Twitter Really Is A MMORPG

by Thomas MORADPOUR on February 7, 2011 · 3 comments

“Twitter: Podium or Network?” is the question we asked in our first #usguys week-end group blogging endeavour, #usblogs.

Excellent answers have been posted, most arguing for the idea Twitter can be used for both, and gives most of its value when seen as a community-building channel (see all at bottom of the post).

Great. I agree. But I’ll take a left field approach here and argue Twitter is something else altogether.

I believe Twitter is a game… I believe it’s a good thing, but it could be better… and I believe we could leverage it to make our real world better. If you’re not quite sure how Twitter relates to gaming and could create better outcomes if it we made it more playful…. read on!


What’s a game? In her stellar book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal outlines four key attributes: a goal, clear rules and obstacles, feedback, and voluntary participation.

Let’s take Twitter through this checklist:

  • Goals – users can go after a wide range of  objectives: (1) stimulation, news and ideas, (2) social connections and peer interaction, (3) status, influence and recognition, (4) business lead generation… However, the common path to success is always to break through the clutter and get your tweets noticed – that’s the “goal”.
  • Rules - the 140 character limit is the type of “unnecessary obstacle” games are made of – no less arbitrary than the 7 letters rule in Scrabble… Yes, it would be easier without the limit, but it’s precisely this constraint that makes it interesting, and fun; you need to be creative within 140.
  • Feedback –  from number of followers and retweets, all the way to Klout and PeerIndex, there are plenty of ways to keep track of how well you’re playing; not different from video game scores, points and levels.
  • Voluntary Participation – for most folks, Twitter is not a job, it’s a fun recreational activity.

It’s a game.

To be exact, it’s a MMORPG.
Yes, that’s the same kind as World of Warcraft.

MMO, or Massively Multiplayer Online.
Over 200 million Twitter profiles have been created to date, of which an estimated 25 million are “active”. That’s more than the 11 million and change that play WOW on a regular basis. Arguably this makes Twitter the biggest MMO to date.

RPG, or Role Playing Game.
Everybody on Twitter assumes a role – usually very close to the everyday reality, often an embellished and more focused version. We all want to look good, and project  the bright sides of our personalities. And as a place for specialized interests, Twitter does not value multi-faceted participation much.
Research seems to even suggest the palette of possible roles is pretty narrow – Sam Fiorella’s recently posted Defining Your Audience Personality, where he explains the characteristics of seven key Twitter types… that’s the closest I’ve seen to describing Tweeps in RPG “classes”!

Don’t think I mean “game” in a bad way here. I’m a gamer and don’t see gaming as a waste of time, or malicious activity (as in “this guy’s a player” or “don’t play games with me”). Games are popular because they make us happy, and challenge us to always push ourselves, to get better – getting in “flow”. Play is not the opposite of work – it’s a more exciting and engaging version of work.

It’s great Twitter is a game because it engages participants to do more of what I think is a very productive activity. But you know what – it could do it better.


Twitter has one of the steepest learning curves you can find. This is why roughly half of every recruit drops out in less than a month. There are no clear instructions, no tutorial to speak of, and hardly any help to find your first connections or learn the etiquette. In short, no one tells you what you are supposed to do, or how to do it.

It’s missing higher order goals. I’m not talking about proverbial princesses to save from evil dragons. But objectives and missions could vastly enhance the usefulness of Twitter for individuals and the community: the equivalent of MMORPG quests, focusing activity behind clear tasks and rewards. Imagine adding this to this “game” that we already play in our real world, rather than in Azeroth or some other virtual environment.

Why not? Why couldn’t we “play” Twitter to make good things happen in our world?

Maybe it wouldn’t take more than a number of smart game developers tapping into Twitter API and overlaying it with a mission system… helping newbies find their way… and giving experts challenges to make their tweet both more fun and more useful!

Here’s three ways I’d use it.


Education and News
How about we all drove Twitter on a learner’s permit? We all already share and retweet interesting links and news, contributing to all tweeps learnng together. How about a game that rewards us for hunting and sharing those stories, with higher points the newer and more interesting these stories are? Like keeping a tally of all those “+1″ we already give each other when we really like a tweet.

Fundraisers and charities already abound on Twitter. Tweet this, re-tweet that, $1 for every tweet with #whatever hashtag. A fundraising game could structure these efforts, and engage more participants. Maybe as simple as adding a new metric in Klout and PeerIndex, based on your “social capital” and generosity.

#usblogs is already a good example of co-creation effort – many bloggers agreeing to create on a single theme to create a bigger conversation. Why not write books, make music, shoot films… through Twitter? A game could give points for connecting people who could create well together – a focused version of Follow Friday. Or it could set creative challenges; the most @handles attached to an entry, the better.

Virtual Corporations.
Imagine hiring Tweeps. Not for a 8 hours/day job in an office with desks and walls. No, working from home, as little as 5 minutes a day. You’d sign up for missions according to your skills and passions. They would have increasing complexity, both to prove yourself and to keep you interested. Maybe you’d start as an intern (mission – go to a store to take  pictures of competitors products) and work your way up to CMO (mission – organize other players to create a full ad campaign). All the way to CEO.

Maybe more far-fetched, but I can see this happening. And then, wouldn’t Twitter really be a great game to play?


Find all #usblogs week 1 entries here!

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  • Anonymous

    I like your reference to Jane McGonigal as she’s someone I deeply admire and respect for her efforts. However, I’ll have to disagree with this post that “Twitter” is a game. It’s a communication tool and to cheapen it by calling it a game means that one sees all your Twitter relationships merely as a “game”.

    What if Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and people said that it was a fun “game”? Dial a bunch of numbers and randomly connect with someone’s voice? What about all the controversy with #iranelection? or how about real-time capture of events as through #citizenjournalism?

    Twitter is so much more than a game and calling it such seems to be looking at only one side of a much bigger picture.

  • azeemazhar

    It’s a nice post -and there are some mmorpg elements to it — where the game activities are externalities that if hanressed correctly can product valuable output.

    I would add that I would see PeerIndex as a way of tracking your impact. PeerIndex reflects your social capital, rather than creates it. Of course, it helps in the discovery process and facilitates people making connections to you – something which can then help you reach a wider network and broker more opportunities.

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