YouTube is testing browser mini-games for premium users

Daniel Sims

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What just happened? Reports have long indicated YouTube's intention to begin offering games to find a new revenue stream. While nothing significant has come of the effort yet, a limited test has emerged for premium subscribers, indicating something far humbler than parent company Google's last big gaming push.

Starting this week, some YouTube Premium subscribers might begin seeing a selection of mini-games they can play directly in the service. The trial, lasting until March 28, is the latest sign that YouTube plans to enter the video game market.

Not all premium subscribers have access, but those who do should see a shelf called "Playables" on the home menu or through a link in the Explore section on the website and mobile apps. Reports indicate the small titles are HTML-5-based and start instantly without requiring significant downloads, similar to Google's Gamesnacks selection.

Rumors mentioning "Playables" on YouTube initially emerged earlier this year. The information suggested that the company wanted to enable viewers to instantly transition to a game session while viewing a related video, possibly leveraging the cloud gaming technology from Google's failed Stadia platform.

YouTube added Playables to its rotating list of experimental features available to a limited number of premium users in September, revealing a modest gaming push compared to the AAA titles Stadia offered. This week, the company widened the selection of subscribers with access, suggesting the test has progressed to the next stage.

If YouTube decides to keep and expand the feature, it would be the latest effort by the company to diversify its business and increase the perceived value of premium subscriptions, which recently received a price hike to $13.99 a month or $139.99 a year. Moreover, YouTube recently intensified its fight against ad blockers in hopes of making subscriptions the only way to watch videos without ads.

Over the last few weeks, the company has expanded a system that slows, pauses, or stops videos when the service detects ad-blocking browser extensions. Ad-block providers recorded record uninstallations following the harsh tactic, indicating success.

YouTube isn't the only streaming service to attempt a push into the gaming market. Netflix took a different route by allowing subscribers to download a curated selection of popular titles on mobile devices but is also trialing an expansion into streaming games on smart TVs, PCs, and Macs.

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