It was only really a matter of time before Netflix dipped its toe into the world of gaming. Previously dabbling with new avenues of fan engagement, releasing its interactive choose-your-own-adventure film ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ back in 2019, the company’s announcement this month that they’re in the early stages of expanding into video games shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Especially as CEO Reed Hastings openly admitted that Fortnite was in fact their biggest competition – over that of HBO. The fight for people’s time and attention, as ever, is an ongoing battle for survival akin to that of Fortnite, and just as traditional television fades quietly into the background joining its long-lost VHS cousin, gaming steps gallantly up.

Whilst we’ll just have to speculate about what Netflix’s games will be for the time being, what’s perhaps more unexpected, is Netflix’s plans to extend the world of their stories with their first store due to open in Tokyo in 2022 – the announcement closely following the launch of their first online store in the US. The next NBCUniversal? They might be the king of the streaming empire right now, but it remains to be seen if they’re capable of stealing the entertainment crown in the future – only time will tell.

They’re certainly making moves in the right direction.

Stranger Things, one of Netflix’s most popular programmes, has recently followed in the weird and wonderful wings of gaming aficionado Gucci, entering the Metaverse with its 80s themed Starcourt Mall on Roblox. The arrival of the Metaverse – the merging of physical and virtual realities – is creating new spaces for brands to play in, experimenting with hybrid experiences that exist in both worlds. And in true Stranger Things form, with its Upside Down alternate dimension, it couldn’t really be a more fitting programme to enter the uncanny world of the Metaverse.

The Mall has already received over 15 million visits as eager fans of the pop-cult drama stepped into the strange parallel universe of the show to play mini-games and purchase Stranger Things inspired cosmetic items. Complete with digital Demogorgon? Well, I’ll leave you to find that out for yourself.

But Netflix’ Stranger Things’ new forays into fan engagement don’t just stop at the Metaverse. They’ve just announced their latest Immersive Experience, co-produced by Netflix, is soon to arrive in New York and San Francisco, after the success of its drive-in theme park in LA last year. The experience is set to welcome fans into the mysterious arms of Hawkins, taking them through the programme’s famed locations, inviting only the bravest of guests to step into the Upside Down to discover the secrets of the Lab and unleash their secret powers to save the town. Disneyland meets the abnormal.

The Stranger Things experience marks an exciting point where the boundaries are starting to blur between entertainment, experience and gaming – in the best way possible. As traditional entertainment starts to morph into new interactive possibilities, it transforms the passive role of viewer, into active participant, and in this new meeting of minds, it creates a space for fans to connect with their favourite programmes, pulling them through their screens, deeper into the storylines. The result? An enriched fan experience, that fosters deep emotional connection – a celebration of the ultimate fandom.

jubensha

An appetite for mystery

Tapping into this concept of amplified theatre and mystery-led storytelling has vast potential in immersive brand experiences, with learnings for in-store too, as consumers continue to seek out excitement through entertainment and interactivity.

The latest craze to sweep across China is Juben Sha which translates as ‘Script Murder’ – a suspense-driven, role-playing murder mystery game – like an elaborate version of Cluedo, which now has a vast following behind it. But it’s so much more than just a game, it’s a lucrative market that is forecasted to make $2.2 billion in sales in 2021. The game which is usually played in an escape-room style environment, as players come together to adopt a new identity, dress up, and solve a crime, can last for up to four hours. The desire for experience, as ever, is building, but now into new mysterious realms.

The emergence of interactive narratives, like Juben Sha and Stranger Things, are formats only set to unfold further as brands hand over the pen to the customer to author their own version of the story or play the role of the protagonist. In-store, brands have an opportunity to amplify this concept of customer-as-co-creator through immersive storytelling, by guiding them through the space to search for secret discounts or coveted rewards – accessible only through a successful cracking of the brand code.

What if?

In this new melting pot of worlds, it certainly feels like anything is possible. The latest brand to don the gaming jacket after Netflix, is Peloton, who have just announced plans to gamify their bike workouts with the introduction of a video game workout called Lanebreak. But what if they were to take it a step further, pulling the game out of the screen into real life?

Peloton meets League of Legends in a Secret Cinema style experience, blending the fun of gaming, training and cinematic storylines. Celebrating their community, riders are called up for an exclusive experience where they’d cycle through an immersive environment as an assigned character, taking on challenges and seeking out hologram coins to win the race. Think Mario Cart crossed with Zwift, but in real life. And in true Secret Cinema style, spectators come to watch the spectacle, all the while streamed by ESPN – a first of its kind broadcast. It’s gamified cardio deep diving into immersive, sporting theatre.

Storytelling has of course long been spoken about at retail. But as entertainment steps into the retail arena, as e-commerce dabbles with gaming, and as gaming becomes the new entertainment, worlds are colliding, giving way to storytelling on steroids for the ultimate in fan engagement.

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