Netflix’s interactive shows arrive to put you in charge of the story

Netflix’s first interactive episode arrives on the service today, giving viewers a chance to shape the narrative through a series of decisions they make throughout the experience. The new episode of Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale gives users more than a dozen decision points throughout its length, giving young viewers reason to rewatch it several times to explore the branching paths. A second interactive episode, for the children’s show Buddy Thunderstruck, arrives next month. For now, Netflix is calling its interactive episodes an experiment. But if its 99 million subscribers like them, the format could come to the service’s more popular shows — and help bring a new form of interactive storytelling into the mainstream.

First, though, Netflix has to see whether the mainstream has an appetite for it. To begin, the company decided to focus on making interactive shows for children. “Kids are already talking to the screen,” says Carla Engelbrecht Fisher, Netflix’s director of product innovation, who oversaw development of the episodes. “They’re touching every screen. They think everything is interactive.” Children’s exposure to interactive stories in video games and mobile apps has left them with an expectation that TV will behave the same way.

  • KIDS THINK EVERYTHING IS INTERACTIVE. To start with, the interactive shows will be available on some modern smart TVs, game consoles, iOS devices, and Roku devices. They won’t be available on the web, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Android devices, at least for now. You’ll use your device’s controller to make a series of choices in the narrative — there are a total of 13 for Puss in Book, and 8 for Buddy Thunderstruck — or, if you wait too long to choose, Netflix will simply choose for you. For each show, the creators created custom illustrations for each choice. “We think it’s important to feel as if it’s of the story world,” Fisher says.

The result is a show whose length will vary significantly depending on your choices. The shortest path through Puss in Book is about 18 minutes; the longest is 39 minutes. Buddy Thunderstruck’s run time can be as short as 12 minutes and as long as ... until your TV stops working, thanks to an infinitely looping narrative that spins out of one of those choices.

The company’s push into interactive entertainment began after Fisher arrived three years ago to work on products for kids. Before that, she had founded the game design firm No Crusts Interactive and worked for Highlights for Children and PBS KIDS. Fisher says her work began with one overarching question: what stories can we tell at Netflix that can’t be told elsewhere? “Netflix is an interactive device ecosystem,” she says. “We’re not beholden to terrestrial television. We’re not beholden to linear schedules.


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