Telltale Games, the company behind adventure games like The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead, closed its doors in 2018, causing many to wonder exactly what was going on. Turns out, it was probably mismanagement of the company and not a result of the quality of the games which were, frankly, wonderful. But it still left some, including myself, wondering if the genre was still viable.
Telltale’s unique take on the adventure genre put all the emphasis on choice and (sometimes) the illusion of choice. The puzzle and traditional gameplay sections were a bit sparse, but I never felt like I wasn’t engaged. The company even made games that featured giant franchises. Honestly, it felt like more people should have been playing them. Maybe there’s a better market for this type of thing, though. Maybe Netflix’, which will have an episode of Black Mirror with a customizable ending, will be company to make the best use of this concept.
Netflix also worked with Telltale on the ideas of bringing a Minecraft: Story Mode "choose-your-own-adventure" show and Stranger Things adventure game to life. It isn’t clear what the fate of the Minecraft affair will be after the closing, but it has been said that Netflix still has an interest in producing Stranger Things.
What can go right with all of this? Well, for starters, making these choose-your-own-adventures on Netflix could expose a new audience to adventure "games." Netflix, with its algorithmic magic, could place these sort of titles right in front of a suitable audience. Hey, if it’s free then they might as well try. If they like it, who knows what kind of games they could move on to. The Nintendo Wii was designed with the idea of incorporating the familiarity of the television remote into gaming in order to reach a larger audience, so why shouldn’t it work where people can use an actual television remote?
The fear is that the ambiguity of these games, which might be closer to television shows, could interfere with how we talk about these experiences with one another. Right now, it’s fun to share opinions on how a binge-worthy television show turned out. If we take away the certainty of these shows with choose-your-own-adventure type options, then will they be as fun to talk about? Or could they be more fun to talk about, as people compare and contrast the moral decisions they had to make? It’s hard to tell. There’s a possibility that these sorts of things could affect sequel potential, and the cost of filming multiple scenes might also prove to be a considerable hurdle.
The controls would also have to be responsive, so the experience felt seamless. Nobody wants to feel like they are loading up different clips constantly when they are trying to immerse themselves in a narrative experience. It would require quite a bit of work.
I am truly excited about the potential here. I am a huge fan of the adventure genre and, if this can help popularize it, I am all for Netflix taking a crack at it. I just hope that it isn’t treated as a simple novelty. If we are only given a couple routes or we have to earn a “good ending” or a “bad ending,” then this will all be a waste of time and money. And, yeah, people will probably steer themselves towards a happy ending or a particular ending they want to see, but that’s not always a good thing, either. Focus groups often complain about movie endings but some of the greatest films of all time have endings that were initially unsatisfying until further reflection or a second watch through. Adventure games also benefit from re-experiencing them, but it is entirely unlike re-watching a film unless you play it exactly the same way.
So perhaps what this all comes down to is the ratio of film to game in these projects. But, if Telltale had a hand in this at one point, Netflix staff probably will have their heads in the right place.