An Interview With Nerd Trivia Creator Laura Massey

Are you geeky enough to put your nerd cred on the line?

Social media and an increasingly competitive gaming atmosphere have swirled together to make talking smack and one-upping your friends an effortless endeavor. Thanks to Xbox Software Development Engineer in Test Laura Massey, you now have a chance to prove who among your friends is the biggest nerd with Nerd Trivia, her new Twitter game.

Laura Massey demoing Kinect at E3 2010.

Laura (also known by her Gamertag “lollip0p” [editor’s note: that’s a zero in “pop,” the WordPress font makes it indistinguishable from an O]), co-host of the weekly “Major Nelson Radio” podcast, has worked on some of the Xbox 360’s most defining features including the Xbox LIVE Party feature and the Kinect software. A “codist” by trade, many references have been made on the podcast about her love for puzzles and skills at creating different computer programs.

Nerd Trivia is a game played entirely through social media outlet Twitter. The Nerd Trivia bot will tweet a question once an hour (between 10am and 10pm Pacific time) from a variety of geeky topics like video or board games or movies like Jurassic Park and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you know the answer, you send a direct message to the host and points are awarded. A leaderboard is updated (which you can access anytime by replying to the Nerd Trivia host with “Leaderboard”) so you can see how you stack up against the rest of the nerds trying to climb their way to the top. Of course, as Laura is from the Xbox team, you can earn achievements for answering certain amounts of questions correctly, earning you bonus points!

Laura was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about Nerd Trivia, how it works, and what we can look forward to as the game continues to grow and evolve.

***

BnB: Thanks so much again for taking the time to talk to me about the game. On a personal note, I love what you’ve done with Nerd Trivia… I’m checking Twitter on the hour for new questions, and friends I’ve told about it have really gotten into it too!

LM: I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I had a similar experience with my co-workers; I’m actually surprised how dedicated they are to answering the questions. I even convinced a few of them to sign up for Twitter just to play!

BnB: I was wondering what your inspiration was for Nerd Trivia. It’s been mentioned on the Major Nelson podcast that you like creating puzzles and games, so was this an extension of that? Was basing it on Twitter an attempt to make something that would eventually reach a very wide audience, or was it something that you created with just a small group of people that you knew personally in mind?

LM: My current passion is social gaming, and I’ve wanted to create an innovative social game for a while now. You’re right- I am a big fan of puzzles, games and trivia. I’m a regular at some trivia games in my area; one of my favorites has nerdy subjects like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I used to Twitter some of the trivia questions I would hear and I would always get tons of immediate responses from my followers (I wouldn’t cheat on the game, I promise!). This gave me the initial idea for Nerd Trivia- a bot that would ask questions and keep score over Twitter that I knew at least my followers would enjoy. I was also inspired by @XboxSupport, which has a Guinness World Record for being the most responsive brand on Twitter. I noticed that people love their responsiveness, so I wanted my bot to similarly provide that nearly instant gratification of an “at” reply. This along with some nods to everyone’s favorite features of Xbox LIVE lead to the Nerd Trivia bot you see today!

BnB: Also, you’ll have to forgive me, for as much of a nerd as I am, I really have NO idea how something like this works… what exactly goes into creating a Twitter bot, and more specifically one that is designed to be a game?

LM: Twitter has a good set of APIs that any application or website like Tweetdeck or the iPhone Twitter app can use, for free, to perform Twitter actions like getting the timeline or updating the status of a user. When making a program to interact with Twitter, I had to understand these APIs and the rules Twitter has put in place to govern their use, which in some cases is quite limiting. Nerd Trivia Bot, which is a console application written in C#, uses these APIs to interact with Twitter through an open source library called Twitterizer. This program runs constantly on my laptop at home and updates @NerdTrivia’s status once an hour with a question and periodically polls Twitter for @NerdTrivia’s direct messages and mentions. The bot stores correct answers, scores and achievements in a SQL database, also running on my laptop. When a player gets the question right, my program picks out a “secondary” (@NerdTrivia1 – 5) Twitter account and updates the status to at-reply that player to reward him points. These secondary accounts are required for the game to stay within Twitter’s update requirements. To make the game fun, I worked to make sure my game mechanics played to Twitter’s strengths and were successful within Twitter’s limits.  

BnB: Nerd Trivia is currently equipped with a pretty broad range of questions (I’m personally excited every time there’s a Jurassic Park question!). How do you go about deciding which questions are asked? Is there a possibility of opening the questions up to more aspects of “nerd-dom” like comic books or anime?

LM: Nerd Trivia currently runs in seasons of about 2-3 weeks; Season 4 is running from May 1st – 19th. It currently has 5 categories: Lord of the Rings, Serenity, Jurassic Park, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Video and Board games. Most of my categories were picked because my friends and I love the movies and were willing to write trivia questions covering them. Some were suggested by participants of the closed beta. I also wanted to try out using Twitpic as a way to ask questions, which lead to the addition of the “Name the board game” questions using the box art of popular and nerdy board games. For future seasons, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback for other categories to use and I hope to incorporate most of them at some point. Comic book superheroes is a high one on my list. 🙂 

BnB: Nerd Trivia is currently described as in beta. Are there any improvements that you’re looking to make? Where do you see it going in the future? Do you have an “end goal” in mind with Nerd Trivia, or is it something that’s more of a personal project that has the added bonus of appealing to so many people?

LM: I never really had an end-goal for the project; I mostly wanted to see if I could make a fun game over Twitter while engaging and entertaining my fellow nerds. I’ve been surprised at the reception so far; it’s taken off a bit more than I’ve expected! For next season, I’m planning on smoothing and tweaking the gameplay mechanics a little bit, adding more categories of questions, and changing the operation time to be a little more friendly to European players. Also, www.thinkgeek.com has offered to sponsor a prize for next season, which is very exciting! Eventually I hope to get a website for the project where I can blog about my experiences developing the game, better show game statistics like players scores, achievements and leaderboards, and potentially allow question submissions from the community.

BnB: Laura, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about Nerd Trivia!

LM: Thanks again!

Nerd Trivia can be played by following @NerdTrivia on Twitter, which also has a link to rules and commands. More people are playing every day… how do you stack up against the competition?

Joe is sadly no longer with Bits ‘n’ Bytes Gaming, but you can contact him at joe@pkbloggin.net. Make sure to pester him to get more awesome interviews for BnB!


Comments
One Response to “An Interview With Nerd Trivia Creator Laura Massey”
  1. GlennZA says:

    Absolutely brilliant. I caught onto the Nerd Trivia game last week. Very happy that our beloved Laura took the time to put this fun, entertaining and at times challenging game together for us on a platform where most of us can easily spend up to 16 hours a day on (yes Twitter).

    Having this fun side distraction is certainly a highlight.
    Loved the interview and again, well done Laura! Hooo haaa!

    😉 😎

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