Netflix denies a report that it’s entering the gaming market, but says it is expanding its lineup to include a new game-related, “interactive” narrative series called “Minecraft: Story Mode.” The new series will be the latest addition to its growing collection of interactive stories, which include kid-friendly titles like “Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout,” “Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale,” and “Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile.”
According to a recent report from TechRadar, Netflix is partnering with Telltale Games to bring game experiences to its TV service, starting with a Minecraft game.
Netflix is now clarifying that it’s not a “game,” exactly, it’s an interactive story.
The company announced a year ago it would begin experimenting with a new way to stream video, through “choose your own adventure”-style stories that allow viewers to pick what happens next. This allows for the same story to have multiple variations.
It’s the sort of thing that would have never been possible through traditional linear TV, but is enabled through an online platform like Netflix. The stories could also make for a selling point for families with younger children, in terms of being a differentiating feature for its service.
The company confirms that “Minecraft: Story Mode” is a licensed 5-episode interactive narrative series that will be coming to its service this fall, in partnership with Telltale. The gaming publisher Telltale Games already offers “Minecraft: Story Mode” across other platforms, including Steam, game consoles, Google Play and the App Store.
While Telltale and others consider “Minecraft: Story Mode” to be a type of game, Netflix does not. It’s a narrative you work your way through, similar to the others, it believes. (The story does take place in the Minecraft universe, however.)
“We don’t have any plans to get into gaming,” a Netflix spokesperson said, in response to TechRadar’s report. “There’s a broad spectrum of entertainment available today. Games have become increasingly cinematic, but we view this as interactive narrative storytelling on our service,” they explained.
Meanwhile, the other gaming project TechRadar had uncovered – a game related to the Netflix hit “Stranger Things” – is something that will launch in Telltale’s platform at a later date, Netflix says. It’s not a game coming to Netflix’s service, and is instead part of Netflix’s ongoing marketing and title promotion efforts.
The company already has a Stranger Things game today, and often promotes its shows in other ways on mobile. For example, it launched a standalone “Orange is the New Black” app back in 2014, and when it was promoting the new season of “Arrested Development,” it introduced a “FakeBlock” app.
“Stranger Things” lends itself more to a mobile gaming format, though. And Netflix does use video games to drive awareness of its brand and content.
As the company stated in a recent job posting for a Manager of Interactive Licensing:
We are pursuing video games because we believe it will drive meaningful show awareness/buzz and allow fans to “play” our most popular content. We want the interactive category to help promote our titles so they become part of the zeitgeist for longer periods of time and we want to use games as a marketing tactic to capture demand and delight our member community.
Of course, interactive stories do blur the line between games and narrative storytelling – something that’s a newer trend across online platforms these days. For example, one of Apple’s Design Award winners this year was a part-story, part-game called “Florence,” which involved both narrative elements and interactive features.
To what extent these work as well on Netflix’s platform as they do on smartphones still remains to be seen, given that the format is still new to streaming services. Time will tell if it’s worth the continued investment, of if Netflix’s experimentation will one day conclude.