A Push Too Far

“How far away is Push, Nevada?”

Push, Nevada is quickly shaping up to be the second major commercial TV-mmoe, after the BBC’s Spooks. Developed by ABC in conjunction with Liveplanet, an ‘integrated media’ company started by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck among others, Push is attracting a great deal of attention for offering a seven figure cash prize to a ‘winner’.

Rather than provoking joy in the mmoe/ARG player community, the seven figure sum is worrying many. It’s a widely held belief in the mmoe community that co-operation, not competition, is one of the most distinctive and enjoyable features of the genre. The scope and difficulty of the AI game, for example, would have made it practically impossible for any one person to ‘solve’ the game – not that it was something that could be solved. As a result, co-operation was key for the player community to get the most out of the game, by sharing ideas, speculation and puzzle solutions.

When a seven figure prize enters the equation, everything is changed. While there are already laudable efforts to form player groups to attempt to win Push and donate the prize to charity, I suspect that this will be the exception to the rule of players fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on the million dollars. We’ve all seen what people will do for a million dollars, not only on TV, but also in countless stories in everyday life. More often than not, a lot of people get hurt. It’s likely that the same will happen with Push. Why would you exchange clues and information with someone else, if it meant that they might win the money instead of you? Why should you trust anyone? I am not suggesting that the mmoe player community is comprised of a group of bloodthirsty backstabbing sharks (although others may differ) but a million dollars can do a lot to make someone’s morals disappear temporarily.

As a result of all of this, the game will suffer. Competition, not co-operation, will be paramount and the online community will fracture into dozens or hundreds of small groups, intensely suspicious of spies. The game will have to become much less subtle so that the puzzles will be solvable by smaller groups, and undoubtedly the producers will want to keep everyone on a level playing field until the end – and so they’ll artificially slow down gameplay so that everyone can catch up.

The Million Dollar Question

Literally, how will the producers decide upon who gets the prize? Unless they decide to track the ‘score’ of everyone playing the game (a difficult and unreliable task, to say the least), they will probably offer a final puzzle at the end of the TV series. Either the first player to solve it will win the prize, or they’ll do a prize draw of everyone who successfully solved the puzzle within a given time frame. The former situation will result in a mad rush to enter the solution first, and additionally mean that you don’t actually have to play the game to win – you just have to answer the last question. The latter solution will most likely have a simple puzzle which everyone can solve. And there’s nothing that mmoe players hate more than a simple puzzle.

But of course… exactly how many mmoe players are there, in comparison to the masses that ABC and Liveplanet want to attract with Push, Nevada? The vast majority of people watching Push will not have time to follow the game on the Internet or to solve intricate puzzles in foreign languages. They’ll want to be able to sit back and take it easy, and I don’t think ABC is going to argue about that. Consequently it’s no surprise that Pepsi is interested in becoming a major sponsor of Push. Viewers of Push, we’re told, will “go out to their local fast-food outlet or look under soda pop bottle caps” for clues. Pepsi is not interested in a few thousand or tens of thousands of people buying their cans, they will want millions. Let’s face it, in order to make a game that appeals to millions, there’s inevitably going to be some dumbing down.

I might be wrong. I can think of a few scenarios where Push could successfully dissociate the million dollar prize from the game, meaning that co-operation could be preserved. This would of course be quite an altruistic act for the producers, since what would be the point of producing a game which most of the viewers don’t actually play? And what would be the point of a game which has little, if any, connection to the final million dollar question which is after all what 90+% of your audience only care about? Certainly I hope I’m wrong about the money and that there’s only a seven figure prize fund, not a seven figure prize, meaning that there would be a lot of smaller prizes and slightly less competition.

Push, Nevada is set to air on September 12th. The Internet portion has already started; the first website called Push Times is now online. I don’t think everything about Push is terrible – I like the fact that there’s a TV-mmoe being released, and that some of my ideas for interactive product placement are being used. Having arcs for the show is a great idea. A seven figure prize is definitely not – at least, not for the present ARG/mmoe player community. For all its claims of being similar to Microsoft’s AI game, Push is aimed at a completely different audience. If you’re reading this, chances are that you aren’t in that audience.

ABC (2002). ABC Fall Preview: Push, Nevada.

LivePlanet (2001). Push, Nevada Hot Sheet.

Chunovic, L (2002). PepsiCo readies to double down. (Electronic Media Online, “Elements of the game still under discussion will require viewers to get up from their TVs and computers and go out to their local fast-food outlet or look under soda pop bottle caps or take similar “real world” actions.”

LivePlanet and ABC (2002). Push Times in-game website.


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