How Netflix is using 'Too Hot to Handle' games to build its reality TV audience

Reality show contestants are fiercely protective of how they look on screen. For Chloe Veitch, one of the breakout stars of Netflix’s risque dating series “Too Hot to Handle,” that kind of intense image control now includes her appearance as a digital character in the company’s mobile video games.

Her digital avatar is prominently featured in a series of Netflix games based on the streaming giant’s reality programs, including “Too Hot to Handle,” in which scantily clad contestants must form romantic connections while being penalized for getting frisky. Her animated persona appears as a “love guru” guiding players through the gaming experience.

“The game version of me is almost identical,” Veitch said in an interview, noting that the game designers painstakingly copied her multiple tattoos. “Obviously it doesn’t get spots, it doesn’t have hormone imbalances, so I’m quite jealous, to be honest with you.”

She added, “I’ve said to the team when we were first developing me into the game — you need to make sure my boobs look big.”

The reality-show-inspired games are part of Netflix’s growing library of mobile-only interactive offerings, which are available to the streaming service’s subscribers.

The company’s gaming service has about 100 titles, including 13 that are based on Netflix original programs. The Los Gatos, Calif., streamer hopes that by providing these ad-free games for users, it will increase the amount of time people spend with the service. It’s also looking to use its gaming operation to promote its programming and prevent subscriber “churn,” or cancellations.

Netflix on Thursday announced four new additions to its gaming roster: “Netflix Stories: Perfect Match,” “Netflix Stories: Selling Sunset,” “Too Hot to Handle 3” and “The Ultimatum: Choices,” all based on the company’s reality programs. The games will launch in tandem with new seasons of the shows.

The idea is that by offering games on smartphones, Netflix can keep viewers engaged even between seasons of such popular shows as “Too Hot to Handle,” “Selling Sunset” and “Love is Blind,” increasing the likelihood that they’ll tune in again.

“It is that amplification effect that if you love the show or you love the game, there is another iteration for you to immerse yourself in, to enjoy that world,” said Brandon Riegg, Netflix’s vice president of nonfiction series.

In the games, players get to design their own characters and take part in choose-your-own adventure-style stories. The outcomes can be as racy as a romance novel. With the “Too Hot to Handle” games, for example, players must choose whether to stay chaste with the other animated contestants or break the rules by making out or having sex in a suite.

Netflix has not released numbers to gauge the performance of its games business. But third-party data suggest reality-show-based games have performed well for Netflix. “Too Hot to Handle: Love is a Game,” released in 2022, had an estimated 5.9 million installs, ranking it as the fourth most popular Netflix mobile game since November 2021, according to data firm Appfigures.

“These will be great hooks to draw in new users but also can be a great incentive to prevent losing users,” said Randy Nelson, head of insights at Appfigures. “It keeps them in that Netflix world longer, and they’re exposed to more Netflix content. In the long run, this will be a pretty big positive for Netflix.”

Netflix began acquiring game studios in 2021 as it expanded into the popular entertainment medium. The company has released titles based on its original programs, as well as offerings from the studios it acquired. It also licenses from other firms to make games based on franchises such as “Grand Theft Auto.” Since inception, Netflix games have achieved 119 million downloads, Appfigures estimates.

Netflix declined to comment on third-party download figures. In a January earnings presentation, Netflix co-Chief Executive Greg Peters said the company had “tripled game engagement over the last year.” Netflix games remain a small part of the company’s overall business, which has 270 million subscribers globally.

Subscribers have spent hours playing the reality-show-based games, Netflix executives told The Times. As with the shows themselves, the games tend to attract a female audience.

In some cases, players first discover the games and then later watch the reality series they are based on. In other cases, fans of the show pick up the games.

“Games can fuel fandom, but they can also create it,” said Sarah Springwater, director of story for Netflix Stories, the library of interactive fiction games based on the company’s programs.

The stories in games like “Too Hot to Handle 3” and “The Ultimatum: Choices” branch out depending on the decisions players make. Those games have more than 15 possibly endings. That gives players room to explore and stay engaged for longer, said Leanne Loombe, who leads external game development for Netflix.

“The thing with games is that they definitely allow you to engage over the longer period of time, and that’s the opportunity that we see,” Loombe said.

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