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Kliuless #17: Bandersnatch, a Black Mirror on the Fourth Wall

Each week I compile a gaming industry insights newsletter that I share with other Rioters, including Riot’s senior leadership. This edition is the public version that I publish broadly every week as well. Opinions are mine.

Kliuless? Gaming Industry ICYMI #17

Hi, my name is Kenny Liu, and I work in Revenue Strategy at Riot Games. Each week I compile a gaming industry insights newsletter that I share with other Rioters, including Riot’s senior leadership. This edition is the public version that I publish broadly every week as well. Opinions are mine.

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Bandersnatch: A Black Mirror on the Fourth Wall

  • Netflix Takes Interactive Storytelling to the Next Level With ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
    • Related: How the Surprise Interactive 'Black Mirror' Came Together
  • "The Stanley Parable... but on Netflix" would be the best way I would describe "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch," Netflix’s first-ever interactive movie for adults
  • Though not the first entrant into interactive media (with Eko or HBO's Mosaic, for example, preceding), Bandersnatch was definitively the best experience I watched (or played?)
  • Without revealing any significant spoilers, Bandersnatch succeeds where others have failed largely due to several reasons:
    • User experience
      • Bandersnatch's plot is centered around a choose-your-own-adventure novel and game of the same title, and the creators brilliantly designed the experience to easily nudge users to want to explore the other branching narratives
      • Whenever a user reaches the end of a specific branch, Netflix rewinds back to the most recent user-given choice that could fork into an alternative ending
      • This process repeats, going further upstream the user's decision tree each time, until the user exhausts all significant endings
      • However, unlike Eko or Mosaic, Netflix never reveals "the man behind the curtain," wisely choosing to keep the skeleton structure of the actual decision tree and the choices made hidden throughout the whole experience to avoid overwhelming the user
    • Easter eggs
      • What Bandersnatch does instead to refresh users' memories when returning to a fork is quickly playback a recap sequence of key scenes and decisions that have led up to that fork
      • However, the biggest problem to a solution like this is that over time these recaps can easily feel repetitive and boring
      • The Stanley Parable developers faced this same problem, and mitigated some of their early game triteness by injecting randomly generated events to occasionally delight players
      • In a similar vein, the Bandersnatch creators have cleverly sprinkled Easter eggs and other surprises not just in the recaps, but throughout the entire experience, motivating users to continue exploring other branches
      • Incentivizing greater "completion" of the narrative is important because anything that goes unseen in the other branches results in lower efficiency from a return on investment perspective (note that Netflix likely incorporates user engagement into its definition of "return")
    • What fourth wall?
      • All of Bandersnatch's novel two-way interactions demand from Netflix's otherwise "lean back" audience that they must instead "lean in" for this experience
      • In requiring continuous interactivity with its audience, the applications of this new-form entertainment are inherently more limited in fiction due to the incessant breaking of the fourth wall
      • The Bandersnatch writers understood this well, and opted to not just dent, but wholly obliterate the fourth wall in multiple ways throughout the various branching scenarios
      • Though it may be a bit gimmicky at times, it works well for Bandersnatch, partially because of its unique self-referencing plot and partially just because it is Netflix's first. Time will tell how successful subsequent offerings can be with or without the fourth wall
  • More interesting to me are interactive media's potential future applications in the nonfiction space or, said differently, entertainment experiences that are naturally already "lean in"
    • Live streaming, esports, and even HQ Trivia are all early examples of this that have just barely scratched the surface
    • Physical sports, an intensely "lean in" viewing experience, has yet to see any significant breakthroughs here, but there are a number of interesting opportunities. For example, imagine a world in which, while watching a baseball game on TV, using your phone you could change the camera to see the next play from the pitcher's mound, home plate, or short stop
    • Such interactivity would also not necessitate a meaningful change in already existing user behavior with technology during viewership
      • In fact, simultaneous usage of TV and digital devices has grown to the point where now 45% of Americans say they always or very often "second-screen"
      • As an aside, my biggest disappointment with Bandersnatch was the inability to Chromecast it on TV and control the narrative with a phone, but I would imagine that Netflix would add this functionality eventually if it opts for continued interactive media investment


  • Discord raises $150M, surpassing $2B valuation
  • With Activision's Influence Growing, Blizzard Is Cutting Costs
    • Related: Over 100 Blizzard customer support staff accept cash to quit
    • Related: Heroes of the Storm eulogy: For once, Blizzard couldn’t balance the casual and competitive
  • Blizzard hopes linked accounts will solve toxic Twitch chats
  • Steam “Best of 2018” and "Top Controller-Friendly Games of 2018" Lists
  • Valve adds progression, earnable rewards and balance changes to Artifact


  • The App Store created 164 new million-dollar publishers in 2018, twice that of Google Play
  • Ben Brode’s Second Dinner receives a Marvel license and $30mm from NetEase for new mobile game
  • HQ Trivia launches HQ Words as reinstalled CEO seeks a game-changer
  • 2019 predictions for mobile marketing
  • Top 3 Vendor Comparison Spreadsheets for Ad LTV and Mobile Analytics Vendors


  • The era of the camera: Google Lens, one year in
  • Bloomberg: Sony Boosts 3D Camera Output After Interest From Phone Makers


  • Tencent & NetEase absent in first wave of China's 80 game approvals in December
  • China’s 10 biggest esports moments of 2018
  • 2018 China tech review
  • Square Enix president promises year of "aggressive expansion" overseas, notably China & India
  • Nexon founder to sell controlling stake (~$9bn) in gaming company's holding firm. Potential buyers supposedly include Kakao, Netmarble, Tencent, and EA


  • a16z: Does AI make strong tech companies stronger? [TL;DR: depends]
  • WSJ: ‘It’s Been a Rout’: Apple’s iPhones Fall Flat in World’s Largest Untapped Market, India
  • Netflix poaches CFO from Activision Blizzard
  • Facebook is reportedly developing a cryptocurrency for users to transfer money on WhatsApp. The currency will be a stablecoin pegged to the USD to minimize fluctuations in value, and will initially be targeted towards foreign workers sending remittances to India


  • The history of the strategy game
  • The Animation of Gris
  • Welcome to Hades - Developing Hell Episode #1
  • Y Combinator: Interview with Frank Lantz, Director of NYU’s Game Center
  • F2P choose-your-own-adventure text-based browser game titled "You Are Jeff Bezos"
  • Over half of entire UK entertainment market is accounted for by games, which is now 80% digital (but 75% of AAA game sales are physical)
  • Polygon: The 50 best games of 2018
    • Related: Gamasutra's top 10 games of 2018
    • Related: PC Gamer's best VR games of 2018
    • Related: The 10 best video game soundtracks of 2018
  • What lies ahead? Analysts make 2019 predictions
  • New Yorker: How the Artificial-Intelligence Program AlphaZero Mastered Its Games
  • NYTimes: Athletes Don’t Own Their Tattoos. That’s a Problem for Video Game Developers.
  • The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever
  • Dirty dealing in the $175 billion Amazon Marketplace
  • Chinese schools are using GPS & ID chips in uniforms, combined with facial recognition, to monitor students

See more or subscribe at:

Twitter: @kliuless
LinkedIn: @kliuless

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