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- Split or Steal
Let me talk you through the greatest — but also most awful — moment in game show history.
Sarah and Steve are in the final ‘Split or Steal‘ round of the UK show Golden Balls, hosted by egg-with-an-accent Jasper Carrott, in which they much choose whether they will split or steal £100,000. If they both choose to split, they’ll take home £50,000 each. If they choose to steal, they’ll both go home with nothing, However, if one person decides to steal and the other decides to split, the thief gets to take home the entire cash prize for themselves.
Steve gives an impassioned speech to a seemingly unconvinced Sarah that he’s going to split the cash. With her voice trembling, Sarah desperately pleads with Steve to not steal from her: “If I stole off you, every single person over there would run over here and lynch me,” Steve replies, pointing to a crowd apparently ready to murder him over the results of a TV game show. Sarah gives her understandable reason for splitting: “Everyone who knew me would be disgusted if I stole.”
It’s unthinkable that the pair will do anything else other than split the cash, taking home a whopping £50k each. Steve is just happy to leave the show with such a huge amount of cash, while Sarah looks like someone who would die on the spot if they told a lie. It’s the perfect finale — two innocent people going home with a giant sum of money.
Then there’s the big reveal. Steve swiftly opens up his golden ball, revealing the expected ‘Split.’ Then Sarah fiddles with her ball. She purses her lips and turns it to face the camera. It says ‘Steal.’ The crowd gasps before erupting into a chorus of shocked boos. Steve slumps his head onto the table and sobs while Sarah awkwardly puts the ball back into its holster, covering her face to prevent anyone from seeing her despite her already having appeared on a 30-minute national TV show. In a post-show interview, Steve explains how Golden Balls has taught him to no longer have faith in humanity.
This concept is replicated in Split or Steal, a new free-to-play game on Steam that sees players making this tough decision against online opponents.
Each round pairs you with a stranger, with you then spending a couple of minutes trying to convince them via text chat that you’re not going to steal their cash. You lock in your decision and, like Golden Balls, if you both split the cash, you wind up collecting 50% of the takings. If you decide to both steal, you collect nothing, while the lone stealer will make the most profit by netting all the money on the table.
It’s fictional cash, so the stakes aren’t high, though that doesn’t mean that players don’t take it seriously. Each round is referred to as a tier, with players earning more money as they climb up the ranks to reach the final tenth tier.
Unlike Golden Balls, where players can gauge the trustworthiness of their competitors by the shiftiness of their eyes or their uncomfortable body language, Split or Steal employs a ‘karma’ system where players who routinely steal will have to wear it as a badge of shame. If you split the cash, you’ll be granted a moniker like “Upstanding Character,” whereas a frequent thief will be flagged for all opponents to see.
This puts players in a precarious situation, where routine stealing isn’t valuable due to it making all opponents wary of you. However, occasional stealing can see you making a lot of money, which you can then use to buy new HQ buildings that will grant you multipliers, thus increasing your future profits.
This becomes even more alluring when you reach the final ‘High Stakes’ tiers, which see you and your opponent becoming anonymous players with your karma information no longer visible. This is when I learned that Hotdog Man is Split or Steal‘s very own Sarah from Golden Balls.
Hotdogs stick together… until they don’t
Hotdog Man (not its official title, FYI) is an outfit you can unlock in-game, and while it has no tangible advantages, it does have a psychological impact on Split or Steal‘s community. Without the face-to-face interactions of Golden Balls, players have taken to role-playing as their chosen characters. For instance, Thief Hunters are routinely virtuous, splitting their cash whenever possible, while baddies like Blackbeard are more likely to steal your loot. Players don’t always stick to these methods, of course, but when you go one-on-one with a pirate, you’re going to be warier than if you were up against the saintly God of Lost Time.
This is where the Hotdog Man comes in. Somehow, the Hotdog Man has become known as the character who won’t steal from other players. Hotdogs tend to stick together, with there being a sense of camaraderie when one Hotdog is pitted against another. “Hotdogs never steal,” I was repeatedly told by my Hotdog-wearing opponents.
But what if they did steal?
Never trust a man dressed as a BBQ sausage
It didn’t take long before I amassed enough cash to unlock the Hotdog Man, and I swiftly began to subvert expectations of the character by way of strategically lying and stealing my way to victory. I have accrued wealth while building a back catalog of enemies, each of whom I’ve convinced would not be lied to by an affable Hotdog Man, only to take their money at the last second. I am devious. I am dastardly. I am a supervillain covered in mustard, nestled between two buns of deceit.
Like Golden Balls‘ Sarah, no one suspects the Hotdog Man. No one believes that they’re going to reach tier 10, with 150,000 coins on the line, and this sausage is going to lie through his teeth to take the entirety of the pot. Everyone thinks that the Hotdog will happily split, avoiding conflict as all good BBQ food items do. But Hotdog Man isn’t as noble as his unassuming costume would suggest — Hotdog Man will Fuck. You. Up.
We’re all polite in day-to-day society. We all insist that we’d never steal in Sarah’s position, that we would have given Steve his £50,000 before happily riding off into the sunset in our brand new car. But what’s better than that brand new car? TWO brand new cars, which you could buy with £100,000. Sarah may not be on her way to spiritual enlightenment with her brutal decision, but she is on her way to purchase two new cars, which is more than you can say for Steve. Poor Steve, left crying on a desk in front of Jasper Carrott. Crying like the victims of Hotdog Man.
Has stealing so much virtual cash been worth it? Yes. Do I feel good about misleading Split or Steal‘s friendly community? Also yes. While its players may bemoan immoral rivals who steal their way to victory, it’s a hotdog-eat-hotdog world out there, and only the strongest will survive.