Choose-Your-Own-Adventure In The Modern Age

Pascal Potvin

How Netflix’s new choose-your-own-adventure format impacts broadcasting, advertising, and parenting

 

Netflix has recently unveiled a new interactive programming format in which viewers can have a choose-your-own-adventure style (CYOA) viewing experience. The format is an exclusive feature for kids shows (for now).

Pretty cool, right?

 

 

While watching these interactive shows, viewers will have the option of controlling the story. At key moments during the viewing experience, they will be presented with a few options that put them in charge of the storyline. Each option branches the viewer into a different narrative. This allows young viewers to experience their favorite episodes several times over in order to explore different paths and different outcomes. A great way to get kids (or anyone for that matter) to focus their attention on the story at hand.

Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, the first CYOA release, will provide 13 opportunities to shape a story, featuring two possible endings. Viewers will be able to wrap things up in as little as 18 minutes, or as long as 39 minutes.

However, the real achievement here is that users will have a whopping 3,000 possible permutations of how the story could go. Yes…3,000!

So, if you’re like me and trying to get your kids to go play outside… well, this might not help.

Unfortunately, this new service might not be available to all as only a few platforms have confirmed its support. Puss in Book launches globally but to date, only Smart TVs, some streaming media players, games consoles and iOS devices have been confirmed as supported platforms. The Netflix website, Android devices, Chromecast, and Apple TV have confirmed that they will not support this new feature — although, If it takes off and gets a lot of attention, they might be quick to follow.

As a kid, I used to love reading the CYOA stories published by Bantam Books. Stuck in the house on a rainy day, we did not have 200 channels of HD shows to entertain us. Video games like Pong, Frostbite, Pitfall or Pac-Man were fun, but not as engaging as the games today. Therefore, we had to be creative or well…read. We reverted to a series of books where we got to choose which door to open, who to fight, and where to go next. It’s hard to believe, but this year the CYOA brand of stories celebrates 30 years!

I suddenly don’t feel as young anymore.

 

 

A decade after the CYOA genre released, an interactive DVD called The Abominable Snowman brought video to the playing field. Same concept, new medium. This was also used more recently in the DVD of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Think of shows such as Sesame Street (or Dora for you younger readers), how many times did we talk back to the television set when asked a question? Characters engaging with audiences are more approachable and will undoubtedly be used in the Netflix CYOA brand of shows.

So how do I personally feel about Netflix’s new interactive format? This is kind of a 2-point answer which I will walk you through: as a father and a designer.

As a parent, I’m struggling to get my kids to do anything else besides stare at a screen. Video games have become so advanced that you can’t help but get addicted. Not to mention the huge variety of cartoons available all day long. Now Netflix comes along and adds this super cool feature? I can already see my kids fighting over who gets to chose the outcome or path a character will take.

Did I mention 3,000 possible permutations of how the story could go?

          

However professionally, I see things differently. As a designer and fan of technology, this is freaking awesome. I can only imagine all the future possibilities arising from this new service. If this is done right, I definitely see kids interacting and watching episodes over and over again just to see all the possibilities and outcomes. Engaging and asking kids to take action is an excellent way to get them involved. It both harnesses the kids’ attention and takes advantage of their innate creativity. This method has proven to help kids retain more of the information and also makes it way more approachable. At school, kids will share stories on the path they chose which in return will engage more audiences.

Can you imagine if this service would have been available in a show like Stranger Things? Man…imagine all the twists, possibilities, and different paths a viewer could take making the show even more captivating.

Same can be said for the possibilities for advertisers. Imagine interacting with an ad where one door leads to a free trip, while another leads to a promo code for 50% off your next purchase? Brands will be able to take viewers on a journey rather than just throwing a ‘buy now’ call-to-action in their face.

But with every upside, there is a down. What does CYOA mean for broadcasters? While higher engagement is a significant business driver, what of the production side? As appealing as a CYOA format is, the amount of complexity and costs associated may be a deterrent. A linear production is no longer in the cards. Stories won’t have just one set of beginning, middle, and ends but multiples. Every aspect will be lengthened to adhere to this format; actor costs, post-production, scriptwriting, etc.

With that being said, I do hope that the thought and potential of this service is pushed even further, thinking outside of just kids content. It has the opportunity to revolutionize the entire TV and media industry. What if this, in fact, means we need to create fewer (great) shows. More shows with more options, longer formats. Think Game of Thrones. Think Breaking Bad. You get the picture.

Netflix’s CYOA format is a fantastic way of taking a tried and true method from yesteryear and bringing it back to the mainstream. While I am hesitant about the potential pitfalls of CYOA coming to video streaming, especially when young children are involved, even I cannot deny how powerful and engaging the medium is poised to become.

What do you think about Netflix employing choose-your-own-adventure to their content library? Are you for it or against it? Let me know your thoughts, below!

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