Last week, Netflix launched a Game Controller app on the App Store. Nobody knew what it was for, exactly, but it was easy to guess: The company has been talking about expanding into games for a long time, including cloud gaming or game streaming. Now, Netflix has officially announced what we expected the app was for: playing streaming games in the Netflix app on your TV. The company is starting trials now with “a small number of users” in Canada and the U.K., and will expand the test over time.
Netflix already has lots of mobile games and Apple is happy to host them in the App Store. After all, they’re just regular free iPhone games that you happen to need a Netflix login to play. There’s nothing against the rules there. But if you think Apple is going to let Netflix stream games to the Netflix app on your Apple TV, iPhone, or iPad, you’ve got another thing coming.
It doesn’t matter if you’re GeForce Now, Xbox, Luna, or what-have-you—Apple does not allow game streaming apps in its App Stores. Not on iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. Netflix has dozens of interactive TV shows and specials, and none of them will play on the Apple TV version of Netflix, presumably due to this restrictive App Store policy, which has been heralded as anti-competitive and anti-consumer, and it’s easy to see that point of view.
Apple says the issue is one of ratings and parental control. It wants every app that someone could use to have its own listing in the App Store, with its own ratings and parental control options. That seems at odds with how every non-gaming streaming service works…nobody’s worried about your iPhone parental controls working only for the entire Netflix app rather than every single piece of content on offer, for does all that media require its own rating and other data.
Currently, the Netflix cloud gaming test is accessible (to the test accounts in the affected countries) via a web browser on Mac, and you can even use your mouse and keyboard for control. And it only offers two games: Oxenfree (one of Netflix’s mobile apps) and Molehew’s Mining Adventure (a new game). One possible path to getting Netflix game streaming on the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad might be if Netflix only streams games that also are available as individual App Store games.
I’m not sure if that would satisfy Apple’s seemingly arbitrary protectionist App Store policies, but it doesn’t seem as though that’s really what Netflix is going for anyway. The whole point is to stream the kinds of games you can’t just quickly and easily play on your phone.
If you’re excited about the prospect of game streaming to your TV being a value-added part of your Netflix subscription and you’re an Apple user, don’t hold your breath for the rollout of this feature. You’ll be able to use it almost any streaming box or built-in smart TV app except for the most powerful and capable streaming hardware around: Apple TV.