our push into original programming, we think the time is right to learn more about how our members value games.”
The new Exploding Kittens game/TV crossover announcement is likely to be the first in a whole host of multi-medium projects from Netflix. The company has also made its interest in attracting gamers clear by lining up a massive array of video-game-adjacent projects, from animated and live-action Assassin’s Creed series’ to animated shows based on Tomb Raider, Tekken, Arcane, Splinter Cell and Pokemon.
It’s undeniably an ambitious gambit from a service that has been instrumental at ushering in our new era of streaming. As Disney+ and HBO Max jostle for the most appealing film and TV content Netflix seems to be pivoting. Is the future of entertainment some kind of multi-screen experience where you play a game on your smartphone while simultaneously watching a narratively connected series on your TV? Potentially … or maybe Netflix simply knows people tinker on their phones while watching TV and it wants a piece of that screen time too?