Microsoft wants to making gaming a prize-winning endeavour with a console-first massively-multiplayer trivia game for Xbox 360. Is a giant game show just what Xbox Live needed?
What Is It? 1 Vs 100 is the sometimes-live 13-week game show being released for free to all Xbox Live Gold members later this year. Prizes are awarded for answering multiple-choice trivia questions, with the best wins — depending on which of three roles you play in the game — netting players 10,000 Microsoft points, a free Xbox Live Arcade game, or an entry into a season-wide prize sweepstakes for stuff like Zunes. Prizes are offered only for contestants aged 18 and up. At last, a game for adults!
What We Saw Posing as a guy from MTV a couple of weeks ago, your Deputy Managing Editor told the Microsoft people he was switching jobs and was still allowed to share a couch with three other games reporters in New York City for a live run through a 1v100 session. The session was emceed by the show's host Chris Cashman, back in a sound booth in Seattle. At least a dozen other real people were playing from other 360s.
How Far Along Is It? The game ran smoothly from beginning to end. It didn't just have its gameplay features working but even a lot of its in-game advertising in place. It goes into Canadian beta later this week.
What Needs Improvement? Easy Questions: Let us hope that we were told a fact when a Microsoft rep assured us that questions for 1v100 would never be repeated. This must be so, because who wants to play a game show that includes the following question (which your DME got right!): "What country is the 2008 movie Australia set in? 1) New Zealand, 2) Australia, 3) Papua New Guinea"
More Complex Than Wheel of Fortune: Maybe Microsoft will mail people an instruction manual, and maybe it was just too early in the morning when Microsoft was showing the game, but there's a chance that first-time players will find the rules 1 vs 100 baffling. Let's break this down: 1v100 will be run live on Fridays and Saturdays at scheduled sessions that last a couple of hours. You play as your Xbox avatar. Any Xbox Live Gold member can be a member of the audience, aka the Crowd. This lets them answer questions and be linked to three local players or friends in an Xbox Live party. Crowd players earn chances to win sweepstakes prizes. Playing in the Crowd also increases the likelihood that the player will be chosen to join… the Mob. That Mob is the "100" part of 1 vs 100. Members of the Mob see their avatar seated against a big wall a la the Brady Bunch show opening, if the Brady Bunch got randy and had 100 members in the family. Every round of the game sees a new "1" selected from the Mob. The core of the game involves the 1 and the 100 answering the same trivia questions. If the 1 gets it wrong, he or she is knocked out of competition. If a member of the 100 gets it wrong they're dropped from the 100. For every question the 1 gets right, he or she amasses potential Microsoft Points winnings and has the option to cash out. But he or she needs to outlast everyone in the 100. The 100 can win prizes as well, but only once 40 players have been eliminated. The Mob's prize can be a free Xbox Live Arcade game, pre-determined by the show's organisers (which you may already own). Got all that?
And There Are More Rules: I haven't even explained the non-live, every-weekday mode called Extended Play in which everyone is in the Mob and winnings count toward chances to be picked to be in the Mob for the live games. Complex as this all sounds, we were having fun.
Local Scores Unimportant: Plenty of games are fun. But "fun" is so old-fashioned compared to the chance to win fabulous prizes. Microsoft's trailer for 1 vs 100 promises that beyond high scores is winning real prizes and that "beyond gaming is 1 vs 100." OK. Then, how come when me and three other people are playing on a couch — each of us also in the Mob — but winning nothing for beating each other?
What Should Stay The Same? Non-Invasive Advertising: All the Microsoft reps' discussion of Sprint sponsorship and Honda ads seemed ripe for disaster. But the ads in 1 vs 100 weren't a bother at all. The virtual game show set is branded with Sprint signage. A between-sessions break throws more ads onto the screen, but even during that break a player can call up their stats and study their performance.
It's Live: Some of the announcer chatter during the live games of 1 vs 100 is canned. But host Chris Cashman will call out performances and talk about what's happening in the game. He'll also call players up, as he did with me, and record quick interviews that get played during the breaks. He chatted with me about my performance. I accused him of being as shady as the guy in Slumdog Millionaire. He laughed it off.
Everyone Gets A Shot: Microsoft has the right idea about getting new people into the hot-seats for this game. They estimate that up to 1500 people have a shot at getting in the Mob per live session. And the stats that improve your chance for selection — earned by playing the Live and Extended versions of the game regularly — will be re-set each week. So the elite players shouldn't get all the shots at the glory.
Final Thoughts For those of us who have failed to be competitive in first-person shooters, fighting games and other popular online Xbox Live games, we may finally be able to achieve some victories through 1 vs 100. The game doesn't have the nifty controllers of Sony's Buzz series, but if lag isn't a problem, the prospect of playing against hundreds of other gamers at once and schooling them at trivia should be a lot of fun.