Jason Gilbert | @YahooTech
Netflix can be a terrifically useful and addictive service if you know exactly what you want to watch. Craving some “Big Lebowski”? Just click play. Want to lie in bed with the curtains closed and watch five straight seasons of “Breaking Bad”? That’s fine, too. (Well, it’s not fine, but you can still do it, if you want to.)
When you’re just noodling around on the Netflix homepage, however, with no real destination, just scrolling and scrolling, up and down and left and right, in search of a title that calls to you -- that’s when the frustration arises. And that’s why on Friday, Netflix announced a new Siri-like feature called “Max,” designed to help users of the streaming service discover a new show or movie to watch in a fun, engaging way.
Max is essentially a short, lively game show feature that ends with Netflix choosing a movie or show that you haven’t streamed before and automatically playing it for you. The program that Netflix selects is based both on your rating and viewing history, and also a short, punchy mini-game, designed in conjunction with the studio behind “You Don’t Know Jack.” (And if you’ve ever wasted away your hours playing “You Don’t Know Jack,” the gameplay and tone will be very familiar.)
Below, you can watch a clip of Max in action, provided by Netflix. This gives you a good idea of what Netflix is going for with its new recommendation game.
For PlayStation 3 owners, Max will start showing up almost immediately; there is no timetable for Max’s debut on other devices, though the iPad is likely coming next, Netflix's VP of Product Innovation Todd Yellin told me. Netflix has been testing this feature for over a year now, and execs are clearly excited about adding a new, active row to the otherwise passive Netflix homescreen. The feature will show up as a row on the Netflix home page, like so:
When you click in to play Max, you’ll be served a random game which will terminate in a recommendation from Netflix’s famous learning software. At the E3 Gaming conference in Los Angeles earlier this month, I got a chance to play around with Max for about 30 minutes, sampling three of the initial games that will ship with Max. There was Mood Ring, asks you which celebrity, or genre, or oddly specific Netflix category you prefer, generally offering you two disparate choices to find out what you are in the mood for; the Rating Game, which lets you rate a number of movies between one and five stars, and then spits out a title it thinks you will like based on those ratings; and an option that was like the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button in Google, which auto-plays a title based on your rating and viewing history.
My early impression is that Netflix did a good job with the design and pace of the game: it’s fun to fire up, it doesn’t take too long to complete and, in a best case scenario, you start watching a great movie you otherwise didn’t know was available on Netflix. While Max doesn’t completely solve the problem of locating fresh content on Netflix, it at least exacerbates it in a way that passes the time. Hopefully Netflix gets this thing onto more devices and, pronto -- I can only watch the Dundies episode of "The Office" so many times before it stops being funny, folks.
(Also a reason for non-PS3 owners to hope it ships sooner than later: Max is like Siri, in that it gets to know you and your tastes over time, personalizing its conversation to your viewing history and preferences. It also keeps tracks of how many shows or movies you've watched, perhaps clearing the way for a gamification feature, with badges or something similar, in the future.)