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HBO Enters Mobile Gaming Going Toe-to-Toe with Netflix with ‘Insecure: The Come Up Game’

Riley Van Steward

HBO announced that fans can further explore the world of “Insecure” from creator Issa Rae through a mobile game: Insecure: The Come Up Game. Available in the Apple App Store, the game is one of HBO’s first free gaming properties and comes hot on the heels of Netflix’s own entrance into the space. The studio says that they will be updating content and features throughout the next year.

“At Glow Up Games, our mission is to create innovative game stories that center black and brown joy, and as huge fans of ‘Insecure’, this could not have been a more perfect place for us to do just that,” said Dr. Mitu Khandaker, CEO of Glow Up Games. “I’m proud of the amazing, diverse team that my cofounder Latoya Peterson and I have built together, as we endeavor to change the games industry in the way that Issa is changing Hollywood!” True to the ethos of “Insecure,” Glow Up Games was entirely founded by women of color.

The announcement stated that features of the game include:

  • Unleash your inner rap star: Your Mirror B*tch always has your back as you hype yourself up for major events with a fast-paced rhyme and lyric mini game. Stay on beat and unlock new words to dominate your opponents at open mic. Battle local rappers at open mic night to become LA’s hottest new act.
  • Design your life: Who will you be? Select from dozens of options to fully express yourself. Hair, accessories, and special clothing items all reflect the diversity of a life in full color.
  • Run Your City: Unlock new locations to experience custom story arcs, exclusive product drops, and special cameos. Your apartment is your self-care oasis, allowing you to reset your mood, text your squad, and recharge before more drama pops off at the club.
  • Impact Your Community: Support your friends, fight gentrification, create the culture - dating is fun, but it’s only a part of your story.

HBO isn’t the first streaming entrant into the free mobile gaming market. Netflix has long eyed the category as the next step in their business strategy. “We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation, and unscripted TV,” the company said in its 2021 2Q shareholder letter. Putting gaming on par with animation and original films should tell HBO and other streaming competitors exactly how serious Netflix is. The success of Netflix’s animated series “Arcane” and original film “Red Notice” have forever altered the industry, and Netflix undoubtedly plans to do the same with gaming.

After tests in Poland, Italy and Spain, Netflix released their first slate of games worldwide including Stranger Things 1984, Stranger Things 3, Shooting Hoops, Card Blast and Teeter Up.

During his company’s Q3 earnings call, Netflix Chief Product Officer Greg Peters teased the idea that his company might be interested in creating an internal games development studio in addition to partner-produced and licensed development projects, following the company’s three-pronged approach to its original video content. “[An] internal game development capability, which allows us to really push the edges on interactive storytelling and [ask the question] “How do we bridge that more tightly with linear storytelling?” on the linear side. We want to build that up, and one way we can accelerate that is, when we find the right opportunity, through acquisition, similar to what we did with Night School.”

In September, Netflix acquired Night School Studios, a small studio started by Sean Krankel and Adam Hines in 2014, Night School Studio is best known for their critically acclaimed debut game, OXENFREE. Now, the team’s future games will fall under the Netflix banner. Outside of interactive experiences like “You vs. Wild” and “Escape the Undertaker,” Netflix stealth-released a VR game based on its “Eden” universe earlier this year.

Peters reiterated that future acquisitions would be “opportunistic” and said, “don’t expect us to go on a buying spree,” which was backed by CFO Spencer Neumann who said, “Based on our track record, you know we’re fairly selective…but when an opportunity presents itself where we’re aligned with the company, I think that’s an opportunity we’ll take.”

In the past, HBO has generally licensed their intellectual properties to studios they believe in for passion projects. And “Game of Thrones” has been the vast majority of their gaming portfolio, previously releasing GoT: A Telltale Games Series in 2014, Reigns: GoT in 2018, Kekubian Assassin in 2018, GoT: Conquest in 2020 and GoT Beyond the Wall in 2020. Announced in March, “Insecure: The Come Up Game” is the next property in a long line of content wars spilling over into interactive mediums with increasing rapidity.

If HBO takes further cues from Netflix’s strategy, they might consider purchasing Glow Up Games. The synergies between the two companies could produce similar mobile gaming titles to “Insecure: The Come Up Game” for their other progressive shows such as “The Sex Lives of College Girls” and “Sort Of.” However HBO proceeds, they will have to act quickly and dramatically if they hope to surpass Netflix.

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