A brief history of game shows, and how they found their way into the live casino vertical
Remember when a game show was a wholesome, exciting, big-budget event in a large shiny studio with a glamorous presenter? Those were the days, right? Instead of watching some Z-list celebrities locked in a house together in some kind of strange display of schadenfreude, the first versions of game shows drew the whole family together around the huge bulky television set as they witnessed contestants compete for a kitchen stand mixer, or a trip to Hawaii, or $2,000.
They would stand before a live studio audience and the entire nation with their hands hovering above a buzzer, beads of sweat forming on their brow. This was reality TV before it warped into embarrassing, forced, car-crash drama. These shows were dignified. Your grandmother could potentially be on this show. And she may well have been because game shows, in one form or another, have been around for as long as TV has. Just let that information sink in for a moment.
In the 1930s, a radio spelling bee held at Alexandria Palace was televised and broadcast, but this is not considered the first iteration of reality TV as we know it. That dubious honour goes to a program called Truth or Consequences, an American show that ran on CBS and also originated from radio. Bizarrely, it was a wacky version of a traditional trivia quiz in which it was almost impossible to get a question correct, meaning that it often resulted in the contestants suffering the nominal and ominous-sounding ‘consequences’.
It was really just an excuse to embarrass people by making them do silly stunts and have a good laugh at them. As the popularity of that Benny-Hill-slapstick-type humour phased itself out of society, the essential structure of televised trivia quiz shows endured, and the modern game show was born.
Elements of famous game shows have been so ingrained into pop culture that we’re all familiar with their iconic style and catchphrases.
Our survey says: can I call a friend or ask the audience? I’ll take ‘things that never happened’ for $100, Alex. ‘Come on down’ and ‘name that tune!’. Will the real Anthony Anderson please stand up, or will he deal or no deal? He’d like to buy a vowel, please, because he is the weakest link. Goodbye.
Even in the dying medium of the public broadcast TV lineup, their popularity has not waned but instead evolved to jump ship onto other, more modern iterations of the concept. Jeopardy!, for example, is one of the most watched and Emmy-awarded game shows in US history. The Price Is Right is on its 44th season and shows no signs of slowing down. Wheel of Fortune took mankind’s greatest invention (the wheel) and turned it into nothing short of a global gaming icon. What is it about this format that captivates us? Professor Robert Thompson from the Department of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York hypothesised what many of us would suspect – the appeal comes from second-hand excitement for people just like us, the relatability of the contestants, the possibility that we could be the ones that might stand a chance of having our 15 minutes of fame, and of winning that stand mixer.
These shows also hit an inadvertent jackpot when they realised how many of us enjoy the gamification of our ability to think under stress. Human beings love tension to break up the monotony of existing. It sounds bleak, but we just can’t get enough of it. The impulse to shout out answers at the TV screen when a contestant struggles is a perfect demonstration of the involuntary blurring of lines between their experience and ours. We are them, they are us.
But you know what’s even better than experiencing something vicariously?
Experiencing it first-hand. Media executives realised that they could cash in on this phenomenon, and boy, did they try. In the 70s, clunky colour-coded teletext pages and rudimentary 8-bit trivia PC games began to crop up to simulate an interactive experience for the player, but due to the transient nature of their technology they just didn’t stand the test of time. Video games developed and capitalised on the steam-train of immersive escapism in a different direction and when live casino joined the party, well, we all know how that went. So people love game shows, and people love live casino. I think you can see where this is going.
And now we find ourselves in the present day, where many are drudging through complex, challenging and uncertain times. There’s only one thing that sells nowadays as much as sex does: nostalgia. When something as evocative as happy memory meets the enduring popularity and adaptability of live casino, the combination is magical. Dr. Constantine Sedikides and his team of researchers at the University of Southampton found that nostalgia can “counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety”. We long for simpler times. It’s like water to our parched, hopeless, 2020-marred souls. And, like real water, good business people have found a way to capitalise on it.
We are now seeing the emergence of live casino games where the player gets to feel like they’re on the very game shows that they know and love. The glitz, glamour and pulse-quickening excitement of the game show studio is brought inches from their faces, and they don’t even have to go through hair and makeup to get there! It’s one step further from simply watching the game show on TV, and not as life-disrupting as actually applying to appear on the show in real life. Although there not currently many options on the market for gaming operators to choose from, the few that have been launched so far have absolutely, cataclysmically exploded and the demand for this new vertical is growing daily. As with real game shows, the original editions are predicted to reach iconic status and operators are being advised to get in on the ground floor while they still can.
Pragmatic Play have just launched one such industry-shattering live casino product that follows the winning formula of wheel-based shows. Mega Wheel is a chance-based game featuring a huge, irresistible, hypnotic rotating disc featuring 54 multi-colour segments which can all win you a corresponding prize, each more exhilarating than the last. The game is broadcast from their spacious, state-of-the-art, studio purpose-built using only the highest-quality equipment and featuring presenters well-versed in the art of charm and engagement. Do your portfolio of games a favour and take a look for yourself at https://www.pragmaticplay.com/en/live-casino/
The journey of the humble game show is not over yet – they are completely and irrevocably imbedded into the DNA of entertainment culture. I, for one, look forward to seeing what future versions will look like from the viewing device on my spaceship or flying car. Until then, the live casino version will do.
About SiGMA Europe: SiGMA Europe will take place on February 16-18, 2021. Europe remains a leading market for gaming, making this the perfect opening gaming show for 2021. Join us for the 7th edition of SiGMA at the MFCC – Malta Fairs & Conventions Centre, and explore how you can benefit from being a delegate, a sponsor, an exhibitor or a keynote speaker.