Utomik promises ‘Netflix for games’ but its library is an underwhelming collection of oldies

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Utomik! Sounds like a stiff drink, but no. Utomik is a subscription-based games service that launched yesterday, angling to be ‘Netflix for games’ (sound familiar?) It’s currently offering a library of approximately 750 games for either $7 or $10 per month, depending on whether you want to share the account with your little sister or not. I signed up and took a stroll through its library, fingering a few tomes here and there. And while it was fast and performed well, there wasn’t a lot I wanted to play. It’s less Netflix for games and more “Spotify for older games you already own or don’t want”.

I played a bit of Metro 2033: Last Light, which needed to download 1.41 GB before I could get playing. With a decent connection this was speedy enough, and the game itself ran well. I shot some mutos, meandered through my Russian hovel, and set some cobwebs on fire. It’s still a good shooter. When I checked again, peeping into the Utomik client, the game had downloaded over 5 GB, so for bigger games space remains an issue, even if it is a reduced one.

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But when I emerge from the mutant-infested subway tunnels and look for other games, it’s clear that the line-up is underwhelming. The big hitters include the Batman Arkham games, Borderlands the first, Saints Row IV, and any amount of both LEGO and Star Wars. Beyond these it’s a sparser plate than it first looks.

Some genres fare worse than others. Racing fans are out of luck, unless they want to play… *squints at notes*… Death Track Resurrection. The Survival “channel” doesn’t house a single game I’d classify as a traditional tree puncher, instead clamouring together games like Dead Island: Riptide, Shelters 1 and 2, and The Flame in the Flood. The Platformer channel is an especially disappointing menu, with the noughties Prince of Persia games picking up the slack and Sonic 4 cursing the top row with its presence, twice. It’s a good-looking, well-constructed set of menus, but aside from these highlights and a few other decent oldies, it’s like having a subscription to a bargain bin.

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I play a couple more games anyway. Crazy Taxi wouldn’t run in full-screen (probably a result of its age rather than a limit imposed by Utomik) but it did fill my nostrils with stimulating nostalgia. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II had some pop-in during cinematics, but this might have been present in the original – it’s been that long since I played it (sidenote: it’s still fun to telepathically lift a Stormtrooper and see them grab onto their friend for help, only for both troopers to be hoisted, twisting and squirming into the sky).

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But I’m doubtful the subscription is worth these isolated moments of remembrance. Comparing it to Netflix doesn’t help. “We are proud to be an integral part in bringing the Netflix and Spotify model to the world of video games,” they say in their press release. But Netflix is instant, it doesn’t take up space on your hard drive, and it is packed to the point of paralysis with things you’d want to watch. It also runs on absolutely anything, from trashy laptop to flashy iThing to a clever clogs television. Utomik is fast and slick, but it is no Netflix.

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There’s also the lingering question of whether it’ll catch on, attracting more publishers. Lest we forget, very similar companies have bumbled down this same road. Even now, OnePlay does the same thing for a slightly higher price and slightly larger library of games. OnLive came and went, as did GameTap. PlayStation Now lets you pay monthly to pretend you own a PlayStation, provided you have the internet speed to do so. And there was also Metaboli, Dominic reminds me (joke’s on him, I’ve never heard of it). In other words, the Netflix of gaming seems like a Holy Grail, or at the most optimistic, a Richard III skeleton buried somewhere in an unknown car park.

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Utomik looks the part. It’s got a nice font. Importantly, it functions smoothly from what I played. But in a world of Steam sales, free weekends, and GOG back catalogues, I wouldn’t pay 7-10 dollars a month to sift through a pile of exhausted game worlds. The company are promising 20+ games a month from now on, with IO Interactive signed up to provide some Hitman games (although they don’t say which ones). Likewise, other future additions are unknown. You could get Dark Souls, or you could get another Death Track Resurrection.

There’s a 14-day trial, if you are interested in seeing for yourself, although it is one of those free trials that requires your credit card details, with the onus on you not to forget and end up staying subscribed out of sheer laziness. But to be fair to Utomik, they make it very easy to cancel. I did it here.

31 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    “But Netflix is instant, it doesn’t take up space on your hard drive, and it is packed to the point of paralysis with things you’d want to watch.”

    I’d argue that Netflix is now a lot like you describe Utomik – the days of getting anything you desire are long past, and between 85 and 90 percent of the films on my ‘want to watch’ list aren’t available on Netflix. There was an article a few years back about how Netflix was using datamining and the culture of binge watching to avoid the (really unreasonably high) licensing fees – instead of it being “we have what you want,” it became “you want what we have.” Netflix originals are an extension of this, and even that’s a gamble (Netflix is bleeding money, the assumption is that catalog will provide a ‘long tail’ that pays for itself relative to high licensing fees for external content).

    In the modern world, the only legal way to watch the vast majority of media is still physical media; and as physical media fades, much of our culture will be (legally) lost.

    • Carra says:

      Netflix is very poor when it comes down to movie choice. And yeah, they don’t have quite a few series I’d like to watch.

      Still, they have enough series on there that I have trouble catching up. Still got to watch a new season of the Americans, Killjoys, Designated Survivor, Outlander, Colony, Stranger Things and Bloodline…

    • Sic says:

      Netflix wasn’t all that bad when one could still use a VPN connection to get access to all their content.

      Now that it’s all regional they’re horrendous, though. There’s maybe something like 5 percent of their content that is interesting. The rest is, well, mostly garbage.

      What I don’t get is why there isn’t a service for films. I’d kill for a proper film archive. Simply having the films of Masters of Cinema, The Criterion Collection and Artificial Eye would be a start. It should be a thing.

      • Frank says:

        The Criterion Collection is online at filmstruck already. Before filmstruck, it was somewhere else, and somewhere else before that. link to gizmodo.com

        In my opinion, Netflix’s collection has been getting better, not worse. I’d much rather see a few interesting foreign TV shows than the 80s action garbage it was filled with when my subscription started. (Maybe that junk is still there, but I don’t see it because I gave it a thumbs down.) I don’t expect Netflix to have everything I want to watch, and am willing to pay per-show or -film if I want to see something in particular (eg, on Amazon or Youtube) … Anyway, their data mining is serving me fine.

      • Pink Gregory says:

        The BFI has a streaming/rental service, I don’t think they do HD streaming or anything close to a Criterion Collection Blu-Ray quality, but you get access to a good variety of acclaimed films. All of Akira Kurosawa/Werner Herzog at least.

    • Shinard says:

      To be fair, there are enough good originals on there, and I’ve got a decent collection of films to watch on there. And I’d say “in the modern world, the only legal way to watch the vast majority of media is still physical media” is really underselling it, between all the online rental services you have a pretty solid collection. Not everything, of course, but still.

    • malkav11 says:

      That’s not something Netflix has become (if anything, they have a larger collection now than ever before). It’s something their streaming service has always been. You don’t go there to watch a particular movie, or even a particular show (unless they make it…and they do have a better selection of shows, presumably because they’re cheaper and more popular), because odds have never been good they’ll have it. But they do have 300+ shows or films I’m at least notionally interested in, or so my list would lead me to believe.

      Also, for what it’s worth, I find they focus more on the sort of stuff that I’d have a hard time seeing in the theaters – foreign films and the like – and that would be my preference even if it weren’t presumably cheaper for them.

  2. mmandthetat says:

    “Like having a subscription to a bargain bin.”

    So like Netflix, but for games?

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      I miss bargain bins.

      We have Steam sales and GOG sales and Humble sales and the rest now, so we’re probably better off today, I guess. But there was still something fun about rummaging around in a bin full of physical boxes and finding one gem hidden under all the junk.

      • spindaden says:

        I think that’s nostalgia colouring in your spectacles. The only thing I ever found in a bargain bin that came anywhere near being a gem was, coincidentally, crazy taxi.

        The online sales and bundles are far superior to anything we had in the physical realm.
        I get that the tactile rummage was nice, but we are all much better off doing some virtual rummaging in the online stores.

        • MadMaxHellfire says:

          No nostalgia here, I went through a bargain bin just a few years ago. And between lots and lots of garbage you could truly find something interesting here and there. Even easier with movies.
          Do you know why we don’t see those bins anymore? Because they were too good for customers. Damn, a shop of a big chain nearby is still holding onto that last copy of Warhammer Online for 50 euros.

        • mac4 says:

          *rummages through drawer* Let’s see, what have we here: Age of Empires, Total War Shogun & Medieval II, Dune Emperor, Battle For Middle Earth, a handful of Tomb Raiders, Rise of Nations, Blade Runner, Call of Duty… No, those CD sales really weren’t so bad ;)

  3. haldolium says:

    “it is one of those free trials that requires your credit card details”

    So like Netflix, but for games?

  4. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    “I wouldn’t pay 7-10 dollars a month to sift through a pile of exhausted [content]”

    So like Netflix, but for games?

  5. Nokturnal says:

    “angling to be ‘Netflix for games’”

    So like Netflix, but for games?

  6. Arathorn says:

    To be fair to Netflix, apparently in the US they do have more than a dozen movies worth watching. As a Dutchie, it does sound like Utomic’s catalogue is comparable to Netflix’. That is, you can browse through all of it in five minutes and at the end you said “meh” a couple of times at best.

  7. spacejunkk says:

    “a Richard III skeleton buried somewhere in an unknown car park”

    So like Netflix, but for games?

  8. Someoldguy says:

    So many of these online library services have come and gone. Unless they put really serious money behind one, it’s doomed to be the same level of tired, outdated material that barely features in a Steam sale any more. Valve are probably the people with enough money and clout to stock a service with enough good games, but have no incentive to do so because it competes with their model of getting you to own everything on Steam eventually when it shows up in a bundle.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      The thing is, they do have a few new/good games on the list – they’re just overshadowed by the underwhelming and old ones. So what I think is missing is curation. Why not limit the quantity to the same number of games as on Origin Access, for example?

  9. ramshackabooba says:

    I’ve been using Playstation Now since January and couldn’t be happier. Unfortunately the real deal is the $99/year option which is seasonal, it’s usually only offered around Christmas and maybe Summer (but once you get it you lock it). It has over 600 games with about 8 more added monthly, and there are very good games in there, like all the God of Wars (except obviously the very recent one), the Infamous, the LEgo games, the Telltale games, Red Dead Redemption, Last of Us, a bunch of the Metro games, and lots more.

    I have no connection issues but then again I have a very good internet connection, others may not be so lucky.

  10. cpt_freakout says:

    “I made 4210984 dollars an hour by watching Youtube Poops with my brother-in-law”

    So like Netflix, but for games?

  11. trjp says:

    I don’t understand how someone could put together a PC Gaming service without having heard of the concept of “the backlog”

    Honestly, is ANYONE here short of games they own and probably should be playing/finishing-off/at least trying??

    Utomik is also a bloody terrible name…

  12. April March says:

    There are some games in there that are somewhat interesting, but really, odds are that at some point I’ll be able to pay $7 or less for them and then I get to keep them forever. Unless you’ve got a lot of time that’s not a good value proposition.

  13. Transmit Him says:

    “But Netflix … is packed to the point of paralysis with things you’d want to watch”

    I think people forget how bad Netflix was when it first launched in the UK. It had next to nothing of note on there, just random, forgotten movies like 1941 and Summer School. Everyone I knew who tried it back then said how terrible it was. It was a good couple of years before it became worthwhile, let alone popular.

    • epeternally says:

      Video games are a very different medium, though, and in a lot of ways they aren’t well suited to the streaming model. A given game can take anywhere between eight and one hundred fifty hours to complete. That’s a much bigger time investment than even binge watching a season of a TV series. An average player probably isn’t going to finish more than 2-3 games each month, which seriously undermines the value proposition of having access to a huge library. Especially when games are already dirt cheap. Utomik aren’t competing with the $20 DVD model like Netflix was early on, they’re competing with services like Humble Monthly which already offer a much better value than their product.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lo says:

        I can’t believe I never thought of this but you’re so right. You also can’t keep an entire season of Telltale games on in the background while you do chores or exercise like you can with e.g Star Trek.

  14. Astaa says:

    If it was full of old games, that I owned years ago on disk, that I could stream, then fine. But it appears to be full of old-ish games that I already own digitally and therefore haven’t lost in a move, thrown away or are no longer compatible.

    I can’t see a place for it, if I am honest.

  15. NuclearSword says:

    “Lest we forget, very similar companies have bumbled down this same road. Even now, OnePlay does the same thing for a slightly higher price and slightly larger library of games. OnLive came and went, as did GameTap. PlayStation Now lets you pay monthly to pretend you own a PlayStation, provided you have the internet speed to do so. And there was also Metaboli, Dominic reminds me (joke’s on him, I’ve never heard of it).”

    Hey now, you forgot to forget the “Netflix of Games” for indie games specifically too, JUMP. Which…. well, you’re 100% right about these things so it doesn’t matter, but at least JUMP has a focus. If these services insist on existing, the least they could do is curate and seek out specifics in this day and age, where thousands of games come out all the time and many are doomed to obscurity. These services won’t succeed, but at least they could highlight things that are lost on Steam or whatever – have a unique flavor, y’know? Then maybe, at least, some people will remember you when you’re gone.

  16. Nolenthar says:

    I am quite amazed that GeForce now is not listed as a streaming service, because it surely is one. Kicking and alive.

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