Design Problems in Twitter Game Development
In the last week, a couple games appeared which use the Twitter “engine” – BackChatter and Spymaster. BackChatter is a conference game in which people submit three keywords and then wait to see the payout for said words in the #whatever channel that is covering the conference. Spymaster is currently in closed beta. I have not played, but judging my some of my friends’ Spymaster-related tweets, it’s similar to Mob Wars, level based, integrates an inventory system and lets players complete missions vs. others also in the game and on twitter.
As is my standard M.O., I am fascinated with the potential of any new platform. Twitter poses a couple interesting design challenges, though:
- Channel flood: If the game or app in question causes one to spam the channel with messages like the one pictured, it begins to annoy people. These people, in turn, unfollow people or the channel until the game or trend has passed, but whether this is a desirable thing from either player or follower is questionable.
While playing BackChatter and in an effort to test an exploit in the system, I asked my followers to retweet a particular message which contained my three key words as well as the #g4c tag. The result was dozens of messages floating through the #G4C channel interrupting actual conference-related material. Any twitter game whose primary mechanic relies on frequency or quantity will have similar issues. This perceived annoyance is enough for some players to stay away, yet this also appears to be the primary propogation mechanic used by these games. On Facebook, the annoyance of dozens of invites coupled with the flooding of the main channel, most recently with with every manner of top 5 quiz under the sun, was one reason many of us tired of Facebook in the first place. Mob Wars also updated the Facebook status feed, but because play required the player to wait X before accomplishing Y, the feed seemed less flooded. Since I haven’t played SpyMaster, I can’t peg the comparative math. A Parking Wars model which updates less frequently might prove a stronger model to follow. Since the feed in Twitter is the whole of the experience, attention to its flooding seems more critical than in Facebook.
- Follower Advantage: In mentioning my flooding of the #G4C channel, I was able to leverage my 500+ strong followers list (@bbrathwaite), and asked Ian Bogost (@ibogost) to retweet my message to his 700+ strong followers list. Between the two of us, we probably have something like 400 discrete followers. The exploit that I noted previously relied solely on our ability to leverage this group of people. This is not unique to Twitter, of course. A larger network of friends allows you to succeed in many games. Typically, games tie your success to your willingness to propagate. By design, though, a game must consider how a player with 50 followers could possibly compete with a player whose followers number in the thousands (@djaffe).
- No Desirable Opt Out: How do we not follow something in Twitter? In Facebook, I can notify it that I never want to receive an invite to a particular app ever again. In Twitter, my only perceived means of doing this is via unfollow.
I welcome your thoughts, as always, and please feel free to identify additional considerations that I’ve missed.