You Don't Know Jack has been adapted into a Facebook game that launches today, bringing the wit and trivia of Jellyvision's classic franchise to the booming social platform.
Though Facebook games are oftentimes characterized by their compression of console and PC game experiences into a more digestible format, the signs of You Don't Know Jack's adaptation are few and far between. The early Friends and Family beta we participated in revealed a trivia game that remains true to the series' roots with a handful of clever, unobtrusive social mechanisms tied in.
It's part of developer Jellyvision's refocusing of its efforts on the social and mobile markets following last year's THQ-published console title.
"You know, console space, shelf space is really challenging," Jellyvision general manager Mike Bilder told Polygon. "It's the haves and have-nots, the big $60 blockbuster titles still rule the day there. There's an indie market, kind of a smaller published market on XBLA and PSN, and we kind of fell into that middle zone of not a digital download, but not a premiere title that gets the marketing attention and shelf space. I think it's kind of soft across the board in that area.
"We saw a huge shift of the potential audience of our product moving in the direction of social and mobile gaming. It really is just a great opportunity for us to reach a much larger install base, to provide some new social features, and being really hyper-current with things. It's just a natural progression for us to move into those spaces."
The game is divided into quick, five-question episodes featuring all the special categories longtime players have come to know and giggle at: Dis or Dat, Gibberish Questions, and of course, the climactic Jack Attack. Players submit their best scores asynchronously and rank against friends who've played that same episode.
'It's just a natural progression for us to move into those spaces.'
The asynchronous play does away with the answer-forcing Screws, and the timed element of the Jack Attack. However, it ensures that you'll be able to hop in for a brisk trivia session without waiting on your irresponsible friends to join in. Better still: You not only earn cash for your score and final placement in each episode, you earn additional cash for how you place when any of your friends play that episode in the future.
There is, of course, monetization. You're allotted one free episode per day, but if you want to play any more than that, you'll either have to buy more episodes or find a way to unlock them. Fortunately, the methods of doing the latter are plentiful. You can earn free episodes by earning levels (using the cash system described above) or by unlocking certain Achievements. If you play well, that one episode you bought can turn into several free episodes as you gain levels and rank against your friends.
Players can also purchase (or unlock through Achievements) score-boosting Enhancements, which can make your bad score decent, or your great score untouchable. Other players can see when you've applied these boosts, making them a fairly obvious way of getting a leg-up on your smarter and faster friends.
Jellyvision is banking on these features not being too much of an obstacle for folks who aren't as familiar with social gaming.
"We know our audience is on Facebook," marketing director Marc Blumer explained. "We've got 37,000 fans on Facebook, and that's just organically from people who love us, who love the brand coming and showing up and engaging with us. Surprisingly, a third of our fans on Facebook are self-identified console gamers.
"We really believe that there will be a significant amount of console players who play on Facebook, and we will be their first Facebook game."
A trivia game that remains true to the series' roots
Another benefit of having the game on a social platform is the ability to update it with greater frequency than on consoles. The game currently has 165 episodes to play through, and Jellyvision plans to release new ones every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those episodes are written by a small team of writers at Jellyvision's Chicago office, and each one is fully voiced by Tom Gottlieb, the man behind You Don't Know Jack's unswervingly snarky host, Cookie Masterson.
"I think totally we want to keep the sarcastic edge we had in the early games," Gottlieb said. "I think that's kind of been a guiding principle all along. But it has evolved to some extent. While we do have some people from the old regime, we have new writers, too, so their sensibilities are a bit different, and they bring different things to the table.
"I think it feels pretty fresh, especially because there's so much focus on current events. It won't feel like your grandfather's You Don't Know Jack."
The team at Jellyvision is also working on a mobile counterpart for the app, which will replace the recently pulled-down iOS version of Jack. Beyond that, the studio hopes to one day diversify its largely single-faceted game portfolio.
"We have lots of ambitious ideas, and lots of great concepts, some prototypes, some paper concepts," Bilder said. "We want to earn that 's' in our name, Jellyvision Games. We absolutely have ambitions beyond You Don't Know Jack. But this is the brand that we're known for, the one we can execute the best, it's still a very fun product. It's the logical first move in this space for us."