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1 vs 100: Mob Rule After The Death of the Quiz Show

The avatars in 1 vs 100 are good and expressive

The avatars in 1 vs 100 are nicely expressive

All last week, Microsoft has been trialling 1 vs 100, an Xbox Live version of the popular game show. For those uninitiated, the real 1 vs 100 pits a contestant, dubbed The One, against 100 other people, called The Mob. All players answer each question. If a member of the Mob gets it wrong, they’re out of the game. The more The One can knock out of the game by successfully answering questions, the more money she can win if she walks away. If The One gets it wrong, it’s game over.

The Xbox Live version extends this by adding The Crowd, where other people can participate, allowing the room size to grow over 101 players. This is a necessity, as the game has been pulling tens of thousands of players in Beta. To get a sense of inclusion, these players can also win prizes by being in the top 3 of The Crowd for that round, as well as being the pool from which the next One and Mob are picked from.

So far, so obvious? Not really. This is one of the most important products Microsoft has ever launched on the 360, so read on to find out why.

Presiding over the proceedings is the host, Chris Cashman, who comments on the round, meaning he chimes in with some human charm about once every 10 minutes or so.

The game is entirely free via ad-support, and promises real prizes when it launches. Currently the interface offers Microsoft Points as prizes, but these aren’t awarded yet.

It might sound like a logical extension from the likes of Buzz and You Don’t Know Jack, but you’ll have to believe that this game is ringing the death knell for game shows as loudly and vigorously as it possibly can. Why watch a game show, when you can participate? Why shout at the TV, yelling at the idiot answering wrongly, when you can be playing instead? Why watch some person you have no emotional investiture in win a car, when you can win a car? This game expertly positions Microsoft at the forefront of “digital entertainment”.

The game show is fundamentally changed when you are participating. You feel the tension on every question asked. You feel some sort of respect and kinship towards The One, even though they don’t speak. You derive some sort of personality from the way they’ve dressed and the questions they’ve answered. Is he intelligent? Is he old? How did he know the answer to that one?

What’s amazing, is that despite Microsoft’s fantastic success, is that the format still has much more to go. You’ve got to be pleased when you have an amazing product, and then the logical extensions for improvement are just right in your lap. Here are some things I mentally jotted down:

  • The host, Chris Cashman, is charismatic. Why does he only speak in-between rounds? There’s only one game being played at one time, so he could be reading out the questions instead. The human factor is a key part of keeping you playing for an hour or so. I presume this is a technical or financial limitation, it seems like an obvious move.
  • The adverts are either stills or television adverts. This is a gaming venue where advertisers can really make a killing. Instead of the resistance that gamers have to in-game ads, here they accept it as part and parcel of the game being free, and the game offering prizes. Now’s the chance to really go for it. Instead of showing me a still for Sprint, why can’t I play around with a virtual Palm Pre for a couple of minutes? I’d rather try driving a little Honda around a track than seeing a TV ad. Even the products where it’s hard to think of a transformation, like Slurpee, could have something done. I thought about having my avatar (who I’m very connected to at this point) drink a virtual Big Gulp, and then have a large smile on his face afterwards. That’s a connection, an involvement and interaction with the product, that TV just can’t match.
  • This could be used for gaming as education. A miserable number of people answered that ‘a’ or ‘b’ and not ‘x’ was the 24th letter of the alphabet. How this happened is beyond me. But it triggered a little light switch about being used as an educational tool. How about showing a history documentary, then have the “teacher”/host ask questions about it, then elaborating on the answers afterwards? It allows for a competitiveness that isn’t acceptable in the classroom, and may go a long way towards engaging the young boys that schools are struggling with.

About the author:  Chris Lewis is a British PhD student researching the intersection of software engineering and video game development.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted June 12, 2009 at 1:51 PM | Permalink

    Great post, Chris. A few thoughts.

    One drawback of the 1 vs 100 gameshow model is that it doesn’t provide the same sense of shared experience and spectacle that a major network TV show can provide. There is a palpable difference between being an audience member in 1 vs 100 and being in the audience for a show that will be watched by millions of people.

    1 vs 100 also reminds me of the casino game craps, where, at a busy table, it’s more like 1 vs 20. A craps table can be really lively and fun, but it can also be a bit depressing and weird at 5am. I wonder if there will be prime and nonprime times in 1 vs 100, when the audience and show are a bit more lively, and other times when you wonder who are these people playing the game.

  2. Posted June 13, 2009 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

    I guess the question is at what point does a large audience become a spectacle? It’s currently running at over 100 000 people playing during the Live events (more on that in a bit!), but I would hazard that it will really boil down to whether your social network is part of it. Having all my labmates playing the game, and then chatting about the questions the next day, is far more valuable an experience than watching a 20 million viewer show, with no-one to talk to it about! As for spectacle, I would be surprised if MS wasn’t thinking about options, like embedding the host as a video feed, or calling up people who win prizes, or something like that. I agree that it can feel somewhat sterile as it stands.

    The model is currently setup that “shows” are on rarely, probably averaging out to about once a day. Most of these are the “extended” versions, but only the “Live” version has the host, and presumably the prizes (next week is a car!). The Live version is when most people play, and that’s currently at 7PM on Fridays and 5Pm on Saturdays.

    There’s certainly an open question about whether there should be a stronger communication between the audience, currently you’re placed in a group of three others, and try and beat their score. However, there’s no communication in the group, nor is there any movement between ranked groups, to try and facilitate competitiveness. Maybe some way of voting for comments about The One (eg. “He should have got that one!” or “She’s doing great!”) might engender some form of belonging, but I doubt it. What would be cool is if people with headsets could be communicated to by the host directly, radio phone-in style.

    Like I said, what’s so great about this format is there’s simply so much more that can be done, and it’s amazingly compelling as it is. I fully expect to see developers improve on the model in leaps and bounds in the coming years, and I can’t wait.

  3. Joe Wreschnig
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:49 PM | Permalink

    The reason you’re seeing people answer obvious questions incorrectly is mostly (I hope) due to a number of people that just jam the X or A button as fast as they can, trying to get the “Fastest Answer” seat for that round. I’ve noticed far fewer people get easy questions wrong in in Live than Extended Play, and I suspect this is why.

  4. Posted July 6, 2009 at 11:07 PM | Permalink

    Yes, through more play of 1 vs 100, I think your conclusion is sound. I saw one player who managed to get the fastest seat with an average answer of 0.0 seconds! I bet his number right was about 33% ;)

  5. Posted July 10, 2009 at 3:05 PM | Permalink

    I do think that 1 vs. 100 on the Xbox is the future of game shows, but I also thought the same with the old Bezerk network. More proof that “everything old is new again” on the very short-term memory of the web: the Bezerk network offered ad-sponsored online game shows about a decade ago. Mostly created by Berkeley Systems, with some backing from (old, old) Sierra, it had a couple of well regarded game shows, particularly Acrophobia and an online “netshow” version of You Don’t Know Jack (much like the “episodic” nature of 1 vs. 100, with available replays).

    I was hooked then, and I can see Xbox Live “Primetime” being similarly fun.

  6. Posted July 12, 2009 at 12:51 AM | Permalink

    Those were great games (I also liked Get The Picture!) but I think the secret sauce that Microsoft has identified is prizes (who doesn’t like them?), avatar attachment and the live host. The live host has a big impact on the proceedings.

    Super kudos for remembering those games, they honestly hadn’t crossed my mind. Time for YDKJ reboot 3? :)