FOWA 2009: Creator of popular Twitter game gives advice on harnessing community marketing

Developers should ‘incentivise fans to market for you’

If you’re a user of Twitter, you might have heard of a game called Spymaster – for better or worse.

Today at the Future of Web Apps 2009 conference, CEO of developer Irata Labs, Chris Abad, talked about how the small developer managed to cause a big wave on Twitter through harnessing the marketing power of the players.

The game, which turns twitter users into spies and tasks them with assassinating each other, was a (temporary) phenomenon: within hours of launching as a closed developer-friend-only beta it had hit websites like TechCrunch, and by the next morning it was a trending topic on Twitter, and someone had written a strategy guide on getting to Level 20 – something the team thought would take weeks.

So how did they manage to do it? By "incentivising the users to do the work for them," Abad said.

The team realised that, as only three people, their marketing resources paled in comparison to the userbase they wanted. So, they identified their two channels of marketing – general tweets sent from players’ accounts, and direct messages – and set about building incentives to using these functions into the game mechanic.

The solution was to present the player with an opt-in page upon registration to use their Twitter account to tweet game updates. For each action that they permitted to be tweeted, the player gained an additional 1 per cent to income.

"There were people that turned it off," said Abad, "but early on most people switched them all on, and that was a really good way for us to get the word out – by building into the gameplay mechanics incentives for them to market it for us."

Nevertheless, the suggestion got many groans from the audience – many of whom felt it was spam. When the audience was asked if anyone had heard of Spymaster, the lady sat behind Develop said "Yes, unfortunately." Similarly, another person asked during the Q&A whether this approach could only work once, when users were naive to how much spam it would generate, and would be impractical now.

The other way in which the team empowered users was to make them feel a part of the process. Shortly after the game launched someone created a forum about the game, and so Abad and his team put links to that forum at the bottom of every page, and that "excited and motivated" the fans.

"It’s not about just building a community of fans," said Abad, "but about impassioned fans. These are the people who not only play but who write strategy guides and create forums and generate buzz. They give back, and it’s these people who market for us."

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