GSN Quietly Grows Large on Facebook With Game Shows and Tournaments

For 72 million American cable subscribers, the Game Show Network is a household name. But on Facebook, the company has been a relatively unnoticed presence, quietly growing to eight million MAU as GSN.

It’s relatively easy for a new competitor to slip up the rankings on Facebook — growth to a substantial size can come in just a few short months, sometimes almost by accident. But GSN is just embarking on a larger strategy that’s based on a years-old winning formula from its web business.

“In the last year or so we’ve gotten very aggressive in social games,” Peter Blacklow, the executive vice president of GSN Digital, said when we checked in about the company’s plans. It’s pursuing three separate strategies, which we’ve broken out below.

Mesmo Games

The driving force behind GSN’s growth so far has been Mesmo Games, a portal that, at first glance, looks a lot like MindJolt Games. Players are presented with a choice of several dozen games to play, most of which are short, casual affairs.

What isn’t immediately obvious is that Mesmo is the successor to WorldWinner, a cash games business that GSN has run successfully for years. The basic idea is that most of the games are based on skill or reaction time; players train up on the games and then enter tournaments that return prizes to the winners. GSN essentially takes a cut of the tournament entry fees, which some players will have to buy virtual currency to pay.

After WorldWinner started up in 2000, other companies followed suit., the largest single portal, reports hundreds of millions of plays each year. It’s a big business, and one that GSN wants to bring to Facebook.

White-Label Tournaments

The rest of WorldWinner’s history, not mentioned above, is that the company went on to serve as the technology back-end for others who wanted to run tournaments in their own games. Blacklow says that the tech requirements can become quite significant — fraud and cheating detection, fair matching systems, automatic tournament creation and much more goes into the business.

GSN is just starting to work with other Facebook developers, but over time it hopes to become the tech platform for a burgeoning skill-game business. That could eventually extend into more typical social games, where players aren’t usually capable of entering a real-time, head-to-head match. “What we’ve found is the majority of tournaments and revenue is coming from asynchronous play already,” says Blacklow.

How much are tournaments worth? GSN is a private company and thus won’t share figures, but Blacklow says that a lifetime value per consumer of $400 to $600 was reported when GSN was still a public company (it’s now owned by Sony and DirecTV).

Branded Game Shows

Everyone sat up and took notice when Family Feud topped seven million MAU. That game wasn’t developed by GSN, but it was a branded property of the sort that GSN has easy access to.

So in September, GSN released its first game show property, Wheel of Fortune. There’s already a version of Wheel in Mesmo Games, but now there’s also a standalone app for real fans.

So far, Wheel of Fortune has gained about a quarter of a million MAU, following in the footsteps of other game show-based social titles like the Price is Right. The latter also isn’t a GSN title, but the company does have more tricks up its sleeve, including Jeopardy, which Blacklow expects to release early next year.

In the model that Feud started, most game show games are following a similar model of giving players a couple “episodes” to play each day, and charging for more. GSN, of course, can also create tournaments around the property.

What GSN is doing is just the start of a wider migration of casual games onto Facebook. A competitor and partner, Arkadium, has already released some of its content on the social network, and others will follow. “Our players thus far have looked a lot like traditional casual game players,” Blacklow says of his Facebook users. “There’s no doubt that the casual game player has migrated, I wouldn’t say exclusively onto Facebook, but they’re certainly spending more and more time there.”