Storyteller becomes number one downloaded game globally on Netflix, creator shares the journey

Astonishingly, a whole niche of people interested in playing Storyteller emerged. Friends send me photos of strangers playing on the bus, the train, or the subway. It feels impressive. I never expected such a thing to happen.

  • 5 months ago
  • February 26, 2024
5 min read
Screenshot of Storyteller, the 2023 hit game on Netflix created by Daniel Benmergui | Photo courtesy of Daniel Benmergui Screenshot of Storyteller, the 2023 hit game on Netflix created by Daniel Benmergui | Photo courtesy of Daniel Benmergui
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Daniel Benmergui is a 45-year-old game creator from Río Cuarto, Argentina, now based in Buenos Aires. He began programming on a Commodore 64, later studying Computer Science at the University of Buenos Aires. After working at Core Security Technologies, he founded a mobile game studio and led programming at Gameloft. Transitioning to freelance work, he created acclaimed games like “I Wish I Were the Moon” and “Today I Die.” His prototype “Storyteller” won the Nuovo Award in 2012, leading to its 2023 launch as the most downloaded game on Netflix, a collaborative effort with Jeremias Babini and Zypce.
background information
Netflix has been steadily expanding its collection of games, a development not often disclosed publicly by the platform. However, Appfigures, a respected source known for its accurate download statistics, revealed that Storyteller was the most downloaded game in Netflix’s portfolio in 2023, amassing approximately seven million downloads. See here.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — At the beginning of 2023, an email arrived in my inbox with exciting and surprising news. The video game I created, Storyteller, became the most downloaded game worldwide on Netflix. Having devoted a third of my life to Storyteller, I still feel amazed when a friend sends me a photo of someone playing it in public.

I never expected the game to have such an impact and the end result feels crazy. I still feel surprised by its popularity. My game, being a part of people’s lives, is the culmination of a long journey of learning and curiosity.

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Man quits his job and uses up his savings to start creating video games

My introduction to video games came at just five years old. My grandparents used to travel to Europe, and upon returning from one of those trips, they brought me an Atari 1600. 

Living in a small town in the province of Córdoba, this device surpassed any technology I saw previously. A machine solely for playing games seemed mind-blowing. It felt magical, this shining box that created digital worlds. At that moment, I entered the ethereal, digital realms inside those small, magical boxes.

A few years later, my dad arrived home with a Texas Instruments TI 99, a programmable keyboard device. Watching him type codes and run programs on the computer filled me with amazement. He was creating something. I suddenly had an epiphany and thought, “I can make games too, I just have to learn to program.” From that moment on, I decided, creating games would be my future. However, it wasn’t until I turned 30 years old, I finally embarked on the adventure fully.

In 2005, I worked at a video game company, Gameloft, assisting with technical matters. Attending the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, I met nearly everyone behind the games I had played all my life. Discovering they were ordinary people, facing similar challenges, made me realize I could pursue my dream.

After returning, despite the uncertainty, I quit my job. Without income, I moved back to my mom’s house, and over time, I watched as 10 years’ worth of savings dwindled. The first games I created were non-commercial, and I remained unknown. No investor showed a willingness to fund my projects. I dedicated myself to making independent, small games until an opportunity presented itself.

After winning some gaming awards, creator begins to develop Storyteller

At times, I felt stuck and criticized myself for certain decisions. However, on other occasions, I felt a surge of creative energy that made me feel capable of anything. I created some artistic games that gained traction, such as I Wish I Were the Moon and Today I Die. My goal was to create something artistic, but I ended up building a reputation. Suddenly, I won some independent awards, and the community developed high expectations of me.

That reputation motivated me to create an exceptional game. However, my skills proved insufficient. That was when Storyteller emerged. I found inspiration in the stories I read as a child. Since that idea took shape, I feel like I have been chasing after Storyteller, never quite keeping pace or getting ahead.

The project moves faster than me, constantly presenting challenges. It took me 15 years to bring it to where it is now. I had to learn how to make a good game, and at times, I learned the hard way. It felt like diving into a mess with no clear path out.

Storyteller emerged from numerous eureka moments. Initially, I aimed to create an unconventional game, which surprisingly succeeded. However, to develop my skills, I needed to reach out to more people. For a while, I paused the project to give it some breathing room. Suddenly, it seemed to not work, and I struggled to find a solution.

Creators heart swells with pride when Storyteller goes global

The pauses in development distressed me until I switched to another project, and after a while, the solution manifested. This happened several times. I consider everything I did in between as practice, preparing me to pour that knowledge into Storyteller. My most ambitious project, I invested the most effort into this game. After signing the Netflix contract, a sense of financial balance washed over me. While I never expected it to be a hit, the success felt like a rewarding culmination of all my efforts.

Sitting at home in front of the computer, an email from Annapurna Interactive, the distributor that markets the game, popped up. “This is incredible,” they said. My heart swelled with pride and disbelief as I realized my game was the most downloaded game on all of Netflix. As an independent game, competing at that level never crossed my mind. I believe many coincidences aligned to make this happen: the right game at the right time in the right place.

Astonishingly, a whole niche of people interested in playing Storyteller emerged. Friends send me photos of strangers playing on the bus, the train, or the subway. It feels impressive. I never expected such a thing to happen. This allows me to take another step toward pursuing a new dream in my life.

Having made video games, blended games with art, and achieved commercial success, now I aspire toward cultural relevance. Lots of people out there, who have no idea who I am, enjoy my creation. This motivates me to continue occupying a place in people’s lives, to awaken their excitement.

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