With the mid-term elections just two months away, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has rolled out This is Not a Game: The Game, the TBS show’s live mobile app that rewards political knowledge with cash prizes.
As Bee explained during the Turner upfronts last May, the goal of the game is to drive voter turnout for the mid-terms elections, which are being billed as the most important election in generations. But don’t assume that Full Frontal viewers are leading the charge in terms of turning up at the polls. Amazingly, Bee said during a New York launch event for the app, only 52% of the show’s viewers are registered to vote.
That fact helped galvanize the effort to find an amusing way to drive turnout. “We have no idea if this will be impactful or not, but we just wanted to try something,” Bee said. “It felt like somebody needed to try something. … We can’t quite conquer gerrymandering with this, but we’ll try that next.” Product Manager Adam Werbach added, “The old stuff isn’t working. We have to take a chance on new techniques.”
Much of the framework for the game is based on that of HQ Trivia, but the trivia questions are all about the political process and other civics fundamentals and there is no live host or interstitial videos. After downloading the free app, contestants are invited to play a daily game live at a set time, answering 10 questions and vying for a share of $5,000 in prize money. The first game will be on the night of September 12.
The launch event featured Michael Rubens, a writer and field correspondent for Full Frontal, moderating a panel discussion and media Q&A session that also included Werbach and field producer Razan Ghalayini. Surprisingly, not one of the group’s comments yielded a single reference to Donald Trump or Brett Kavanaugh, or any mention of tech executives summoned to testify in the Senate or Colin Kaepernick making a Nike commercial. Instead, the night largely consisted of an admiring two-dozen journalists (sample question: “What can we do to help?”) testing the game and a group of people who made an app describing the process.
The idea for the game took root when the show aired a segment on “gamification” increasing engagement, especially for traditional media brands like newspapers. Bee recalled wondering if that tactic could enhance engagement with the electoral system. “Could it be an experiment that we could undertake?”
She emphasized that the game is expressly bi-partisan, a change from the show’s leftward lean. Even so, “the questions are in the voice of the show. It’s a fun game to play.”
While the teaser for the game at the Turner upfronts included an enthusiastic pitch for advertiser engagement, at the launch event Bee said there are no near-term plans to integrate brands. With a focus on getting downloads and delivering a clean user experience, featuring advertiser messages is “some evolved version of things but that’s off in the distance,” she said.
The experience of making a game app proved arduous, Bee conceded. “The point of no return was very far along in the process,” she said. “There were a lot of times when we could have dropped it.” Ghalayini said making the look and feel simpler helped. “We kept stripping the game,” she said. From an initial version with a wheel players would spin and raffle tickets, the development team would ask, in her words, “How can we make it more simple and dumb?”
Bee recalled, “What I didn’t realize was that failure and feedback is a constant part of the process. It’s different in comedy than it is in tech. That was a very sharp learning curve for me.”