In Netflix “Squid Game” mania has overtaken the gaming landscape, with a wave of titles gamifying the show’s action sequences rising in popularity.
If anybody is primed to be the “Netflix of gaming” — a long-discussed aspiration of video game streaming services — you’d think it would be Netflix. This week’s long-awaited launch of games on Netflix comes at an auspicious time: “Squid Game” mania has overtaken the gaming landscape, with a wave of titles gamifying the show’s action sequences rising in popularity. But the streaming platform’s initial video game offerings do nothing to capitalize on that, despite Netflix owning the popular show. Of all the “Squid Game” copycat video games, not one is made by or belongs to Netflix.
Earlier this year, the gaming industry fervently speculated as rumors and reports suggested that Netflix — the reigning heavyweight champion of living rooms across the world — was about to enter the video game arena. Flash forward to now: On Tuesday, Netflix added several previously released games (and one newcomer) to its Android mobile app. These releases have failed to garner much excitement. On platforms like Steam, YouTube and Twitch, however, players can’t get enough of fan-made games based on Netflix’s latest TV sensation, “Squid Game.”
Case in point: The boldly named “Crab Game” has managed to pull in tens of thousands of concurrent players on PC gaming platform Steam each day since it launched on Oct. 29. Twitch viewers have turned out in similar numbers to watch their favorite streamers play it — and in some cases, play it with them. Created by Daniel Sooman, a solo developer and YouTuber who goes by the handle “Dani,” “Crab Game” hardly sports the polished sheen you’d associate with a popular Netflix property, but it doesn’t need to. The allure of “Squid Game”-esque challenges paired with online multiplayer has been enough to transform it into an overnight hit. The fact that it’s free probably hasn’t hurt either.
Dani, who has nearly 3 million subscribers on YouTube, went on to say that making these sorts of videos more than recoups the cost of game development, even when he releases games free. “If you can get millions of views on every video, you are earning more than enough money,” he said.
“Crab Game” follows an explosion of fan-made “Squid Game” clones, particularly in games that enable players to create their own content like “Minecraft” and “Roblox,” as well as on mobile devices. For the past month and change, these games have formed the backbone of countless YouTubers’ content; in fact, many younger people may have hopped aboard the “Squid Game” bandwagon not because of the TV show, but because of tense minigames they watched their favorite personalities try (and often fail) to overcome. Perhaps it’s not ideal for a show with “Squid Game’s” openly anti-capitalist message to have been reduced to a series of endlessly commodifiable games and pieces of iconography, but that has undeniably aided its viral spread.
The future, meanwhile, is full of thornier questions: As subscription-based video game services grow, will companies like Microsoft and Netflix adapt their business models to match? Will they continue to pay video game publishers lump sums for placement on their platforms, or will they adapt Spotify-style “per play” models? Developers fear the “per play” model could corral them into making specific types of games designed to keep players coming back indefinitely. Microsoft, for example, is already experimenting with models based on “usage and monetization” in addition to upfront payments.
With all the proprietary technology and subscription gating it implies, a potential subscription-based future for video games also endangers the sort of openness that allowed fans to create and proliferate their own takes on “Squid Game.” Right now, multiple game platforms and games allow users to upload their own content and, in some cases, sell their own video games. But a company like Netflix might not be so keen to let that happen if they saw those games as competition or a legal liability as opposed to free marketing.
At this point, nothing is guaranteed. The video game industry is a massive, constantly shifting landscape that has thwarted numerous big companies. Netflix is, well, Netflix, but it’s in no way immune to those trends. This slow start seems to be at least somewhat by design, but it also means that Netflix is going to have to work hard if it wants to catch up to both Microsoft and its own fans — a tall order in both directions.