How IMDB has gamified the hollywood casting couch

IMDB is a super website, on the face of it, it is an up to date online encyclopedia of everything to do with movies and those who act in them.

Want to know the name of that actor in Pirates of the Caribbean? Then just pop along to IMDB and the cast is laid out for all to see…

But, for the actors themselves, IMDB is more than just an encyclopedia. It’s also a gamified casting couch.

Let me explain.

Every time one of the 95 million monthly visitors, checks out an actor’s page, the actor gets a point. This, together with a whole bunch of other secret signals, is fed into the IMDB engine and out pops a weekly score. This score then gives each of the nearly 3 million global actors their own place on a global leaderboard – their “Starmeter rank”.

Imdb describes Starmeter as  follows:

STARmeter rankings provide a snapshot of who’s popular based on the searches of millions of IMDb users. Updated weekly, these rankings also graph the popularity of people over time and determine which events affect public awareness.

Your rank can fluctuate quite widely as my friend, Alex Macqueen, and star of films such as The Inbetweeners and The Hide,  discovered.   One week he might be “11,000th ranked” actor in the world, while on another he might be a lot lower.

Now, here’s the rub.

For the Top 25 actors, their individual ranking on IMDB might be immaterial -” is it Johnny Depp at number 1 or Robert Pattison this year?” I don’t think it matters – they are both obvious box office smashes and the top of any Hollywood casting director’s list for the next “film from the theme park ride” (Surely the Thorpe Park Tea Cups are just waiting to be made into a movie… jokes).

But, for actors a bit lower down the food chain, people like my friend Alex, how do Hollywood directors assess your rising “star-power”. Here, anecdotal evidence suggests that the IMDB rank is being used. For instance, actor John Karyus writes on a backstage forum:

“I did talk to a director once that cast a guy because he couldn’t believe someone with a “such a high starmeter would be submitting to his project”…

Others suggest that your ranking will affect your eventual pay packet. On this blog post we read:

 I know a number of casting directors who put actors’ IMDb starmeter ranking in their pitches to producers and such on what actors to get. Agents also look at it sometimes to get a sense of how bankable you are.

Together this evidence suggests that Starmeter is gathering a momentum that would be the holy grail of a gamified leaderboard – meaning.

So what does this mean for Gamification?

It looks like, that at some level, IMDB have applied automated game techniques – in this case a leaderboard and in so doing have affected not just one workplace, but a whole market.  Aspiring actors, their agents and commissioning producers are all using the IMDB rank as a way of tracking success, deciding salary and perhaps even casting roles.

If that’s not an advert for the potential power of Gamification, then I don’t know what is!

Toby Beresford

Toby is founder and CEO of Rise the success tracking network to track, publish and share success. He was the 2013 chair of - the International Gamification Confederation and organises the UK Gamifiers meetup. As a gamification leader, he speaks at conferences and hosts workshops. Follow him on twitter @tobyberesford and Subscribe to this blog at Gamification Of Work blog feed

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  • Toby,

    Thanks for the link to my blog post.

    To be honest, I don’t really think that IMDb’s Starmeter is evidence for the gamification of an entire industry. At most, it’s one way to have an actual data point on how many seats in a movie theatre an actor might fill. In the entertainment business (especially at the top), a lot of why an actor gets hired is how big their audience is…the starmeter is one way to measure that.

    At the end of the day, however, it is the audience–not the measurement of such–that really makes the difference.

    Warm Regards,

    • Thanks for the comment Ben! Just one signal, but from a gamification of work point of view I think it is interesting that it is used at all.

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  • Wait, how am I supposed to get lots of hits on my IMDB page? I hire an automatic server to do it? Brilliant!!

    However, how are broke actors supposed to pay for this? Is it expensive?

    Is the computer’s name HAL?