Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Core Response 5: The Gameshow and Gaming in the Post-broadcast Age by Damian Panton

     In “Flexible Microcasting” Lisa Parks highlights the use of interactive programming to encourage viewers of the post-broadcasting age to approach new digital mediums through televisual conventions rather than replacing television entirely. According to Parks, the revival of the gameshow was a successful attempt by networks to introduce computerization into an old medium that was largely accepted by mass audiences in the late 90s and early 2000s. Shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? set a precedent for capturing mass audiences of different demographics through the simple pleasure of allowing the average person a fantasy of wealth acquisition through personal achievement. Nearly ten years later, the popularity of the program inspired Microsoft to attempt a similar pairing of television and interactive programming in an attempt to bring families to their social gaming platform Xbox Live. The result was called 1 vs. 100, a massively multiplayer online game adapted from a program of the same name that aired internationally.

     1 vs. 100 was meant to be the foundation of what Microsoft called Xbox Live Primetime, a series of scheduled programs that pitted Xbox Live users against one another for real world rewards such as store currency or video games. When deciding which gameshow to pursue, Microsoft met with the producers of several different shows such as Survivor and American Idol before partnering with Endemol (makers of Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, and Wipeout) due to their program’s unique social elements that included active audience participation. On Xbox Live the show was split into two programs 1 vs. 100 Extended Play and 1 vs. 100 LIVE. During extended play, which ran throughout the week, players would compete as a mob of limitless size. The thirty minute “show” typically consisted of questions organized under a theme that changed each week. For example, week one of a season might be “Fanboy Week” wherein all questions dealt with tech, gadgets, comics, or anime. Week two might be “Lifestyle Week” during which many questions may be based off current headlines, pop culture, or were user generated. Extended play largely excused one from the typical gameshow constraints of accuracy and streaks in favor of encouraging participation each day. Those that earned the most points each week through extended play sessions would be chosen to participate in 1 vs. 100 LIVE for the chance to win store credit or videogames.
     The LIVE portion of the show tried to replicate the traditional television show as much as it could. Each episode was two hours long and aired every Tuesday and Friday for thirteen weeks. The host of the television program, Chris Cashman, reprised his role as the game’s live host in avatar form. Throughout the show would be thirty second “commercial breaks” for Sprint and Honda which each paid $1 million for the pleasure, and a guest interview portion where prominent members of the gaming industry would converse with Cashman as players checked their performance statistics. The players that were selected to compete were chosen based on the total amount of points they had accrued for the week during extended play, with “the one” having the most. Those that tuned in to “watch” but were not eligible to participate as either “the one” or “the mob” became “the crowd” and were segregated into groups of four that competed against one another for bragging rights (and the opportunity to increase their lifetime score).
     Like Who Wants to Be an Millionaire?, 1 vs. 100 proved to be insanely popular among audiences. The interactive nature of the gameshow was interesting enough to inspire 2.5 million people to play over the course of two seasons. But, only a year after it began, Microsoft announced the game wouldn’t be returning for a third season. Though gameshow’s were a relatively inexpensive gamble for networks, the technical challenges of developing a foolproof anti-cheat system and networking code to ensure everything was experienced by players in real-time skyrocketed the development cost of the program and caused it to remain sponsor-less in beta for far too long.

     Although the project was a failure in the economic sense, I think it was successful in a very unexpected way. The program showed how willing gamers were to abandon relatively autonomous means of gaming in exchange for a far more regulated activity that offered a chance to win money. Although Microsoft hasn’t attempted a similar project since 1 vs. 100’s cancellation, whenever asked about primetime programming on Xbox Live they claim that they learned a lot from the venture and will apply that to similar offerings in the future. Personally, I’m curious to see where the gameshow heads next. Microsoft is hoping to make a big push into augmented reality with their HoloLens device, maybe we’ll be able to compete for money wherever we go? They could call it life.

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