Netflix is getting even more interactive. The streamer is currently rolling out two titles as part of its cloud-gaming test: Oxenfree from Night School Studio, an indie game studio Netflix acquired in September 2021, and Molehew’s Mining Adventure arcade game. Unlike its past interactive content, these games will be playable on internet-connected TVs, PCs, and Macs, and players will use their phones, not a remote, as the controller.
Netflix’s implementation of this new gaming experience comes just before the streamer gets rid of its DVD delivery service for good in September — the shift in focus from DVDs to cloud-based video games (especially after abandoning plans to include video games in the DVD rental back in 2012) feels like an official mark of the streamer’s digital-only era, and a beacon of what may be to come in the industry at large. But there’s another streaming service giving Netflix, with its impressive gaming library and advances in video game streaming technology, a run for its money: Roku.
Netflix has been at this since 2017 when it started experimenting with interactive content, creating both choose-your-own-adventure content and more straightforward games that can be played using just the buttons on a TV remote. Since 2021, the streamer has released 70 original games on mobile available for Netflix subscribers to download as their own individual apps. Some are based on original content, like Stranger Things: 1984 and Too Hot to Handle: Love Is a Game while some are mobile adaptations of existing video game IP, like Tomb Raider Reloaded and Sonic Prime Dash, but with the Netflix logo on them.
The gameplay behind Netflix’s cloud-gaming titles is logistically similar to the popular Jackbox Games, which plays video clues and other animations related to gameplay on a TV or computer screen while players use their phones to type in answers, draw, answer trivia questions, or do whatever else a game may require of them. And like in Jackbox, it will allow Netflix more versatility in how users can participate in games and other interactive content beyond just pressing up, down, or enter on a TV remote. While it’s a fun change-up for how Netflix does things, the similarities between the two systems prove that it’s not exactly a new idea.
Roku, on the other hand, may only have one marquee game lined up, but that game is interactive, voice-activated Jeopardy!. The people at Roku know what they’re doing — shouting answers at the TV while Jeopardy!’s on is practically second nature for avid fans. The streamer’s sole interactive game allows viewers to do just that, for points. The game is produced by Volley, which uses voice A.I. technology in several other games for Google Home and Amazon Alexa. But this is the first created for Roku, and the only one available on the streamer so far, though reportedly there are more titles in the works.
Players must first download the Volley app, which costs $9.99 per month, before playing against other “contestants” with pre-recorded answers. After choosing a clue from the Jeopardy! board, the player can either pass or play, giving the response in the form of a question out loud into their remote if they choose to answer. Anyone who’s watched Jeopardy! can seamlessly transition into playing it without learning any new rules or needing to figure out a complicated control. That simplicity alone has Netflix beat. And now that we know the new season will be recycling clues, this is a great alternative to watching other players answer questions someone else has already been asked — Roku is making Jeopardy! exciting again.
Other major streamers have dabbled in making video games a part of their libraries. Apple TV users are able to access the entire Apple Arcade catalog if the app is downloaded on their TV, playing the games just as they would on their iPhone or Mac. In November 2021, Disney+ released the limited-time interactive scavenger hunt game, Disney+ Day Green Room, in honor of the streamer’s self-created celebration. In October 2022, Peacock released the interactive escape room game, Peacock Halloween Nightmare Game, in part to promote the platform’s lineup of horror films available to stream during the holiday. And in March 2023, Hulu released an interactive game tied to the release of The History of the World, Part II, though that was only available on desktop or via XBox. (For those who prefer playing games IRL, Hulu also uses its online shop to promote Golden Girls- and Bob’s Burgers-themed analog board games.)
While those were all mostly one-offs, they did manage to tie the games to the shows and movies that viewers were already watching (or planning to watch). Netflix, meanwhile, has found success with this approach in mobile games — Too Hot to Handle: Love Is a Game is its most played game to date. Meeting audiences where they already are when watching TV, which sometimes is sitting on the couch shouting out Jeopardy! answers, can make for a more seamless experience for players and streamers.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.