All your apps are turning into gaming platforms
- YouTube is officially testing in-platform games called ‘Playables.’
- Netflix, TikTok, and Teams have also made similar forays into gaming.
- The diversification highlights apps’ constant competition for our attention.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that YouTube had begun testing its new gaming initiative, ‘Playables,’ with the public. The video platform updated its list of tests and experimental features to announce that a limited number of users are now able to try out these “games that can be played directly on YouTube on both desktop and mobile devices.”
We first heard about Playables in June via an internal email from Google read by the Wall Street Journal, in which employees were invited to test it out. Gaming is one of the few forms of media that YouTube has yet to diversify into – having already made forays into podcasting, short-form videos, shopping, music, TV, movies, and more. So, if it truly wants to become a one-stop shop for every entertainment format, gaming is a logical next step.
However, it is by far the only platform to add gaming to its arsenal in recent months. After the success of its ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style series’ in the late 2010s, Netflix hired an executive to oversee a new gaming division.
It then started making its own mobile games in 2021, some of which are themed on Netflix’s most successful shows like Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit, and The Walking Dead, while others are reboots of pre-existing games like Samurai Shodown. These games are available to download in app stores as stand-alone apps that can be launched through the Netflix platform.
However, last month, the streaming service kicked off its first public tests of cloud-streamed games which can be played on the TV or web. It has also started hiring a team to develop its own ‘AAA PC game,’ with the creative director being the former head of creative for Halo Infinite.
Jenny McBean, the Head of Gaming Insights at Bryter consulting agency, told TechHQ: “Gaming is expanding and evolving, but also the lines between gaming and other entertainment mediums are blurring. Consumers are looking more and more towards transmedia-type models, where they can continue to explore and experience their favourite franchises or universes in different ways, from TV series or films, to video games and comics.”
Last summer, TikTok started adding minigames to the video platform, made available for select users, to test the waters of its own gaming initiative. In February, it ran a live quiz game called ‘TikTok Trivia,’ where users could play along on the Live channel, answering questions with the possibility of splitting prize money at the end. There have also been rumblings that it is working on a feature that would allow creators to engage with fans while livestreaming their in-app gameplay.
But it is not exclusively entertainment platforms that are exploring gaming. Microsoft Teams introduced the ‘Games For Work’ app last November, which lets professionals play ‘SFW’ games like Solitaire and Minesweeper together to help “foster work connections”. Just a few weeks ago, a Teams widget was added to the Xbox Game Bar, which lets users stream their gameplay via the business app.
So why are all these platforms diversifying into the $250 billion gaming industry? Extra streams of revenue would be the obvious answer.
These days, all apps and services are competing with each other for your precious time and attention. While this may be obvious in the cases of Netflix vs. HBO Max vs. Disney Plus vs. Amazon Prime, these streaming players also count social media apps like TikTok and Instagram as their opponents.
All the squares on your smartphone are keen to absorb any activities you currently complete outside of their platform, including gaming. In a quarterly earnings report from 2019, Netflix said “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO.”
Louise Wooldridge, the research manager for games at market research firm Ampere Analysis, told TechHQ: “Non-gaming companies often only excel in one area of the value chain: for example, they have great infrastructure or technological capabilities, or they own popular, original IP. Very few have all the necessary components from the get-go to establish an immediately successful games business.
“Nowadays, companies are in constant and intense competition for our attention, which has become increasingly valuable as various types of media and entertainment have become more accessible and more diverse.”
But setting up a new gaming platform is not a simple task, as demonstrated by Google Stadia, which was shut down in January. The cloud gaming service was launched in late 2019 during a global graphics card and chip shortage, and just before everyone went home for an extended period of time thanks to a global pandemic – the perfect conditions.
However, Google made a few fatal errors, the most notable of which was in its pricing model. Paying subscribers only had access to a handful of games, while the majority required a further payment. Trying to compete with bigger players like Xbox Cloud Gaming and PlayStation Plus – both of which offered significantly more free-to-subscriber games – put Stadia on the back foot.
It also shuttered the studio responsible for creating content for Stadia, Stadia Games and Entertainment, in 2021, with renowned department head Jade Raymond taking many senior staff with her to the studio she then founded.
But YouTube’s gaming foray may stand a better chance, as the video platform is already a popular destination for the gaming community. According to a blog post from global head of gaming Ryan Wyatt, YouTube saw over 800 billion gaming-related views in the first half of 2021.
Casual social media users are also looking for more interactivity in their content these days. Passively reading, listening, and watching simply doesn’t cut it anymore, and we will click or scroll away before ever reaching the end, potentially thanks to shrinking attention spans.
Live streaming, where viewers can comment on the content as it is being created, is an interactive media format that is increasing in popularity. Research has found that the average viewer spends around 25.4 minutes watching live video per viewing session, compared to about 19 minutes for video on demand. It is so popular that savvy creators and brands utilize it as a lucrative revenue stream, for example, through shopping channels or by reacting to online ‘stickers’ paid for by users as an ‘NPC.’
Games also fall under the remit of interactive content. Netflix Stories: Love is Blind is one of the latest games from Netflix, allowing players to experience the reality TV show by making choices that dictate where the story goes. The streamer plans to release more games themed on other popular series like Money Heist and Virgin River.
Ms Wooldridge said: “Capturing just a moment of our time is more difficult now than ever before, and so many companies are seeking ways to maintain consumer attention for longer, and also to seize attention away from competing platforms.
“In this way, branching out into games is a way of keeping consumers within the company’s own ecosystem – offering them everything they might want or need on a single platform or hub. Including games can also be a point of differentiation, versus other content or service providers.”
29 February 2024
29 February 2024