May 13, 2007
MSNBC Hopes to Attract People to Its Site with News-Based Casual Gaming

MSNBC has launched a brilliant branded casual game on its site, one that is quite simple, fun to play, and ties directly in with their product. Is it gimmicky? Of course it is. But it also works. The game is called "NewsBreaker," and it is part of a new three-pronged approach on the network's behalf to turn its site and its brand into a place people go to in order to learn about the latest news.

The new tag line for the company is A Fuller Spectrum of News, and the attention-getter has been this game. It's the BrickBreaker model that has been the staple of a wide range of casual games over the years. And, just as BrickBreaker captivated the minds of many industry executives over the past few years, MSNBC hopes to do the same with attracting folks to their news site.

First of all, this game type is appealing in itself. For instance, see Susanne Craig and and Gregory Zuckerman's article about BrickBreaker from The Wall Street Journal. They say, "In this era of startlingly realistic video games, BrickBreaker is straight out of the Stone Age. Yet it has developed a cult following, not among the young Gameboy set, but with executives chained to their email. Players swap strategies in chat rooms, brag about their prowess and pay homage to BrickBreaker superstars -- a few with top scores of over one million."

The MSNBC version is slightly different than BrickBreaker, even if the fundamental point of the game is the same. In this case, though, certain bricks contain top headlines from current news across MSNBC, and those headlines fall. The player must keep the paddle in the air, while the game collects the headline the paddle is able to catch on the side of the screen. Collecting a certain number of headlines gives the user a chance for extra lives.

The collected headlines can then be read if anything passed across the screen that the player was interested in knowing more about. The game is available here.

The company has generated further interest by a special interactive version of the game that debuted before Spider-Man 3. MediaPost's Online Media Daily had a report from Les Luchter regarding the in-theater version of the game, in which the movement of audience members in their seats controlled the paddles, captured by a camera at the front of the theater that recorded the audience movements and allowed that footage to interact with the computer game.

The in-theater versions will be in L.A., Philadelphia, and White Plains, N.Y., according to the story, and the NewsBreaker Live version of the game will play before other blockbusters this summer.

What I think sets this game apart from The Game Show Network's offerings that I wrote about back in December is that, in this case, the feel of this game stays in step with what I would consider the brand DNA of MSNBC, while the GSN online games, with their political criticism and crassness, didn't necessarily tie in with the on-screen product. These games included spoofs of Mel Gibson driving under the influence, an O.J. Simpson book signing, Mark Foley's outrunning pages in Pac-Man style through a maze, and a game of hangman using Saddam Hussein.

I asked then, and am not sure of the answer still, "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?"

The MSNBC game doesn't leave me asking that question, and the tie-in to their news product seems pretty transparent.

The new initiative from MSNBC also includes the NewsStream screensaver, which pulls out news from RSS feeds, with colorized news categories. There are Beta versions of NewsStream for PCs and Macs.

Finally, there is Spectrum TV, which right now just includes an initial demo about the wide variety of news covered by MSNBC.

By the way, check out < a href="">this link for more.

Thanks to Todd Cunningham for pointing me in this direction.