Jun 23, 2022

Twitter Data Dash: How Making a Game Changed the Game

By Craig Kind, Creative Director, YML

T’was the not so distant past, in which I found myself waltzing through the retro futurist avenues of Tomorrowland: a beloved, long-standing section of Disneyland designed by Walt himself in 1955. 

Transitioning between worlds, my friends and I cruise controlled our way through the crowds onto the next main attraction. This being Disneyland, our course was soon corrected, as both our eyes and our attention were suddenly arrested by a genuine moment of Disney magic: a six-year old boy placing a piece of trash in a trash can.

What’s magic about that? You ask. Nothing, really. Until, out of nowhere, the assumed stationary bin suddenly spins on its heels, wheels around the startled six year old, and strikes up a conversation. The previously assumed inanimate object now fully animated and alive, turned, and directly addressed the child:

“Hey, Kid! What you got there? A piece of trash? Nice work. I tell ya, If you and me don’t keep this place clean. Who will? I’ll take that off your hands. Give the kid a hand, folks!”

Source: SF Gate

The boy’s jaw now firmly on the floor; a priceless expression mimicked by the ever growing crowd around him. As I picked mine up, I began scanning the park; it took me a good 5-10 mins to figure out how the trick was performed. Eventually, in the distance, I spied a regular looking guy half-concealing a mic and remote: a rewarding moment in itself. With a newly formed grin, I turned back to the kid, who was now a crowd of kids, passionately talking with the talking trash can about the importance of keeping Disneyland, and Planet Earth clean… Magic.

Walking away, I tipped my proverbial hat to the minds behind the exchange. The fabled team who’d dreamed up that exact moment, long before it occurred. A division of Disney famously known around the world as The Imagineers.

As a Creative Director at YML, my vision and ambitions are driven by many things. When it comes to my work, the north star for me has and will always be: the pursuit — and realization — of original ideas. It’s moments like these: when you see a group of kids excitedly talking to a talking trash can about the importance of putting trash in trash cans that reminds me how powerful creativity can be. Part of me likes to believe that exact moment inspired our latest work, Twitter Data Dash: an 8-bit game designed to educate and illuminate 330 million people on the critically important (and extremely boring) subject of online privacy.

Twitter came to us with a pretty obvious insight: Online privacy plays a crucial role in the well being and shared experience of hundreds of millions of people. The problem: privacy is f’ing boring. The brief: Get hundreds of millions of people to engage with the subject of privacy.

Now, I must confess, while the opening metaphor may suggest I’m calling all privacy policies trash. I am not. I’ve never read one. Don’t judge, neither have you. And why would you? The average privacy policy is 4,000 words long.

The fact that billions of humans scroll past them as fast as humanly possible (for fear their eyeballs may catch the merest of glimpse of the jargon) is not only an inexcusable design flaw—it’s a massive glaring, global problem that seemingly every company in existence refuses to acknowledge, let alone address. Until now.

When they first reached out to us, Twitter’s Privacy and Design team was underway rethinking and rewriting their privacy policy so it presented itself to people as something other than a massive, relentless sledgehammer of text. They began by thoughtfully breaking it down. Structurally. Visually. Linguistically crafting in a way that no longer required you to acquire a Harvard law degree to understand. The policies opening gambit:

We get it. Privacy is boring. But it’s important.” I remember reading that.I dug it. Cliches are cliches for a reason, and in the case of privacy: Honesty makes the best policies.

With the folks at Twitter busy redesigning the policy, we got to work devising ways to inspire and engage 330 million people. There were a lot of interesting thoughts on the table, but we quickly gravitated toward the idea of turning privacy—something people avoid at all costs—into something they’d be genuinely excited to interact with and share.  

That simple seed was the starting point. A clear and unwavering vision of how we wanted the work to make people act and, perhaps more importantly: feel. I believe all innovation starts with similar questions or reframes, and it was this one that led us to the idea of empowering people through play; weaving insights, information and tips about Twitter’s tools throughout the levels of a 80’s style retro video game. Twitter loved the idea, and with a concept locked, we began reaching out to 8-bit artists across the world.

Turning down big name studios in favor of an indie developer, I don’t think we could have found a partner better suited to the project, or Twitter, than MomoPixel. A visionary 8-bit artist and game developer, and a designer whose work has already changed the industry, using the medium to comment on the black female experience in “Hair Nah”.

Formatted for mobile and browser, we worked around the clock; taking the project from definition right through to final artwork, development and design in less than 6 months. A feat that included both customizing in-game artwork and regionalizing the experience for 9 major languages. Making games ain’t for kids, folks. It’s an intense production.

And with the game now finally live, I couldn’t be more proud. Every time I play it, it makes me smile. As someone whose childhood was spent playing video games, I know: Data Dash is, by no means perfect. As one (slightly demanding) journalist pointed out, “it’s no Elden Ring”. That, however, was never the point. Twitter’s business objective — our goal — was to design an experience that tackled a massive global problem in a way nobody ever had before. Launched less than a month ago, the game — and the subject of privacy — have been featured in countless major publications worldwide, and played by millions of people around the globe. Game over. Job done.

As a company, YML exists to help the world’s inspiring start-ups and biggest brands ascend to (and remain at) the apex of their industries online: infusing philosophy, technology and design that places product innovation at the epicenter of everything they do. In every single detail. Whether elevating the performance of a product, or making a critically important (and totally ignored) aspect of your site something the whole world talks about, the goal remains the same: to design and build innovative digital products that redefine what’s possible.

In the case of Twitter, and specifically the globally important subject of online privacy, the best way to change the game… was to make one.