Anthill’s Whatifi Offers Interactive Storytelling via Mobile App

Anthill’s latest version of interactive storytelling app Whatifi is now available in the Apple App Store. Founded by Jaanus Juss and Hardi Meybaum, who have been exploring interactive storytelling in their native Estonia via live theater, the startup enables users to “choose their own adventure” in two stories: “As Dead as it Gets” and “Anatomy of a Decision.” The first is a “drunken night with a few bros” that turns into a supernatural fantasy. A character on the verge of death, the viewer must follow the advice of ghosts to return to the land of the living. Whatifi is now based out of Los Angeles and Estonia.

Engadget reports that, “at key moments in the film, you can choose from one of two outcomes by swiping up or down.” Decisions are better made by watching in vertical mode, and “if you’re viewing with friends using Whatifi’s watch party feature, those decisions are polled together.” If the group doesn’t agree on the next move, the members have to discuss until they reach a consensus.

Once the viewer comes to the end, she can “easily restart the experience and jump right to decision points to unlock more endings.” The two films together have 80+ endings and 30 hours of video. A single play-through takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Whatifi is debuting as a free app, but the founders said, “they could eventually introduce a model where you can unlock more endings for an additional fee.” The company also opened Whatifi Studios, “a platform for producing interactive mobile films.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, when Netflix released “Bandersnatch” in 2018, Juss and Meybaum realized that “there would be an appetite for a new form of interactive storytelling.” The duo received a $10 million investment, led by Andreessen Horowitz and including “participation from a cadre of individual backers including Netflix chief financial officer David Wells, Supercell chief executive Ilkka Paananen, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.”

A watch party can include up to nine contacts, and “a chat room within the app allows viewers to chat about the decision and come to an agreement.” “Anatomy of a Decision” is the story of Junior, “from his conception at a fertility clinic through much of his life,” and offers 64 different endings. “As Dead as it Gets,” directed by Simon Ellis, has 16 different endings.

Juss and Meybaum also launched a script contest, “in which screenwriter winners will receive $35,000 and writer-director winners will receive $200,000 to cover production costs.” Focused mainly on “largely unknown actors and up-and-coming filmmakers,” Juss said, “the best and coolest ideas come from indie filmmakers.” Meybaum suggested that its target audience of “teens and college-aged students” are looking for a “fun and engaging experience.”

The app had an early test in New Zealand, Sweden and Singapore and found that, “90 percent of users who finished a narrative started a new one.” In an era of social distancing, Juss also noted that, “people want to be connected … they want a reason to do something together.”