Netflix isn’t just about movies and TV anymore, it’s also about interactivity. The streaming platform currently boasts 15 interactive titles, each with different levels of viewer agency. (And fun!) But behind each of these interactive specials, there’s a team that makes sure they achieve a certain level of interactivity.
The most recent of these titles, the WWE Link Escape the entrepreneur, is one of the most interactive platforms yet, following three wrestlers as they travel to the famous WWE villain’s mansion to steal his magic urn. Escape the entrepreneur comes from director Ben Simms – who is also responsible for Netflix’s three Bear Grylls interactive survival specials. We sat down with Simms to dive into the process of creating these specials and find out how he designed them for maximum interactivity.
First step: find the “ultimate success”
The first thing to understand – beyond the actual concept and the key characters – is “ultimate success”. Whether it is to get Bear Grylls out of the mountain where he is stranded or to destroy the Undertaker’s urn once and for all depends on the title, but the victory condition must be established before all other endings. be traced.
“The important thing, especially with Netflix, is to make sure there is a gap in endings and different levels of success,” says Simms. “So once you have what ultimate success might be, everything else is built around that, and different iterations come from what that ultimate success is.”
Step two: draw the other endings and balance them
After deciding on this ultimate success, the team must determine the less than successful endings. However, it’s not as easy as just offering alternatives. Game testing starts very early in the design process – not just to understand the technicalities of the title, but to make sure the overall experience is enjoyable.
“You want to make sure that things are balanced enough that there isn’t necessarily an unbalanced path you can take, it’s just going to be more exciting and look and sound a lot better than the rest,” Simms says. The team pays particular attention to balancing the different paths. In the case of Escape the entrepreneur, for example, the paths take viewers through alternate routes through the house, exploring new locations. In this way, Escape the entrepreneur escapes (ha ha) some of the pitfalls of other Netflix Interactives, where choices aren’t really choices, as much as short sequences.
Step Three: Determine When an Ending is an Ending
One of the recurring elements of a Netflix Interactive is how certain choices allow viewers to go back after a bad choice and make a new one. Simms says that when the creators determine when to jumpstart viewers at a checkpoint, the team needs to consider audience investment – if you’re immersed in a story, you don’t want to have to start over, but if you’ve just started, it’s not that successful.
“It usually ends up being somewhere in the middle and somewhere near the start of the third act, where you’re invested enough in the stakes,” says Simms. “The stakes are rising a bit so that your choices, hopefully along the way, seem more and more important.”
Fourth step: integrate the choices
The biggest difference between titles like You against Savage and Escape the entrepreneur is how the choices themselves are built into the narrative. Whatever the scenario, the goal is to make the choices consistent, but this is easier in some stories than in others.
“You don’t want it to sound too intrusive. If this is a title where the character, talent or person in the story breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience, it’s a little different and can be done a little easier, ” explains Simms.
Ultimately, the trick is to streamline the scenes as much as possible to highlight the choice – while still making them feel like scenes, not prompts. Simms adds, “This should be as good a scene as it gets without being interactive – it just happens to be interactive.”
Fifth step: Film the special
There are “extra layers” to shooting an interactive special than shooting a regular movie, Simms says, and the bigger challenge is filming the same scenes over and over with slightly different contexts. Fortunately, in the two projects Simms worked on, performers were used to adapting and thinking quickly.
“[Bear Grylls] is very good at the time and has a habit of being on guard in extreme situations. For him it was very natural to adapt or change completely and rotate the tone of the stage, ”says Simms. “The same goes for all talent in WWE. They’re live artists, so it was really beneficial to work with them and be able to say, ‘Okay, now you’re happy. Now you are sad. It’s obviously not that simplistic, but they can, in an instant, rotate and figure out that we’re doing a different version of the same scene.
Endgame: The Future of Netflix Interactive
If Netflix Interactive continues to get more complex – and so far that seems to be the trend – Simms says better production quality could lend itself to even more interactivity. The coolest possibility?
“I could see a scenario of almost a choice-based personality test as a viewer – whether based on your Netflix history or your online history,” says Simms. “I could just see it getting more and more personalized in that capacity.”
Escape the entrepreneur and the You against Savage titles – as well as other Netflix Interactives – are available to stream on Netflix.