Netflix establishes an internal games studio in Helsinki, led by former Zynga GM

Netflix’s push into the mobile gaming market continues with today’s announcement the streamer is establishing an internal games studio based in Helsinki, Finland, led by the co-founder and general manager of the Zygna Helsinki game development studio, Marko Lastikka. The studio will be the fourth for Netflix, joining others including Next Games, Night School Studio and Boss Fight Entertainment, each designed to develop games catering to different tastes, the company said.

The streamer says it chose to locate its newest studio in Helsinki because it’s already home to some of the best game talent in the world. Notably, the location will also serve as the first studio Netflix will be building from scratch.

To date, the company has made deals and acquisitions to gain its way into the mobile gaming market.

Earlier this year, it acquired Finland-based Next Games, founded by a former Rovio exec, and the publisher behind Stranger Things and Walking Dead games, for $72 million. It also this year bought the Allen, Texas-based studio, Boss Fight Entertainment.

Meanwhile, Glendale, California-based Night School Studio — the first games studio to join Netflix┬ájust released its first title for the streaming service, Oxenfree, at the company’s Tudum fan event over the weekend. The game is Netflix’s version of the original 2016 title but now comes with no ads or in-app purchases and includes localization support.

The new Helsinki games studio is being led by director Marko Lastikka, who previously worked at Zynga since January 2017, helping to develop Farmville 3. Prior to Zynga, the exec also worked as a GM and executive producer at Electronic Arts, developing the SimCity BuildIt mobile games for iOS and Android. Before that, Lastikka spent more than eight years at Digital Chocolate.

Netflix, in an announcement, said it’s still early days for its mobile gaming efforts and new games can take years to build — a suggestion that its long-term vision for mobile gaming goes far beyond the more casual gaming releases it has, so far, made available to subscribers. Since launching its mobile games service in November 2021, the streamer has added dozens of titles to its lineup, all offering the value proposition of being an ad-free experience without in-app purchases. Netflix has said it aims to have more than 50 titles in the lineup by year-end.

So far, however, the company hasn’t seen outsized demand for its games. Mobile app data provider Apptopia recently found that Netflix games were only averaging 1.7 million daily users and its total catalog had seen just 23.3 million downloads as of August, despite Netflix’s overall subscriber base then having 221 million members.

But Netflix’s vision for gaming stretches beyond the sort of one-off deals with studios it’s made to license games for its catalog, as today’s announcement indicates. Plus, the company has been spotted developing new features which would allow users to do more with its games. For instance, they can now establish unique game handles in select titles, including The Breach, Bowling Ballers, Mahjong Solitaire and its version of Heads Up! It’s also working on other social gaming features, like leaderboards and ways to see when others are online or invite them to play.

The company hasn’t provided more details about its plans for its new Helsinki studio, like the headcount planned for the location or the number or type of projects it will develop in the months to come, but said it will share more further down the road.