Catch the Dot-Com Survivor virus

Is an addictive new trivia game spreading via e-mail innocent fun or state-of-the-art marketing spam?


Damien Cave
October 9, 2000 11:30PM (UTC)

Who created Unix? What was the original name of the video game Pac-Man? Who said, "I'd like to live like a poor man with lots of money?"

If you think you know the answers to any of these questions -- and even if you don't -- you might to want to play Dot-Com Survivor, a new free online trivia game that mixes quirky queries with instant messaging capabilities and a bit of dot-com downturn cheek.

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It's a nice little package. The last piece of can't-miss procrastination I received via e-mail was a game called Dope Wars, and while it was fun to act like a drug kingpin -- earning online Benjamins by selling cocaine and acid -- I'd have to say that Dot-Com Survivor is even more addictive.

Playing is easy. First, choose which survivor you want to be: Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster; Bill Gates, who needs no introduction; Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com; or Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay. Then use mouse or arrow keys to move around a gridded board. Land on one of a half-dozen or so question marks, answer correctly, and you earn points that may put you in the running for the leader board.

It won't necessarily be easy. For every easy question -- "Which famous venture capitalist once dated Bill Gates?" (Answer: Ann Winblad) -- there is another that's a complete stumper. The format is multiple choice, so you can guess -- but since the game won't tell you the correct answer if you're wrong, you'll only gain some knowledge if your guesses are on.

The online competition is also tough. I lost the first game I played, thanks to someone named Jan, who flew around the board like Ms. Pac-Man in hot pursuit of a power pellet. Thankfully, I did have a form of recourse -- I could swear at the victor through the game's instant-messaging feature, which shows text in a balloon over a player's headpiece, in my case Fanning's.

I could also chat with my friends, which I did after inviting a pair of them to play through the game's on-screen prompt. I typed in their e-mail addresses at the Survivor home page, after which they received a message in their in box asking: "Do you have what it takes to be an Internet Survivor? Find out by joining me in the only free online trivia game show that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the Dot-Com world."

Yikes. This is where the game gets dirty. You have to give your e-mail address to play, and once I submitted the addresses of my friends I began to wonder what I'd done. Turns out that the game is brought to you by Gamelet.com, a leader in so-called viral marketing solutions.

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Viral marketing has been defined by its admirers as "rapid adoption through word-of-mouth networks" but you can also see it as barely one step above multilevel-marketing spam. Clearly, I'd been had; I was an unwitting pawn of a company that specializes in creating corporate marketing campaigns that advertise by inducing friends to spam friends.

A Gamelet.com spokesperson told me that Dot-Com Survivor is just an advertisement for the company itself -- and promised that Gamelet won't sell any of the e-mail addresses it gathers. But I'm not totally convinced -- and I still feel a bit sleazy for having given away those e-mail addresses. The really scary thing, though, is the game's so fun that I'm not sure I mind.


Damien Cave

Damien Cave is an associate editor at Rolling Stone and a contributing writer at Salon.

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