Cinema Games: MSNBC’s NewsBreaker

On June 19, 2007 by Christy

newsbreaker

Theatre-goers have been having fun playing ‘crowd gaming’ at the cinema, courtesy of MSNBC.com. The official press release explains:

Msnbc.com liberates movie audiences from the out-of-date trivia, static billboards and the impatience of waiting for the summer blockbusters to begin with NewsBreaker Live, the first in-theater, audience participatory video game. Modeled after classic video games, NewsBreaker Live combines live msnbc.com RSS newsfeeds, the movement of the audience as a human joystick, and the big screen as a game board to bust audiences out of their pre-movie doldrums with an interactive game that delivers real-time news headlines to kick start the moviegoing experience.

Here is a video of the game in action:

In an email from the Brand Experience Lab, the following stats from ‘informal audience intercepts’ are offered:

  • 78% of the people played the game
  • 93% would like to see more games like this in theaters
  • 87% said that the audience around them was enjoying the game
  • 93% would prefer to play a game then watch a commercial in-cinema
  • But the best number was a 71% unaided recall rate of msnbc.com as the sponsor of the game. To put that in some kind of context, according to the most recent Arbitron study of in-cinema advertising, 59% of all movie goers recall seeing commercials at theaters.

I think the cinemas are the ones that should be putting on more games! They’re the ones who are interested in getting patrons in, or the filmmakers (which I’ll talk about in a moment). Advertisers can too of course. What concerns me about the stats and about games such as this is (in my opinion) the wrong feedback it gives to the creators. Sure, people loved the game. It is a fun game! Sure, people remembered MSNBC.com — that is good. (Interesting how people presume play needs a sponsor these days.)

But what gets me is that I don’t think the game succeeded in accomplishing the other goal. SS+K conceived of the game (check out their site, very funny :)) to, I believe, show how MSCBC.com has a ‘broader spectrum of news’. Now, the game doesn’t deliver this message to me. I may be the only one though, I’m not representative of the normal audience (is there such a thing anymore?). It seems the game is successful as a company branding exercise: where MSNBC is seen as a company that is willing to entertain, to play with its ‘consumers’. This is the effect that most branded games have I think. Hardly any manage to pull off a specific message related to a product. Instead, they just reskin games and hope for the best. For a good message to be pulled of the message needs to be integrated into the experience in some, not pasted over the top. This has been spoken about many times by serious games designers such as Scot Osterweil of the MIT Education Arcade who said at the Cybergames Conference in Perth last year that many games use the ‘content stuffer’ approach: where they repupose games and just inject in education content. The result, he jested, was ‘Grand Theft Calculus’.  On this blog I’ve mentioned companies such as V-Lodge offer good advice on well designed advergames.

Anyway, SS+K called on the excellent Brand Experience Lab to implement the idea. Check out their site and their article on brands telling stories.

On another note, I rewatched the Wizard of Oz last night, and after that a documentary about the film. I was surprised to discover that at the 1939 opening on August 17 at the Loew’s Capitol Theatre in New York City over 15,000 people lined up to see the film…and Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. After each screening you see, Judy and Mickey performed. The cinema experience just doesn’t have that sort of demand these days, because it hasn’t had that sort of theatrics. But some creators are playing the with idea of cinema as event again. A contemporary example is the ‘alternate reality game’ cinema experience that Lance Weiler is currently touring across the USA with for his film Head Trauma (that I’ve mentioned here and over there).

You can play NewsBreaker online: http://www.newsbreakergame.com/

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