HBO Follows Netflix Into Free Phone Games

HBO Follows Netflix Into Free Phone Games
Photo: Vivien Killilea / Stringer, Getty Images

Continuing the bizarre streaming-platforms-now-do-free-mobile-gaming tradition recently pioneered by Netflix, HBO announced on Monday that it is partnering with Glow Up Games, a company founded by women of colour, to produce a free mobile offering based on the original hit series Insecure.

In a press release, HBO said that Insecure: The Come Up Game, as the project is currently known, brings players into the world of the show’s main character, Issa Dee, bringing her “friendships, drama, and misadventures to life.” What any of that means from a gaming perspective isn’t immediately clear, although the game will reportedly include features that allow users to rap battle in a “fast-paced rhyme and lyric mini game” and storylines that grant players the ability to “support your friends, fight gentrification, [and] create the culture.” Again, none of that makes it totally obvious how any of this will translate to a playable game, but it seems clear that the game’s main goal will be to help players relive their favourite moments from the series.

“At Glow Up Games, our mission is to create innovative game stories that centre 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,” Glow Up Games CEO Dr. Mitu Khandaker said in a statement.

HBO’s announcement comes on the heels of Netflix expanding its slate of free mobile games earlier this month, with two of those based on its hit original series Stranger Things. Both of those games are playable enough, even if they read as obvious trailers for the series they’re based off of, and the streamer has said that they exist as a way to lure new subscribers to the platform and keep existing customers entertained — something HBO is undoubtedly also betting on. At the end of the day, though, it’s a confusing gambit: Are stale mobile games really enough to compel people to open up their wallets and subscribe to a new streaming service, or is content still the main driver of new subscriptions?

And you know what, while we’re asking the tough questions here, it’s worth wondering out loud why HBO — with its slate of high-fantasy and sci-fi shows that includes Westworld, Game of Thrones, and Lovecraft Country — would spring for an Insecure RPG to kick off its gaming initiative. Is Insecure’s (presumably 30ish) fan base the one they’ve pegged as the gaming set, or would the ostensibly younger crowd that’s rabidly awaiting the second season of Euphoria have been a better market to target?

The biggest question by far, though, is still what exactly streamers see the payoff of these free mobile games as being, and to that end, only time will tell. A sneak peak of The Come Up Game is currently available for free download in the App Store on iOS, and new content and feature updates are scheduled to roll out throughout 2022.