No monetisation, just old school passion: BonusXP on making Netflix tie-in Stranger Things

CEO Dave Pottinger on a different sort of project

No monetisation, just old school passion: BonusXP on making Netflix tie-in Stranger Things

The curse of the movie tie-in game remains as fresh as ever.

As currently highlighted by the lawsuit between Snail Games and Fox, the difficulties of scheduling - not to mention synchronising - different media forms means the cards are always stacked against such success.

The rise of recurring TV box set series has created new and less complex opportunities for cross-media synergies, however.

And that’s something Netflix and US mobile developer BonusXP (Cavemania, The Incorruptibles) are taking full advantage of with Stranger Things: The Game.

It's a totally free mobile game made to support the second series of the 1980’s sci-fi/horror TV series, which starts on October 27th.

BonusXP CEO Dave Pottinger makes the entire process sound idyllic.

“We loved the series. It completely consumed our office,” he says, before adding simply, “We know some of the folks at Netflix and chatted with them about making a game.”

What would the kids have played back in 1984?
Dave Pottinger

That initial dialogue was bolstered by enthusiasm from series creators The Duffers (Matt and Ross) - “Netflix and the Duffers have been fantastic about everything” he says - and Stranger Things was up and running.

Back to source

From the get-go, Pottinger says the plan was to create an old-school experience that chimed with the series’ chronological setting and love of all things 1980s.

“We started with the phrase ‘what would the kids have played back in 1984?’,” he says.

That provided a foundation of simple mechanics, 8-bit art and chiptunes. Given the source material, the chosen genre quickly moved from arcade to adventure, with collection and action gameplay.

I think fans will be pleased at everything that is crammed in.
Dave Pottinger

“We wanted something that was appropriate for the time period and hit all the notes of the show: mystery, exploration, and a little bit of fear,” Pottinger explains.

“It all fell into place when we treated the kids as the main collectibles. Each kid would join your adventuring party and bring a unique ability or two.

"The kids became the focus - just like the show itself - and you use them open up this whole world.”

Passion play

It would have been possible to support this design with in-app purchases, but Stranger Things: The Game was always planned as a totally free experience without any monetisation.

“It meant we were able to put everything into the game,” Pottinger says. “Netflix wanted us to make a cool game and keep it simple.”

This approach also combined well with Netflix’s overarching aim for the project; to get as many people as possible to play the game and so drive awareness for the new season.

As Pottinger points out, there aren’t many high quality games on the app stores that offer over 10 hours of gameplay without any interruptions or energy gates.

“We’re keenly interested to see how it’s received,” he says, explaining BonusXP will be looking at the game’s retention and progression metrics to see how people are playing.

This will influence the first update, complete with new content, new characters, which will be released on October 27th when season two premieres.

For all fans, present and future

In particular, Pottinger is hoping to see fans attempting speed runs through the game.

For, aside from the overall aim of reaching a wide audience, one of the most enjoyable parts of the project for BonusXP has been the ability to geek out on making an experience for the show’s fanbase.

“It’s primarily for the fans," Pottinger says. "We scoured season one for all the in-jokes we could find, and also foreshadow the basic plot points and reveals of season two. I think fans will be pleased at everything that's crammed in here."

Fore example, if you collected all the VHS tapes in the game, you get access to a new trailer, which contains additional material. 

“That said, if someone downloads this without having seen the show, they should still have a blast. Hopefully, we'll create some new fans too,” he adds.

Stranger Things: The Game is out now on the Apple App Store and Google Play store.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.