Netflix has announced that it will release a version of Telltale Games’ Minecraft: Story Mode for its video-streaming platform, later this year. The game will be delivered in the form of video files, queued by a decision system controlled by the directional buttons on TV remotes. Telltale is already working with Netflix as the developer of the video game spinoff of Stranger Things, due for release as a standalone game on various platforms.
Telltale’s games are a good potential fit for Netflix. They are ready-developed as episodic batches, with each episode featuring its own collection of choices that fit into a wider plot arc, much like a TV season. The game’s scenes are lengthy, fully voiced and often well-written, and choices are already driven by simple input systems. Its games will however need to be modified, to remove or pre-render exploration segments, but something like Minecraft: Story Mode should be able to make the transition to sequenced, video-streamed files while retaining its narrative structure.
That said, smoothness and responsiveness of implementation will still be critical. Telltale’s games have already been ported to every major device group capable of playing games, where they’ve often been well-received, albeit under a different business model. Poor execution here risks pushing players back out of Netflix and into an app ecosystem that likely hosts an optimised version of Minecraft: Story Mode that could be bought and played locally on the hardware.
Minecraft is a notable choice from Telltale’s library of IP, which features mostly licensed, adult-oriented properties, such as The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones. Minecraft: Story Mode skews toward younger consumers, which is in line with Netflix’s earlier foray into interactive content, with it having released Puss In Book and Buddy Thunderstruck last year.
If the company is looking to the established games industry for content with proven appeal, there’s not a yet a great vein to mine. There are plenty of games with high production values whose scenes could impress Netflix’s audience. There are also plenty that have been designed to work with the simple input schemes represented by TV remotes. But the overlap between the two is limited. However, there are examples of suitable games, such as Wales Interactive’s The Bunker and Late Shift, choice-driven video experiences interspersed with puzzles and light exploration.
There are numerous ways in which Netflix could grow as a games platform, and the industry has enough fitting talent available for the company to start funding its own exclusive content, if wished. But in the short-term, we think its exploration of gaming content will be limited to that which fits Netflix’s current format with minimal fuss.