Xbox Live goes dark

Microsoft has cancelled '1 vs. 100'

Two years ago, Microsoft announced plans to compete against television programmers on their own turf. On Thursday, the company conceded the first round to the networks.

After two successful seasons, the Microsoft has cancelled “1 vs. 100,” an online adaptation of the Endemol-created NBC gameshow. The game was the centerpiece of an experiment called Xbox Live Primetime — a scheduled series of interactive games that represented the videogame industry’s first serious foray into turf dominated by TV. It was a hit, too, setting a Guinness World Record for the most simultaneous contestants in a gameshow at 114,000.

“When we started on this journey, we knew we were creating an entirely new genre of entertainment that would be a continually evolving concept,” Dave McCarthy, general manager of Microsoft Game Studios, said in a statement. “We’re very proud of the ‘1 vs 100’ team and their accomplishments, and are excited to apply what we’ve learned to future programming.”

Microsoft did not give a more precise reason for its decision not to move forward with a third season of the gameshow, which from all outward appearances was successful. The show was highly dependent on advertising support and secured sizable sponsorships from Sprint over both seasons. (Samsung and Honda were also heavily involved with the game.) It’s unclear, however, if the company was able to sign a sufficient number of sponsors for a third season to make the game profitable enough to continue.

The concept of “1 vs. 100” was unique in the gaming industry. Rather than compete solely against Sony’s PlayStation or Nintendo’s Wii for gamer attention, it aimed at the heart of the networks, with live programming scheduled during prime viewing hours.

The game, which was modeled after the NBC series, aired two live two-hour episodes each week — during which auds played for real-world prizes, ranging from credits to download other content to cars. (Thirty-minute “extended play” sessions, which were formatted differently and meant as practice rounds for players, aired at other times throughout the week.)

Microsoft knew it wouldn’t be in a position to top TV ratings anytime soon.

The game, however, marked a shift from the videogame industry being a passive competitor to an active one. TV executives have long been concerned about the possibility that viewers might be more inclined to play a game rather than watch TV programming. But this was the first time a game company directly targeted specific nights and time slots.

Research by Nielsen found that gaming has a primetime just like TV. Playtime is at a peak from 7-11 p.m. And 18-34 year olds made up 55% of the player base. Among Nielsen households, the ratings service found that 20%-25% of the trackers were using their Xbox 360 instead of watching television during primetime.

While in-game ads have always been a touchy subject among gamers, Microsoft integrated them into the game in a way that seemed to work, according to research gathered by the ratings service during the show’s second season. “1 vs. 100” players averaged game times of more than 70 minutes. And they weren’t abandoning the game when the ads played (after every 10 questions).

Microsoft’s statement indicates it plans to launch similar programming at some point in the future. A spokesperson said the team behind “1 vs. 100” is “working on new projects,” but declined to be more specific.

With nothing definite on the schedule, though, “Xbox Live Primetime” could easily fade away — giving TV networks a little more breathing room.

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