Samantha Bee Is Gamifying The Primary With A Mobile App

We spoke with Samantha Bee about her new election-based mobile game that could send real money to candidates.

Samantha Bee’s TBS series Full Frontal has earned multiple Emmy nominations. She’s the longest-tenured Daily Show correspondent in the show’s history, has written a book (I Know I Am, But What Are You?), and co-created a TV series, The Detour, with her husband Jason Jones. She’s the Queen Bee of political comedy, but she’s aiming to add another title to her prestigious resume: gaming industry disrupter.

After a successful experience with mobile gaming during the midterm elections, Bee and the Full Frontal team are back to “gamify” the Democratic primary with “Full Frontal’$ Totally Unrigged Primary.” The mobile game puts a humorous slate on political trivia (think the popular trivia app HQ but for poli-sci junkies) with real cash on the line. In the app, players can join their favorite candidate’s team and compete to earn points. At the end of the game, the team with the most points will donate to Bee’s PAC-controlled fund, “Sam Bee’s Political Swear Jar!”

“We actually learned that incentivizing people to do stuff really works, which is not a surprise to anyone,” Bee told Den of Geek before her New York Comic Con panel where the game was announced. I was personally on-hand when Bee launched the midterms app in 2018 and was part of a small group that won the test game. There was real money on the line that night, and our group, through TBS and Full Frontal, made a $5,000 donation to Committee to Protect Journalists and Planned Parenthood. While the 2018 version of the game was geared towards encouraging midterm turnout, Bee hopes the “Totally Unrigged Primary” game will encourage political participation from the electorate beyond just turning out on Election Day.

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“We didn’t want to just do the same thing again,” Bee says. “Let’s build on this database of players we have and let’s try to do something differently. So this game just evolved to be something that’s generally incentivizing people to engage with the political process.”

The initial idea for a mobile game came from a Full Frontal report in which Bee applied what she learned about gamification to a struggling, small-town New Jersey newspaper.

“We employed the tools and philosophy of gamification to save this little local newspaper,” she recalls. “We had scratch off tickets [in the paper]. People were just having fun playing with the tickets and every ticket that they bought, the person was literally saving that newspaper. It worked so well. We were like what if we just took that and applied it a bigger game that has a broader audience?”

Bee knows her audience tends to be younger and left-leaning, but gamification of the primary may be enough incentive to bring new fans to the show.

“There’s enough people out there who like lean left or basically  don’t watch my show,” she says. “There’s lots of billions, I would say.”

She compares the game to fantasy football meets HQ.

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“As a player you don’t have to particularly know or like the [mobile] game to be invested in it,” she says. “Because you are going to play for your political candidate, you vote candidate that you love and you are playing for them. They will win a huge pot of money at the end of this game.”

That huge pot of money could be as much as “a quarter of a million dollars,” Bee claims. The game will run until early February, the week before the Iowa Caucus. Bee is known for her sharp, no-holds-barred political commentary. Gamifying the primary may be one way to keep the audience from tuning out of politics, but Bee says it’s tough, even for her team, to stay on top of the news cycle. When asked how she stays energized to cover the current political climate, Bee quips back: “I don’t stay energized at all.”

Bee adds: “Do you stay energized? No, Were all dead inside. I try really hard, sometimes you have to really fight hard for optimism.” 

Chris Longo is the deputy editor and print edition editor of Den of Geek. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @east_coastbias.