Postmortem: Yahoo SportsIQ

sportsiq1I love Marissa because IMVHO she keeps making some great calls. Work from home ban? Check! Poaching from Google, dropping Ross? Check! Strategy direction — mobile and personalization? Check! Dropping Yahoo’s first daily casual prediction game? Check!

I was pretty excited when Yahoo SportsIQ debuted a few months ago. I’m a fan of Yahoo sports games (81 trophies over 13 years, and counting..) and was happy to see that the apparent success of ESPN’s Streak For The Cash seemed to be making the Yahoo Sports folks jealous.

For those of you who didn’t play SportsIQ here’s the bones:

  • Every day Yahoo publishes 10-15 sports matchups
  • You predict the outcome of any or all of available daily matchups
  • For every correct pick your “Sports IQ” goes up, for every bad pick your IQ goes down
  • You start at 100 “IQ points”
  • You can play time-bounded “challenges” against Yahoo or Facebook friends
  • Prizes — apparently there were some prizes and cash involved, but that was a bit murky to me..

This sounds like fun, and not too far off of ESPN SFTC — which I play faithfully.. and B3TZ Sports of course! So why didn’t it work?

Well it did kinda work, but it was a new game format and still needed a bunch of play testing. Out of dozens of things I thought needed improving, here are my top three:

  1. Scale? — the game was skewed toward keeping you above 100. Most of the matchups were offered straight up without a line, plus they showed the % selected so most people were “winning” — and that is good. Losers leave. The problem is that after you get to an IQ of 200, what’s left to attain? Where’s the struggle? There were no mini-games, or category races even. The daily match-ups provided a great basic ingredient for game play, but they didn’t do much with it. It was like eating a bowl of flour. Blech.
  2. Where are my friends? — they promised me that I could play with my friends, but the set up was SOOO cumbersome and the payoff so weak that I only did two challenges and gave up. The user interface didn’t surface my challenges so I promptly forgot about both of the challenges I made with friends. There was no facebook integration — no notifications, no “you’re playing” message, nothing. Playing head-to-head would have been huge for me, and all the pieces were there — they just didn’t get communicated.
  3. Prizes? — I think there was some giant lump of cash that went to some dude who has an IQ of 681 or something, but I never got my rank above 6053 so I didn’t bother even thinking about prizes. Does anyone think that a “big payoff” for one person is going to provide anything but starter motivation? Start handing out badges even to minigame winners or weekly winners or top 100 for the day winners. Build a prize cabinet of crap you can win if achieve little milestones — you don’t even have to introduce your own currency although you might think about it..

The bottom line is that this game was a new adventure for Yahoo at a time of The Great Focusing. Given the Yahoo team’s track-record with fantasy sports games they could have easily plowed through and made this game awesome — with the right brains and resources and some time. But without long term commitment to making this game great, poof! Gone.

Making a casual prediction game like this is not for the faint of heart, but as the ESPN Streak game proves, it can be done successfully if that’s what you’re focused on. Clearly Yahoo has other priorities.


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