The Game Show Network is attempting to expand its reach through a transmedia approach to games, making its Web site not just a destination for a different type of gaming experience but a place in which the network can further develop a brand identity that may be lacking from its game show lineup in the traditional channel alone.
The online site for the network has launched a series of games in recent months that has gotten the attention of the users of its Web site. The first such game was launched late this summer, when an animated online game that provided little in the way of intriguing game play but much in the way of commentary and parody of current events, spiking traffic from 444,000 in August to 654,000 unique viewers in September, according to information reported by Daisy Whitney in TelevisionWeek from Nielsen's online ratings.
That animated game mocked Mel Gibson's drinking, entitled "So You Think You Can Drive, Mel?" The object of the game? Why to "collect tequila bottles while avoiding Stars of David and Troopers."
That initiative was followed in early December with a dig at the cancelled O.J. Simpson book and TV special, in which O.J. was to reveal how he would have committed the murders if he had committed the murders. GSN's Web site featured a game entitled "Throw the Book at O.J". "Seems that people are less than impressed with one author's 'high concept' idea to explore his shady past! Show him the error of his ways by throwing his words right back in his face."
Then there was "Foley's Follies". Users run through a maze outrunning pages. "Find the 'Instant Message' bubbles to gobble-up pages in retreat and earn points."
Zach Whalen with Gameology writes, "It's nice to see a news-based game that isn't a whack-a-mole or space invaders clone, and the imagery of the floor of Congress as a maze seems kind of fitting as pages scurry up and down the corridors."
That's right--an American classic word game, with an animated Hussein, who mocks one's attempt to guess the word that will tighten the noose.
Now, the newest game? "Saddam Hussein's Hangman".
According to the promo for the game, it is "a traditional game of hangman with a sick twist--you actually want to hang the man." The irreverent games are leaving some questioning whether all publicity really is good publicity, such as Josh Goldman, who writes that "GSN.com is just asking for trouble now."
Who is right here--Goldman or Whalen?
Are casual games like this a chance for biting critical commentary in a fun and irreverent way, or are they meaningless, tasteless, and exploitative. In the eye of the beholder, of course, but the larger question is what it means for the GSN brand. This is certainly not the type of content that airs on GSN itself, which is airing classic and current game shows and historical shows that ask questions like what the best game shows of all-time are.
Can a brand manage multiple audiences by pursuing different audiences in different media forms? Will the people who seek the GSN Web site out as a source for these types of irreverent games carry over their interest in the brand to the television network? Is that even necessary?
And what are the role of casual games in building a brand? Casual games have shown to have some interesting functions, such as the piece I wrote back in August about roulette games on Japanese ATMs. These are interesting questions to ponder when considering how to employ casual games in expanding a brand.