Ah Primetime, the mythical beast few thought would survive being a Microsoft vision is finally on its way to becoming a reality with public trails staring this past week in Canada. Being lucky enough to live in the frozen north I decided to crawl out of the igloo, thaw out the controller and give it a try.
Logging on Friday night, about five minutes before the live show began; I was prompted to select my privacy level. Public if I want to be the One or the Mob or Private if I only want to play in the crowd and keep hidden. A nice feature for children or recluses, but if you want to actually win prizes, Public is the only way to go. Following that I was tossed into a lobby with three random gamers where we killed time performing silly dance moves and listening to Chris Cashman’s live commentary while we waited for the game to begin.
It was hard to know what to expect from Cashman as this is the first time we’ve really had live commentary in a game, but he was entertaining and being able to interact via email really help meld everything together. The only downside was the obvious lack of coordination between Cashman and the guys running the show as he was regularly cut off mid sentence by a commercial break or the start of a new round. Would it really be that hard to just let him finish his sentence as the scene changes rather than cutting him off?
As the clock ticked over to 10:00 the game began and we were assigned our seats. I was in the crowd, but I could’ve just as easily been put in the mob or been the one. That’s the nice thing about Primetime, anyone can be a contender and the better you do in the crowd, the better your odds of being on the show. For the sake of fairness players are limited to being the One once per season and being in the Mob once per episode.
Gameplay itself is dog simple. A question is asked, three answers displayed, choose an answer and hope you get it right. If you’re the One you’ll also have the option to use help to get your answer from the mob, the crowd or the player with the highest score. Mob members are removed when they get a question wrong and for every 10 removed the pot of Microsoft points increases.
Although there are no prizes while the game is in beta, once the regular season begins you’ll be able to win Microsoft Points, XBLA games and other prizes. If you’re the One, you’ll be given the choice to walk away with the pot once you reach a certain level, but if you get a single question wrong the Mob gets to split your pot. If you’re one of the poor souls stuck in the crowd you needn’t worry because you can still win prizes by being one of the top three point scorers at the end of the night.
For the most part the game is just a continuous barrage of questions but there are pauses every now and then for a commercial break, commentary from Cashman or at the start of a new round. I know a few of you are probably thinking commercials in a game is a bad idea, but they’re short, only happen a few times per show and they give you a much needed break to go grab a beer. Besides, the commercials keep the game free so at a minimum they’re a necessary evil.
Unfortunately for all the good there was one problem that continued to hound me throughout the evening, disconnections. In the two hours I played I was disconnected no less than 16 times and watched the One disconnect twice. I realize this is beta and the whole point of it is to test the service out, but this is still pretty appalling. According to Major Nelson, the team is aware of the issue and are working on it. Hopefully we’ll see a fix in place by the time the next episode rolls around later this week.
Overall, 1 vs. 100 was quite the experience and assuming the stability issues are fixed it could be a sleeper hit. I went in with only marginal expectations, experienced network hell and still came out shocked at the raw potential the service has. The combination of a live broadcast experience with easy access and a chance to get money for nothing is ripe for exploitation and if Microsoft plays its cards right this thing could be big. Here’s hoping they’ve got a few Primetime announcements coming at E3.