Ruminating the integration of Twitter into #games
First, let’s see if you recognise the following less than 160 characters: “Our research indicates that social support networks will play a significant positive role in the outcome of S:S&S EP. #sworcery”… If you do, feel free to skip the next paragraph in which I just explain what that excerpt was all about, and go straight to my own considerations on ‘what the balls yay or nay’.
Twitter integration in games is exemplified best by a recent..ish indie click-em-um game of very artsy stylings, called “Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP”. Very music-driven, very low-fi look achieved by hi-def techniques, very meta – for better or worse – and very very keen on tying Twitter into the whole thing. All of the texts, excerpts, story and lore background, dialogues, even tutorials and menu messages – all of it was in 160 characters or less. The game allowed the player to input their Twitter login credentials, and subsequently all of the texts could be insta-tweeted on the player’s Twitter account timeline. Depending on friendlists and all that social thingamajiggum stuff, for a brief period many people had messages from this game spamming their Twitters all over. Most never saw a thing, of course, since who wants to follow a gamer, AMIRITEGUYS? Guys? … Well, anyway, terrible culture-specific joke-commentary aside, the game seems to have benefited by its close inclusion of social structures, even before it arrived on the PC platform (initially it was an iOS game, and since mobile users are more inclined to use social stuff like that, well, it’s fairly obvious how it all would tie together on a conceptual level).
With that out of the way, here’s the nitty gritty – is such an integration of Twitter-preprepared-posting a thing that should be welcomed, shunned, ignored or overhyped? Is it good or bad? Is the moon really made of Cheddar, or is it more a pseudo-healthy Feta?
(That moon reference was not just there as a random joke, by the way. The S:S&S EP game also had strong ties to real-world time as corresponding to lunar cycles, with entire game sections opening up only at specific times, effectively time-locking certain aspects of itself. Very meta, and very deserving of a rant on it’s own.)
To the game’s developers, publishers, marketers, such a feature is nothing but an all-clear bonus. I’ll go ahead and assume that implementing a “send a tweet ABC as user X password Y” web message is pretty simple and does not take $crazy and insane amounts of development time. In return for some effort as far as game design and story planning is concerned, the return is a very direct, entirely non-funded user-driven advertising. That really is one of the holy grails of marketing, isn’t it – get your users to advertise your product for you for no cost to ALL their friends (followers, in this case). All it takes is a readied framework, and the eager hamsters will do all the gruntwork themselves. Sure, it is likely to work better for certain types of game – as far as I can recall, there were some EA-published sport or racing games that also allowed this type of live-tweeting new records or results or other kind of progression, it didn’t really get as huge relative to the game’s own reach because it was simply at an earlier time, and the game itself was not so thoroughly infused with meta-elements to have these Twitter-mechanics as an actual design part. Even so, it’s not like that feature generated any kind of loss in itself – it was at worst a null-profit expenditure, and at best it could generate a bunch of extra sales. Thus, as far as the developer angle goes, yeah, implementing social networks is a neat trick with few downsides.
As for the game’s players, well.. Wait a second. Obligatory disclaimer – I’ll just write this up from my own point of view. If you have different thoughts, 1) that’s awesome, 2) feel free to express them, 3) it’s nothing bad that we may potentially disagree. Now then, as for the game’s players, well, it is a nifty feature that does not really influence all that much, and could have just as well be avoided. Yeah, it could be said that by limiting all texts to 160 characters or less, a more integral, visual storytelling is necessary as a substitute for great walls of textania, which is definitely something we’d want as gamers. Thing is, that scarcity can just as well be a design decision without all the twitter account stuff. Yeah, in this case it probably was a direct consequence, but it didn’t have to be – the two are not really locked together; if anything, the livetweeting element is the dependent side of the relation. Additionally, considering the necessity to input your twitter account login details into the game.. Well, what does that teach me as a player? That is is normal to put my passwords into everything that asks for them? That it is OK to simply trust that nothing will happen behind-the-scenes just because this product was sold for money? That this is not a security compromise? Now, yeah, sure, it might be that the code-specific implementation in S:S&S EP is rock-solid fool-proof, but how is a regular user supposed to distinguish that from any similar, yet less safe cases that may appear later on? And finally.. Suppose I just want to play the game, and am not big on mybooks, facespaces and twitters. How am I supposed to feel if the game constantly reminds me that I could be tweeting all this, wouldn’t that be better? Please tweet! via constant twitter-iconization and GUI elements? Fair enough, let’s put it down to individual preference – it might be seen as just something cool to do because why not, even when there is 0 actual benefit to it for the players themselves…
Thing is, there is a third side to our dialogue of developer and player dialogue here, since we’re being all social and stuff. Which is the extended follower network of the players, who will be subject to such pre-generated tweets. Imagine yourself following (on twitter… don’t be a creep) several people who are playing and autotweeting this game. For one, how cool is it to see the exact same tweets duplicating and reiterating, all the while taking up 90% of your visible tweet window? Not cool at all, I’d guess. Also, what if you plan on playing that game, but, say, after a week? Or a month? Or just plain later? Do you unfollow those people to avoid seeing plot & game spoilers (because there are a few of those in the game all right), taking all the implications that unfollowing a person on social sites seems to carry these days? Do you just avoid going on twitter itself for as long as the game is being ‘all the rage’ there? (In which case, a reminder that without messing with the player’s computer date&time settings, the game requires at least 3 weeks to get through thanks to moonphase locks.) How, in fact, would such a situation be any different to following one of the countless advertising bots on Twitter? Because that really is the case here, isn’t it. The autotweets don’t contain any personalized information that would let you truly know a new individual development in your friend’s life, minor though as it may be (for instance.. Jason just beat Tom’s highscore in RacingGame:TheRaceosity!), their entire presence and purpose is to advertise the game itself – it’s story and it’s existence. I certainly don’t like to be on the receiving end of pseudo-targeted advertising, do you?
All in all, sure, there is a place and a reason for integrating twitter-linking into a videogame. But when it gets down to the level of actual players, their social micro-networks and friends, then the issue is, in my opinion, far too individualistic to pass any general judgement. Personally, for me, it feels somewhat exploitative and non-beneficial – I won’t presume to state how and what it means to you. But I’d appreciate if you gave it some thought – do you want more “regular” non-facebook games to use social networking, and is it acceptable to you as a person?
~X2-Eliah never finished S:S&S EP. It asked him to stop playing for a week, so X2 did just that. The game never asked him to resume playing.