A few days ago, I turned on Netflix to watch their new interactive film – Bandersnatch. Over the next two hours, I learned the definition of a love-hate relationship. In between a film and a game- the episode borrows from both, delivers to none. Here, excellent technology occasionally encourages viewers to choose between two options to take the story ahead, causing one story to branch into multiple unique narratives based on the selections. Here’s what I loved:
1. UI WIN! It’s not easy to make the UI of new technology as smooth as Netflix did. The seamless experience offers two options at the bottom of the screen, utilizing what seems like wasted (yes, blasphemy, I know) cinemascope space; noticeable yet unobtrusive to the visuals. 💕
2. A CONSIDERATE, INTELLIGENT MOVE. This may seem small, but I loved it — During ‘option-selection’ time, the film’s content simply repeats a dialogue or shows a character emote so that viewers don’t miss anything important while making the choice. 10 points Netflix, 10 points.
3. THE EKTA KAPOOR EFFECT. On option selection, you: a. hear the clicking sound & b. see the other option one fade away If you STILL didn’t get it: c. the visuals following re-establish the selection. Clearly, Netflix knows how little attention we’re paying.
4. THE TIMEKEEPER. Limiting time on option-selection is an obvious choice, but the white band above the options that hastily recedes towards the middle is a beautiful visualization of the same. Not distracting from the options, easy to understand, and compelling to drive action.
5. FOR THE SECOND SCREENERS DISTRACTED BY TWITTER. If you listen for it, you will find that when options pop-up they’re accompanied by a change in music. Even if you’re not really watching the show, the change in music is likely to get your attention.
6. THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU. Another difficult aspect handled fairly well was the backtracking of the story. Each time the user ‘starts over’ the story so far is quickly recapped. I like the occasional ‘something new’ to watch out for – like a meta-dialogue from a character. What I didn’t love was… the story.
Oh, the disappointment! I get it, they were focusing on the technology, it happens, but WHY BLACK MIRROR WHY!?!
1. HANG THE WRITER (Okay, don’t do that. I just had to use that title). The story seems to be on the backburner – uninspired characters, weak plot(s). As an option asks if you should bury or chop the body of a man you just killed, you sadly realise that you couldn’t care less about anyone or their father in this story.
2. THE GOD OF (FAR TOO) SMALL THINGS. Several options often seemed frivolous to the plot. What’s the point of playing God if your selection does nothing more than changing the soundtrack? (to a song you don’t even like!) [I’m going to answer this in a bit.]
3. NO SATISFACTION. Ideally, each ending should leave the user satisfied about consuming a spectacular piece of content, irrespective of the remaining endings. Considering there were so many plots, there were also so many ways to leave the audience satisfied. Almost none did. I can see how this is great for Netflix (the feeling of unfinished business probably leads to far more exploration of alternate routes), but as a viewer: 👎
4. THE CHOICELESSNESS OF A CHOICE. Some choices led to a dead-end, making the user eventually go back and choose again. No matter how much I steered away, the mom-story seemed to be the character’s cornerstone story (thank you, Westworld), and there was no escaping it. LAZY NETFLIX! On a rather meta note though, it did make me feel like as a viewer I too lacked free will. That was awesome!
All in all, a worthy ripple at the confluence of technology and storytelling. Once the novelty wears off, the inherent laziness of human beings will drive storytellers towards innovation so that they can get viewers to make a damn choice. There’s ample room for gamification, puzzles, memory tests, multiple choices (or even customized choices) & much more! But what I found most exciting was what this could mean for the future of human behaviour insight, the evolution of custom content creation and marketing. I’m not even going to attempt explaining that last sentence, because The Verge does a stellar job of it right here (the answer to the question about the soundtrack is also in this link). For you non-clickers, here’s my favourite quote from the article:
“In Bandersnatch, one of the most visceral decisions users make is whether games programmer Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) or his associate Colin (Will Poulter) will jump off a balcony. How users handle this decision — how long it takes them to click on one choice or the other, how often they return to or avoid a given option during replays — can be matrixed with the choices they make in resulting timelines. Those choices offer unprecedented insight about what Netflix’s subscribers want out of a story.”
Thank you Vanessa Rebello for sharing your thoughts with us!
Vanessa handles Content Marketing for a leading Indian e-commerce portal. She spends her free time obsessing over Human Behaviour, Attention Economics and her four plants. You can follow her on Twitter