Outside of a few choice examples, Video Game-focussed TV shows have never really been massively successful. The broader demographic of TV watchers has meant that any show to have tried and engage the gaming community has just not been able to find its footing. Which is a shame, because there have been some genuinely interesting and insightful shows out there.
Furthermore, it’s not as if Gaming Video content is not huge. Whilst Twitch and YouTube (or rather, their content creators) seem to have made it work, for multiple reasons most Video Game TV shows have fallen on their face. In this article, we’re going to look back over a few of the most successful UK Video Game TV shows, and hopefully uncover what went wrong for each.
GamesMaster first broadcast in 1992 on Channel 4. It was an odd show, but that was always going to be the case, as it was the first show to even attempt to create content based on Video Games. It was initially pitched as a competitive gaming show, designed to showcase players competing against each other on various SNES classics. As such, the show was actually categorised under the Sports section of Channel 4.
This competitive side wasn’t the only aspect to GamesMaster however, and it did include reviews of various new releases. These were so popular, that GamesMaster would even be able to get first play exclusives to have on their show. Blast Corps was demonstrated on the show long before it as ever released for example.
Astonishingly, GamesMaster was a ratings hit throughout its run. Hosted most famously by the awesome Dominik Diamond, the show ran for 7 seasons, and was looking to be recommissioned for an 8th. There was even talks for a spin off, that would take the format of a talk show and be aimed at a more mature audience. Unfortunately, this would never come about. Changes in senior staff at Channel 4 would be the death knell for GamesMaster, with the new head Michael Jackson pulling the plug on the show. A huge shame, as no gaming TV show would ever replicate the success Sir Patrick Moore’s large head.
Games World was Sky TV’s attempt to recreate the success of GamesMaster, and followed a similar format. What was different about Games World, was its daily format. Every weekday a new episode would air, with an elimination contest between players on many different games. They would even have video game quizzes to find out who would go through to the next round. On Friday, all the previous week’s winners would then get the chance to beat the ‘Videator’ to win a grand prize.
The show had a very strong 90’s vibe about it, in the vein of The Big Breakfast and Live and Kicking, albeit not as good. Not only that, but Games World could be argued to have launched a certain David Walliams’ career, with his role as Lesley Luncheonmeat being his first onscreen appearance. It was typical Walliams this, with him taking on various cartoonish characters whilst dishing out Cheat codes. Watch it below, it’s wonderfully weird:
Whilst poorly received critically, and looking incredibly dated now, Gamezville was a surprisingly ambitious show. Each episode ran at 60 minutes long, and aired 5 days a week. This punishing schedule meant however that much of the content was overly long and stretched out. Much like the 2 shows listed above, Gamezville was structured round a ‘Face Off’ between 2 members of the public, and they would challenge each other on 4 different games. The show also have reviews and a ‘Cheat-giver’ segment in ‘The Guru’, similar to Games World before it.
Gamezville was primarily aimed at teenagers, even at the expense of other demographics. It may not have been the best show in retrospect, however this author should note that it was entertaining when he was a kid (most likely considering he was the demographic they were aiming for), and considering it ran for nearly 200 episodes, it deserves a mention in the history of TV video game shows.
Dominik Diamond, host of the previously successful GamesMaster, paired up with Johnny Ffinch, who produced the 90’s hit, to create this ‘alternative video game show’ that ran for 20 episodes in 2004. The show had a sketch like formula, with Dominik hosting various different comedy and news segments. These were often genuinely really funny and interesting, and included segments such as:
- “I’m Famous, Give Me My Joypad!” which had professional football players play each other at Pro Evo, or Page 3 Models compete on DDR;
- ‘Behind the Game’ which offered short documentaries on how various games were made;
- and ‘Bunch of Five’, which offered various lists such as ‘The Top 5 Gratuitous Exploitation of Women in Videogames’. See below:
Some of the best segments of WGA however, were by far Caroline Flack’s ‘When Flack Attacks’. Before she became a house hold name thanks to X-Factor and dating Harry Styles, she hosted this awesome segment based in Japan, where she would look at bizarre video games and technological customs.
One of the most recent attempts at a Video Game TV show is also by far one of the best. VideoGame Nation ran for over 100 episodes from between 2014 and 2016, before being cancelled. The focus of the show would often be on a certain game of the week, whilst also having features where they would interview various games journalists and ask comedians about their favourite games. Outside of the comedic nature of the above listed shows like GamesVille and WGA, VGN offers a real depth and interesting outlook on many current-generation games. Just like many of the shows on this list, all of the episodes of VGN are now on YouTube, and it is thoroughly recommend giving a few of these a watch, they’re the perfect gaming magazine show.
Unfortunately, it was plagued by some unfortunate programming from Challenge TV, that just never gave it the publicity or outreach that it deserved. This is a real shame, because there was some great talent on that show, including Dan Maher (who’s previous work on Inside Xbox set the tone for many gaming YouTube channels) and the ace Aoife Wilson of Eurogamer.
The only show that I’m currently aware of still broadcasting in the UK is Dara O’Briain’s Go 8-bit on Dave. Fascinatingly, this show began as a theatre show at the Edinburgh Fringe, before taking the leap on to TV. The general format is a 5-round competition where comedians challenge each other at their favourite games. It’s definitely an attempt to throw back to the GamesMaster era, with loads of retro games taking the spotlight (alongside some newer favourites).
So far, it’s been successful enough to be recommissioned for 3 seasons, with the latest looking to be on our screens by the end of 2017.
It might be a shame that shows like these listed above never really took off. For me personally, earlier Video Game TV shows provided an outlet to discuss games way before I had access to the various communities online. TV’s mainstream nature also helped to justify my passion for games, in a way where I had yet to find the community out there for me. This was before I ever had access to Twitter or even GameFAQ’s. Shows such as Gamezville and When Games Attack may seem dated in retrospect, but they felt so important to me at the time.
Now we have YouTube, with many of the above formats working much more successfully on there. Noclip Video, Outside Xbox, the Jimquisition are all shows that have echoes of those listed above, however are able to run with the formula and reach out to a much more engaged audience. With the video media landscape undergoing it’s largest revolution since colour TV in the 60’s, one can only assume that these channels will continue to grow.
Other Honorable mentions of Gaming TV shows must go to: Bad Influence, Gamepad and VideoGaiden, amongst many more.
Are there any shows you watched that are too important to miss?
Also, what do you think is next for Video Game TV shows? Will they ever work on television? Or with the success of YouTube and Twitch, do they even need to? Let’s chat in the comments.
Follow Cleon on Twitter. He has 10 followers, which is more than most of the unsuccessful gaming TV shows at least.