The Xbox LIVE version of 1 vs. 100 was a huge hit among gamers until it was suddenly canceled by Microsoft. Although 1 vs. 100 has been gone for quite some time (it was canceled back in 2010), many gamers are still left wondering what happened to this day. Why was such a seemingly popular game abruptly canceled? I sat down with the game's former host, Chris Cashman, who explains what he thinks happened.
Hinkley: So first, what have you been up to since hosting 1 vs. 100 on Xbox LIVE?
Cashman: Tons! I still work quite a bit with Microsoft, hosting various videos and gatherings. I'm currently the host of several shows on MSN. "News on Main" is a fun show that features entrepreneurs and small business owners who have beaten the odds. We are in our fifth season and have actually won a Telly award for our work. I am a host for a financial show called "Ask a Money Expert." I'm also the voice for a cool series called "The Weekly Strange." It's about hauntings, close encounters, and so on.
I do a lot of event hosting around Seattle and am now also doing auctions. I'm a Producer behind the scenes too and am responsible for several advertising campaigns on TV and radio. I work with some national clients like Antennas Direct.
I'm perhaps most excited about a brand new local comedy TV show I'm a part of here in Seattle called "The 206." It's sort of a reboot of a show called "Almost Live" that ran for decades here in Seattle but ended production in the late 90's. My father (Pat Cashman) was on that show and is a part of The 206 with me. It's really exciting. We just taped our first show in front of a live studio audience and it went great. Truly a thrill for me. Some recent press on that...
Hinkley: How did you end up becoming the host of 1 vs. 100? Were there auditions or were you contacted specifically?
Cashman: Sadly, that's starting to become a fuzzy memory but it was essentially a legit audition. An agent I work with called me and said "Microsoft is doing a game show." I've always had aspirations to do a game show because it is the perfect mix of entertainment and ad lib. I went and did some sort of on-camera audition but don't remember much other than I tried to be energetic and funny.
I got the "call back" so then I went in to the office of the producer of 1 vs. 100. He was a great guy they had hired from Nickelodeon. He "got TV" and my background on TV and radio was somewhat attractive to him. That said, the audition was (in my opinion) designed to be a trap. It was a very intimate setting and he asked off the wall questions. "Would you rather..." type questions. I honestly don't remember them anymore but I do recall that I had rather good answers for odd questions. I just refused to give in and it seemed to me like I was being tested on digging out of a dead end. I'm a quick thinker so that wasn't a problem. I think I might have even turned it around on him.
Anywho, I eventually got a call and was offered "the job." It was very exciting but also confusing. What the heck is a live video game? We did beta for six months or so and eventually it was live on Xbox. It quickly became a rather seductive experience. At the time I was also on the radio in Seattle and I would leave the studio a bit early to head to Microsoft Studios for the twice a week live shows. It was like living a double life. Most of my friends and colleagues had no idea what I was up to or that Xbox LIVE had live content. It was a blast! Building an engaged audience was a rush.
I was the one who proposed live guests. Even celebrities. The upper management folks were nervous but I basically called in a favor to Joel McHale, who I know from his days in Seattle. He agreed to call during the 1 vs. 100 live show. I sorta forced them to try it and the response was huge. I then called in another favor to Jeff Probst, host of Survivor. He is also a mutual friend. We had established that this was a very unique promotional opportunity. Tens of thousands of people logged on to play and were engaged in the game. They listened when we talked. If we said something was worth buying or watching, they heard it. We had a hard time putting a value on it but you could argue that Xbox LIVE is among the most engaged and supportive you'll find. We then started having gaming guests like Felicia Day from The Guild and game designers. It was a steam roller in motion. Until...
Hinkley: At the peak of its popularity, how many people regularly played 1 vs. 100?
Cashman: Not totally sure but I remember seeing 40,000 or so on the screen in front of me. We are in the Guinness Book of World Records, too!
Hinkley: 40k is a lot of people playing all at once. How many Microsoft Points did 1 vs. 100 give out as prizes over its lifetime?
Cashman: Yeah, it was really fun to see so many people logging on to play live. I got to see a live ticker on my screen that would spin like a car odometer. It certainly fluctuated but I was always so inspired to see that many people join the fun. I have NO idea how many Microsoft Points we gave out but I heard from people all the time who won and were buying movies and such. Pretty cool reward concept, in my opinion.
Hinkley: In your opinion, why do you think that Microsoft scrapped the project back in 2010? Was the game not profitable?
Cashman: It's rather frustrating. We were gaining steam. I think we had beaten all expectations and hopes in a short period of time. We were live in both America and Canada. This was before folks really even knew what Twitter was. We were certainly ahead of the curve. I can't say for sure but after the dust settled I had some conversations with folks "in the know" that pretty much said the game was essentially abandoned because one boss left the division and another came in. One "got it" and the the new one didn't. They were signing contracts with ESPN to have content on Xbox LIVE and my team was basically reassigned to the ESPN project. Bummer. I don't think it was any more complicated than that.
At any company you are at the mercy of some manager. I've fallen victim to similar situations in TV & radio stations I've worked at. Someone champions you and another doesn't. The buck stops at the decision maker and unfortunately that person wasn't among the fans of 1 vs. 100. I think Xbox is a tremendous platform and it remains number one on my wish list. I would LOVE to resurface on Xbox LIVE doing something. I have ideas for shows and content and I think the future of Xbox LIVE must be in creating original content. G4 is gone so it seems to me that sort of programming would be huge on Xbox LIVE. I will tell you that I am actively talking with a TV producer about our mutual desire to produce a live show for Xbox. 2013 maybe? Sounds like a good year to me! Toes crossed.
Hinkley: Where did you guys get all your questions for the game? Did you come up with any yourself?
Cashman: There was actually a group of writers who came up with the questions. Obviously there are legal ramifications for topics and the accuracy of what the answers are so I didn't get anywhere near the question writing. It did evolve to a point where we were able to be a bit more topical. Programming and tech usually meant that content had to be created well in advance but it did get to the point where we could insert some topical questions about things that just happened or were about to. The potential was SO great for this game.
Hinkley: How did you first hear about the show being canceled? Did you see it coming beforehand or was there just a dreaded phone call one day?
Cashman: I learned about the game being canceled by one of the producers. I could see the foreshadowing but ultimately it came in a phone call. The people who were actually involved in the day to day operations of the game cared deeply about it and were also very bummed. It wasn't a decision based on "ratings" or performance. It was just a business decision made by some manager. I don't even know who that person is.
Like I mentioned before, many of the team I worked with went on to help build the ESPN area on Xbox LIVE so I'm guessing that contract helped force the cancellation. Not ESPN, but the need to have people work on that new platform. I got a call and was told we weren't going to get to continue and although I was very sad, I tried to deal with it in strides.
I turn to comedy in my daily life so that's what I tried to do in this scenario. I just turned on the web cam and decided to make a silly reaction video. It's on YouTube. It sorta helped me laugh about it and just try to deflect the loss of something really fun. I still look back at it as one of the coolest opportunities I've ever had. If I had the power to revive any of the TV, radio, or other media projects I've been involved in... it would be Xbox LIVE. It had so much potential and I felt as though there was a ton I could have done with it that was never fully realized.
Hinkley: 1 vs. 100 appealed to both hardcore and casual gamers alike. It was the first video game my mom played in decades so it seems strange that 1 vs. 100 would be officially canceled just months before Kinect came out. It could have been awesome using the Kinect voice commands...
Cashman: Yeah, I think we were doing something that was way ahead of the curve. That's the part that bothers me the most. We were breaking new ground and then had to give up when we were finally hitting our stride. I was pitching us doing the game live from contest winners houses and at events like E3. It was the coolest game in the world and it did bring together the casuals and hardcore folks. That's something I realized early on. We had people writing to tell us how their gamer pal wanted to hate 1 vs. 100 but caved and found it quite compelling. Parents wrote about how they would play with their kids because it was a game but the kids were learning. It really was a dynamic opportunity.
Hinkley: Is there a chance we could ever see 1 vs. 100 again on Xbox LIVE or should fans not hold their breath?
Cashman: There is always a chance but I can tell you I never heard another peep from Xbox about the game. Ultimately it wasn't an original production. 1 vs. 100 is brand owned by game giant Endemol. Xbox had to pay good money to license the name. That also probably made it less attractive to the decision makers. I think it was a bit of a rash decision and probably seemed like a smart move due to the need for staff to work on other divisions like ESPN. The potential for 1 vs. 100 and the live interaction was what made it unique and it really is a shame that is was abandoned. I worked with some really brilliant people.
To keep up with all of Chris's latest work check out his website www.chriscashmanonline.com.