Thursday, June 23, 2011

Top 5 Mistakes That Bring Your Game Show to a Grinding Halt

In the classroom or online, you want your training game show to flow smoothly. Questions and game play should proceed at a steady pace without too much interruption (save for breaks in matches, content explanations or elaborations, etc.).

What you *don't* want to do is have your game show crawl along like the slow snail in the gene pool; making the experience unpleasant or awkward, and taking the natural energy of competition out of your game show event.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that slow down your game play (and how to solve them):

1. The questions are too difficult. Questions should be challenging, but not mystifying. Questions that are too advanced, or even hard to read or understand can result in the crickets-chirping phenomenon. This not only slows down game play, but it can become quite frustrating when trainees aren't able to get a taste of success.

If you're playing a review game, ask a slightly-simpler question in the competitive part of the game show, and then ask more challenging follow-up questions in your info screens (either for extra points or for knowledge alone).

Make sure that your questions are up to date (i.e. that you've covered the material in your session that you intend to review in your game).

If you have a long or complex question, break the question into pieces. Add an intro screen before the question and take time to explain the scenario--making the question itself fairly brief.

2. Timers are set incorrectly. If no one knows a question (no one is ringing in) and yet it takes the ring-in timer a long time to expire, there can be a lot of waiting around.

Keep your timers between 10-15 seconds each, or set them to manual mode. We find that manually controlling the timers can give the trainer more flexibility to spend time on a question when everyone is involved, or speed through a question that is less relevant to the training session.

3. Contestants don't understand the rules. Confusion is the cousin of chaos. Contestants need to know what they're supposed to do within a game show or they will: a.) Do nothing, b.) Dispute everything ("Hey, but they didn't answer in the form of a question, isn't that against the rules?"). Both of these scenarios suck time away from game play and disrupt the flow of training information.

Be sure to clearly explain the rules before the game starts--even if you think contestants will know how to play. A game doesn't have to be complex to be engaging; try simplifying the rules so that the focus is on playing the game--not HOW to play the game.

4. There's a logistical/tactical mismatch. Game shows can be played successfully in a large group. They can also be played successfully over a longer period of time. However, you have to have the right set up for your game and use it thoughtfully in a large group or a long session.

One of the most painful game show experiences we've seen was when a client wanted to use a large number of teams and then have the teams take turns answering questions (taking out some of the competitive aspect). While team 1 was answering, team 8 had no incentive to pay attention and vice versa. The game dragged for participants.

While playing in a large group, consider having fewer teams and utilizing small groups of trainees to represent those teams--then switching out the contestants during game play. Make sure that the non-playing audience is assigned to one of the playing teams so they have a stake in the game.

When wanting a longer game show, be sure to add variety; switch up the game format, double the points, change participants or break the game show into smaller sections throughout the session.

5. Equipment failure. We once had a projector go out in the middle of a game show. Once we procured a new projection device, the momentum of the game show had been lost, and it was a bit of a slog to get through the rest.

Sometimes there's not much you can do about spontaneous equipment failure, but you can make sure that you practice with the equipment you're going to use. Test your laptop, slammers (are the batteries turned the right way?) and projection systems. Run through your game to make sure everything is set and in the right order. If there's too much of a delay, sometimes it's better to save the game for another day, or send a follow-up version after the session that trainees can play online (i.e. Quiz Point).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Changing the Game Plan with Wager to Win

Before a product goes out, we do extensive internal and external testing.

This is both for quality control and for game play control; we don't always know if the game play in a new game is going to work in the classroom the way it's supposed to.

Originally, the game play with Wager to Win--the new game format within AllPlay Web--allowed participants to wager a percentage of their bank on every question. Their wager was dependent on how confident they were in their own ability to answer the question.

Naturally, we were really excited about this game format. Not only could individuals play against each other, but the element of wagering--and risking--was very compelling. Development and programming ensued, and we ended up with a beta (pre-release) version of Wager to Win.

There were a few elements we built in based on anticipated game play:

  • We were afraid that if people were allowed to wager all of their points, there was a potential for someone to end up with a score of zero early and not be able to play the rest of the game. Therefore, people could only wager a certain percentage of their points.
  • We wanted the ability to add variety, so we added multipliers by difficulty level. If a question was very difficult, for instance, the payout could be 5:1 instead of 1:1--and anywhere in between.
We set about testing Wager to Win--having friendly office-wide competitions over the web that involved a lot of trivia and a lot of smack-talk. Unfortunately, something happened in game play that we hadn't anticipated: because there were no real stakes for us, we all wagered our maximum amount possible every time regardless of the question difficulty level.

Because of the multipliers involved, the moment one person got a question right that no one else did--they were way ahead. If this happened in the beginning of the game the potential for a blowout lead was huge.

It was frustrating for the players lagging behind.

So what we did was modified the game. Wager to Win will now have two question options:

1. Bank-Building questions in the beginning--where people have an opportunity to gain points at a 1:1 ratio, don't have to wager, and don't lose points for incorrect answers.

2. Wager questions with a percentage limit--as described previously.

Now--voila!--AllPlay Web's Wager to Win is even closer to being released--with already-improved functionality.

Throughout the product testing process, we've also incorporated suggestions for how to display the data and results, game play and more from beta-testing clients, independent testers and trainers. We really do design our software with the training situation in mind; with the best possible experience for the trainer and the participants. We should also say: we are always open to feedback about improvements, changes and issues with the game play in our products.

We're constantly developing and constantly learning--and we hope you are too!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Audience Response Keypads vs. Smartphone Systems

Many companies make an effort to keep up with the latest technology in their training classrooms (and training events). This can aid in engagement and make the training seem more technologically relevant to a younger or more tech-savvy audience. Audience response systems are a great way to engage everyone in an audience, involve trainees in competition, and encourage interaction.

We've been hearing quite a bit about using smartphones as audience response devices lately. Naturally, we're intrigued since our Gameshow Pro and AllPlay software incorporates audience response keypad technology. We've also helped clients produce larger training events using audience response systems--so we have some thoughts.

We love the idea of an audience response device that the trainee can always have with them, keep with them, and is multi-purpose. That's what we love about the smartphone audience response concept.

However, the smartphone technology still has a few things that need to be worked out:
  • Not everyone has a smartphone yet. Hard to believe, but true! Unless the company is providing the smartphone, it can be hard to reconcile the availability of technology AND make sure that the audience response system is compatible across all platforms.
  • Reception. It can be difficult to get reception in a training room. Though smartphones can often hook on to internal wifi, etc, this may pose security issues of another kind. Therefore, you have a legitimate concern with steady connectivity. If someone's cell signal gives out at a game-winning moment... We'd hate to be the judge on that one!
  • With a smartphone, everything is at hand. Literally. It's easy to get distracted by an incoming text, email, the internet, etc. Additionally, if you're using this in a large event it encourages people to have their cell phones out (when it can already be difficult to maintain their attention spans). 
  • Cheater, cheater. . . having a phone in-hand while voting makes sending a game show answer to a friend just a quick-text away. Not that we'd question the integrity of trainees, but stranger things have been known to happen. 
While we think smartphone response systems are a great concept, we think they have a long way to go in terms of practical application in the training classroom or training event. For right now, we'll stick with our good ol', reliable, radio-frequency audience response keypads.