Television is trying its hardest to cope with the demands of the internet generation. This inherently one-way medium is adapting to new expectations of participation and involvement, with game and reality shows offering mobile and online voting, webcam connections and live feeds, turning one-way broadcasting into something resembling a two-way feed. But now Microsoft has entered the fray with its version of TV’s 1 Vs 100, which does the exact opposite. It brings TV influenced push technology into an inherently interactive and anytime format: Xbox Live.
On the surface, 1 Vs 100 seems a fairly standard home-game version of the popular TV game show. The virtual set has all the lights, camera motions and staging of a typical broadcast. Multiple-choice questions, topical and varied, display on the screen while players enter their answers, and an announcer drops status updates throughout. All the basics are present; the only thing absent is host-contestant banter and tension manufactured by editing. But there’s little lost, since without them, everything moves along at a quicker pace. Post Buzz, this might appear unremarkable, until you realise that the audience comprises thousands of Xbox Live members and that every character in the game, the mob, contestant, and even the host, is backed by a live human player represented by their NXE avatar.
Indeed, 1 Vs 100, which recently went into public beta in Canada, is very much structured as a television show. Players essentially tune-in to a scheduled two-hour live broadcast, which has a host who comments and interacts with contestants between rounds. There are real prizes to be won in the form of Microsoft Points and XBLA games, and even occasional commercial breaks, to the chagrin of some. Before every broadcast, players meet in the game’s lobby, where they can also connect with friends, online or local, or be grouped with random Xbox Live members. It’s at this point that some will be selected to be amongst the 101 mob members in the main competition, but with over ten thousand players in the Canadian beta alone, most participants will simply join as members of the crowd in their groups of four or fewer.
While the action revolves around the One vs the mob showdown, Microsoft has done a great job of keeping the audience involved. The crowd is an active observer that plays along with every question to its own set of incentives. At the most basic level there is simple competition, with players vying to finish first in their group. The questions in the beta, at times highly Canadian-centric, tended to be very easy. Trivia hounds might be turned off by this, though it shouldn’t be a surprise in such a populist game. The numerous scoring bonuses, however, including the speed at which players respond, mitigate the simplicity by ensuring that the most evenly matched groups remain competitive from beginning to end. To further encourage participation, the top three scoring audience members win prizes (Microsoft Points or games) and playing well overall increases a player’s future chances at being selected for the Mob, or the One. That is the goal, of course, since there the stakes are higher and the rewards are lucrative. This is very superficial carrot-and-stick styled motivation, but it’s easy to see that it could work effectively. With the added massively multiplayer aspects of live competition, it’s a surprisingly engrossing game with the kind of enthralled audience that traditional TV producers – and advertisers – can only dream about.
Unfortunately, a TV-styled presentation has TV-styled problems. Live games are schedule-dependent and if you can’t show up at a specific hour you can’t play. There’s no PVR for live, interactive content. Nor is there tape delay: the Canadian beta spans six time zones, which further complicates scheduling. While this will not affect more regionalised broadcasts, like those in the UK, it does highlight unique problems never before seen in a videogame. The added logistics of running a game on such a schedule, when thousands of people attempt simultaneous connections, can create connection nightmares for some. The beta was very inconsistent in this regard. Some users reported no problems whatsoever, while others were bombarded by constant interruptions. Even the One wasn’t immune, unceremoniously disconnecting in the middle of a question during the broadcast. But this is what the beta is for and if Microsoft can iron out some of the kinks, and set up good infrastructure to accommodate future scaling, it might have a truly unique, and demographic-spanning, experience at its disposal.