Podium or Network? Twitter Really Is A MMORPG

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 Ill take a left field approach here and argue Twitter is something else altogether.

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


Whats 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.

Lets 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 thats 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 its 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 youre playing; not different from video game scores, points and levels.
Voluntary Participation for most folks, Twitter is not a job, its a fun recreational activity.
Its a game.

To be exact, its a MMORPG.
Yes, thats 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. Thats 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 Fiorellas recently posted Defining Your Audience Personality, where he explains the characteristics of seven key Twitter types thats the closest Ive seen to describing Tweeps in RPG classes!

Dont think I mean game in a bad way here. Im a gamer and dont see gaming as a waste of time, or malicious activity (as in this guys a player or dont 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 its a more exciting and engaging version of work.

Its 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.

Its missing higher order goals. Im 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 couldnt we play Twitter to make good things happen in our world?

Maybe it wouldnt 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!

Heres three ways Id use it.


Education and News
How about we all drove Twitter on a learners 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. Youd 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 youd 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