Yes, it's officially summer. There's flash flooding and hosepipe bans in the home counties, while the saviour of newspaper circulation during the silly season, Big Brother, has started again.

Amazingly, in the UK, we've now entered our eighth cycle of this particular 90-day-long groundhog day, but whatever your views on such postsocietal entertainment, it does highlight one of the most important recent trends in mobile gaming: games based on TV shows.

Ironically there's no Big Brother mobile game, but the likes of Deal or No Deal, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Weakest Link and Golden Balls have all been massively successful.

So a genre that's a niche on other platforms has blossomed on mobile. Indeed, sometimes it seems there are almost no successful game shows on TV without an equivalent mobile version tie-in (again, apart from BB).

But despite our sniffy views on the quality of these experiences in purely gaming terms, there is something strangely appealing about them. Unlike more traditional games, game shows work surprisingly well on mobile. The often turn-based nature of the interaction, mixed in with simple mechanics certainly fits the medium.

So is this simply the fact of finding a game format that works best with the medium or is there the potential for something more interesting?

Well, it's a common misconception that mobile games are played mostly at bus stops for the five minutes as people wait for their bus. I'm as guilty as anyone for saying this at conferences and in articles. The reality is very different, however, as it has now been proved that most mobile games are not played in that way at all, but are being played at home sitting on the couch. They are being used as an alternative form of entertainment when something comes on the TV you're not interested in.

Taken in this context, games based on game shows really start to make a lot of sense. Playing games that represent a virtual TV while sitting in front of the real TV suggests people are treating mobile games as part of their wider entertainment experience, rather than splitting everything up into separate compartments.

Which makes you wonder how much further the genre could be pushed. There must be lots of different ways the gap between the player and the viewer can be closed. Directly linking the two in terms of texting or calling specific numbers to somehow shape the onscreen action has been massively successful, as we're about to see again with the latest Big Brother, but there are surely more subtle interactions that could also be attempted.

Building on the success of standalone games such as Deal or No Deal and Who Wants to be a Millionaire could just be the next big thing for mobile games.


After 12 years in the games industry, the last eight as head of production at I-play, Chris Wright finally has escaped. He now runs his own consultancy focusing on casual games. He thinks his greatest achievement is having worked on The Weakest Link, while his greatest regret is being rejected to appear on The Weakest Link. He can be contacted at chris[at]gamesconsultancy.com. All opinions expressed are the author's own.