You vs Wild Netflix: The Gamification of Television Continues
Saturday, March 30, 2019
"Every jungle, desert, mountain that I'm in... every decision is your decision. You're going to dictate what I do." - Bear Gryll’s
Just a week after Netflix announced it’s plans to double down on its interactive content thanks to the success of Bandersnatch, Netflix has unveiled its next big interactive project — and this one is more than a little wild.
The series, You vs. Wild, stars survival expert Bear Grylls, and is a twist on his popular Discovery Channel series Man vs. Wild, where, in each episode, Grylls is stranded in a remote, harsh environment. Over the course of each episode, he documents his entire journey as he hikes out of the environment solo, with few to no tools on hand. The original series that ran from 2006 to 2011, was meant to give viewers a very real and practical look at how to survive extreme situations.
Now, You vs. Wild will see just how well viewers have been paying attention to Grylls’ advice. The trailer for the series which can be viewed just below, shows Grylls offering a few key survival choices, like whether to cross a swath of ice by walking, or by crawling. Viewers must make the right decisions to successfully guide Grylls back to civilisation.
The announcement was made by Netflix original series VP Cindy Holland during a panel about the future of storytelling. Holland said interactive content was still a bit of an experiment for the company. “It’s still in the evaluation and growing stage,” she said.
The eight-episode show will let viewers follow along with Grylls on adventures around the world as he tries to survive the great outdoors. The twist is that viewers will be able to choose Grylls’ decisions in each episode and see how they play out.
“I’m so proud to deliver this first-of-its-kind live-action interactive series, really giving viewers an all access pass to explore the world and its landscapes in my boots.” - Bear Grylls
Netflix’s logline for the show is as follows: Dense jungles, towering mountains, brutal deserts and mysterious forests await, with tough decisions around every corner. In this groundbreaking interactive adventure series, you make all the decisions, and whether or not Bear succeeds or fails is totally up to you.
Gamified Television is now in effect
As was addressed in “Bandersnatch: The Gamification of Television”, It was only a matter of time before other shows began to emerge that would ride in the wake of Black Mirror’s gamified viewing experience. You vs. Wild was definitely not what anyone would of predicted would be Netflix’s followup project, however it starts to makes sense when you begin to evaluate what makes Bear Gryll’s original programming so compelling. Giving the viewers more of a hands-on approach to Gryll’s expeditions through the wilderness, only serves to give the viewers more of a “lean-in” experience as they take more ownership of the direction Gryll’s carries out on his adventures.
Netflix had also previously dabbled with interactive shows with animated series like Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and a Minecraft show with Telltale Games, but these live-action endeavours represent much bigger, more expensive, and higher-profile projects for the company.
Plus, given that Netflix product VP Todd Yellin commented last week that the company was “doubling down” on interactive storytelling, odds are that You vs. Wild will only mark the beginning of the company’s interactive media ambitions. Mr. Yellin confessed around the time of announcing You vs. Wild that the company wasn’t sure what to expect from “Bandersnatch.” “We didn’t know how it would go,” he said. Ultimately, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “The internet exploded with conversation and delight.” Yellin said.
Now it would seem that Netflix is wasting no time capitalising on the success of its gamified, choose-your-own-adventure experiment that was Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. In a fitting introduction to the new Bear Grylls show, Netflix dropped an interactive trailer on YouTube that asks viewers to accept or reject a call from Grylls. If you're willing to heed the call, you're invited to guide the survivalist through eight different stories. It's a unique way to experience his typically high-stakes adventures, though it's not clear from the previews just how much trouble you can get Bear into. Odds are there will be fewer endings resulting in death than there are in Bandersnatch (fingers-crossed).
While you were watching Bandersnatch on Netflix, Netflix was watching you, too. A General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) request filed by University College London technology policy researcher Michael Veale revealed that Netflix kept track of every decision users made while watching the interactive film and has held onto that information long after viewers reached one of Bandersnatch's endings. The same can be said for You vs. Wild, as Netflix has disclosed that it uses an individual's choices to figure out which segment of the story to serve up. That makes sense, of course. Were a person to step away from an interactive program in the middle of the story, Netflix would be able to remember the path they took and serve up the correct story branches.
Netflix also aggregates all of the choices made by users to see how audiences as a whole are interacting with the story/adventure. Netflix told Veale in an email that the information gathered is used to "determine how to improve this model of storytelling in the context of a show or movie."
It's probably not a major surprise that Netflix has stashed away all sorts of data about how people interact with these gamified series and movies.
with Bandersnatch, it was the company's first crack at a choose-your-own-adventure story (for adults anyway) and the information gathered from it was a likely catalyst in helping Netflix decide on if it's worth telling more stories through this format in the future (ie You vs. Wild).
The Future of Television
According to Netflix, gamified television looks to be a potential gateway to a higher-level of audience engagement, with great potential to be a highly lucrative medium.
Mapping and planning out a project of this size is no easy feat, yet it can yield strong results. That being said, from here on out don’t expect every second Netflix original to be a gamified experience. The many variables that need to be considered when creating an interactive project helps maintain that only a certain level of work will be fit for the format.
Netflix has hinted at plans to dabble in other genres for adult interactive programs in the future such as comedies, romance and horror movies, ultimately, aiming to shake up these genres and advance storytelling in the future.
You vs. Wild will be exclusively on Netflix, April 10.