Have you noticed how many users on Twitter seem to treat it like a game – tracking various stats and competing with other users on follower numbers, retweets, etc? Have you also seen or perhaps experienced the addictive nature of Twitter? It seems to me that Twitter shares many of the same qualities of a successful MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game).
Let’s take a look at the key features of most MMORPG’s such as the ever-popular World of Warcraft:
First the definition of an MMORPG:
As in all RPGs, players assume the role of a character (often in a fantasy world) and take control over many of that character’s actions. MMORPGs are distinguished from single-player or small multi-player RPGs by the number of players, and by the game’s persistent world, usually hosted by the game’s publisher, which continues to exist and evolve while the player is away from the game. This is often referred to as being offline.
With Twitter every user has their own ID (@your_character) that, in effect, becomes their character. Some users are naturally themselves – but many are able to reinvent their image online – for their Twitter “fantasy world”.
Twitter persists when you go “offline” or back to “real life” (RL) and naturally the whole environment is hosted by the publisher – Twitter.
So far, so good.
Most, if not all, successful MMORPG’s have common features such as – some form of progression, social interaction within the game, in-game culture, system architecture, and character customization. Let’s look at these and see how they might compare to Twitter:
In nearly all MMORPGs, the development of the player’s character is a primary goal. Many MMORPGs feature a character progression system in which players earn experience points for their actions and use those points to reach character “levels”, which makes them better at whatever they do.
For Twitter, experience points (XP) occur in the combination of its stats – number of followers, tweets, and retweets. Although there are no “official” character levels, there seems to be a strong demand for this as there have been a number of services released lately that analyse your twitter account and assign you some sort of comparative rating – your “level” in the game (e.g. Twitaholic, TwitterGrader, Twitter Score, and dozens of others).
Many MMORPG’s also provide “badges” or “achievements” to help fuel a [false] sense of accomplishment. Although this feature is not built into Twitter itself, third parties such as Twadges provide these.
People are naturally competitive and it seems important for us to understand “where we rank” compared with others. If you combine this with the transparency of information on followers, updates, etc – you provide a great system for [game] progression.
MMORPGs almost always have tools to facilitate communication between players. Many MMORPGs offer support for in-game guilds or clans (though these will usually form whether the game supports them or not).
As a social networking platform, Twitter naturally satisfies this feature requirement. Guilds and clans? Well I guess you could argue that this is your network – those who you follow and follow you. Everyone else on Twitter are simply other players “in game”.
Most MMORPGs provide different types of classes that players can choose. Among those classes, players are encouraged to roleplay their characters, providing rules, functionality and content to this end.
Although this is probably the greatest stretch in this comparison, I do believe that some people “roleplay” on Twitter. It is far better to be yourself and let your network develop naturally, but I know that there are people who create persona’s of wealth and success online that far exceeds their real life.
Every MMORPG has its own culture – but there are common elements:
1. The concept of a n00b – every MMORPG has its jargon and activities/behaviour that is treated as commonplace. Anyone who doesn’t behave in the accepted way or doesn’t understand.. or is simply being stupid (regardless of experience) is labelled as a n00b. Does this occur on Twitter?
2. Grinding – this is a mundane task or activity that you have to do to gain experience and “level up”. Are there activities on Twitter that could be considered a grind?
This is a common requirement for most MMORPGs – to be able to rename your character, tweak them so that the standard template becomes a bit more unique. With Twitter, your profile is your character – can you customize it? Indeed you can.. perhaps you can’t modify your “talents” (would be nice).. but you can certainly change your virtual appearance.
Is Twitter really a game? No, of course not. But “gaming” exists – all for the desire to progress to new, higher levels. It satisfies the need for roleplaying for some. It can give a false sense of accomplishment and celebrity. It can be addictive. And with 200 million registered users or so, if it were a MMORPG – it would be the most successful about.