Game Theory and Networking 101

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather

I blame Bob for a lot of things.  Most of them he deserves.  Some of them (he claims) he doesn’t.

Sometimes though…the things I blame him for actually turn out to be pretty cool.  Especially those that don’t require antibiotics after the fact…

…oh, I’m kidding.  (As far as you know…)

Anyway, Bob’s the guy that introduced me to this game on Facebook called Mafia Wars…waitWaitWAIT! Yes, I could already feel you clicking away from this entry, running in fear to check your Facebook profile wall to make sure I’m not suddenly filling it up with requests to take out so-and-so on my behalf, or asking you to send me some parts to help me build a chop shop or improve my weapons depot…relax.  I’m not.  Well, unless you and I are already connected on Facebook and you’re a part of my mafia, that is…my point here is that Bob’s the guy that called me up one day and said “Dude, stop being a snob and get on Facebook.  I started playing this game and I need you to help me out with it.”

With that brief phone call…a full blown addiction was born.

…funny thing I’ve discovered, though.  You can learn a lot about social networking for your career, or even just in general, from a game like Mafia Wars.  A lot…

If only I had avoided that one click…

If you’re unfamiliar with it, there’s this game called Mafia Wars by a company named Zynga that lives and runs on the Facebook platform.

At first glance, it seems pretty boring.  It’s one of your standard “click click click” games to do “jobs” based on the typical mafia stuff – robbing people, holding up stores, setting up illegal activities, transporting stolen goods…you know, all of the things that you see in shows like The Sopranos as normal, every day life in the mob.  You can “fight” other players by clicking buttons on other screens.  You have to collect money from your properties in order to be able to buy weapons, cars, and other items that you’ll need for future jobs as well as to defend yourself and take out other players.

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking – “It seems kinda boring at first glance…and second glance…and third glance…”  …and so far, yeah, it’s a pretty straight-forward time waster.

But then you start noticing that you need other people.  And if you decide that you’re not going to bother with that component of the game…well, you might as well stop playing or not even start, because you’re not going to get very far.  You’ll quickly get frustrated and stop playing.  It’s turned into a full-blown addiction for me, especially now that I’ve gotten to the point where I spend most of the time I’m engaged with it doing what I like to do most – helping people figure out how to do things better, play better, get more enjoyment out of it, and how to get stronger and better informed about the game.

So let’s start taking a look at where networking comes into play, and what I’ve learned that can be easily applied to your job search or your desire to expand your social and professional networks.

Lesson 1: You cannot survive on your own.
As I mentioned above, it is physically impossible to get any enjoyment out of this game on your own.  It’s just simply not do-able.  You need help to complete certain jobs.  The more people you have “in your mafia”, the more likely it is that you will have stronger players that can help you win fights.  You have to have other players help you complete jobs.  You need certain minimum numbers of people in order to even perform tasks within the game.

The parallel here is obvious – your network is important.  Without people connected to you that are of the same mindset as you are, interested in the things you’re interested in, and looking to go in the same direction you want to go, you cannot succeed.

Lesson 2: Quality almost always matters more than quantity.
As of the time I’m writing this, I have over three thousand people “in my mafia”.  On a regular basis, I probably interact with about thirty to forty of them, tops.  But it is those thirty to forty people that I get the most out of, and in return, they get the most out of me.  They’re always there to help me, and I’m always there to help them.  We build each other up with new items as they’re released, we help each other finish collections that still have missing pieces  (sidenote: if you have any level of obsessive compulsive disorder whatsoever, for your own sake, avoid this game at all costs…seriously), and we’re there to cover each other’s backs when needed.  The other thousands of people?  I may interact with them once a week…or once a month…or even less.  Once a month, I purge my stale “mafia” contacts…those that I haven’t had any interaction with in a long time, or who have stopped playing the game entirely.  You have to clear out the old in order to make way for the new.

I’m sure you can see the relation to your own network and contacts already, but I’ll spell it out just for kicks – you may well be able to go out and get thousands of connections on LinkedIn…but what good do they really do you?  They don’t know you, you don’t know them, and they’re probably not going to go out of their way at all to help you.  Oh sure, if it’s convenient they might chime in with something…but odds are better that those kind of connections are going to be the ones that show up saying “I need…” rather than “I can…” any day of the week.  Focus on the “core” of your network – they are your strength.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “Sometimes it’s not what you know…it’s who you know” in the past two years in particular, not only would all of our events be free to attend…but they’d also have a fully stocked and free open bar.

Lesson 3: …but sometimes quantity matters, too.
As I mentioned earlier, you have to get yourself up to 501 people in your mafia if you want to be able to fight effectively.  The more you have, the more likely it is that someone…somewhere…in that “family” you’ve pulled together will be able to help you.  Now, whether or not they will is another matter completely…but you won’t even have the chance for them to help you if you’re not connected.

Translation: while you’re focusing on your core…don’t forget the periphery completely either.  Even the leaf that’s on the most distant tip of the longest branch at the furthest point away from the trunk of the tree performs a valuable function in gathering light and water to keep the tree alive.  That co-worker from two years ago might just be the one that finds you your next job…but remember that LinkedIn Is Not A Video Game.  Be open to making new contacts, but don’t turn into That Guy with 2,000 connections you’ve never met or spoken with in your life.

Lesson 4: You must be willing to give more than you get.
There are several features in the game that require you to send out requests to your fellow mafia players if you want to complete them.  Things like asking to receive special items to perform jobs, or getting “x” number of people to click on a link in order to help you complete a task.  The way it works is that it shows up in your friend’s request feed, and they have to click on it.  When they click on it, they get one of that item themselves, and then they have to go ahead and click again in order to send one back to you.  All too often, in order to save themselves time, people just go ahead and click the requests to get one for themselves, but don’t take the extra step to give something back.  The game even has built-in features to make sure that you know who interacts with you the most often, who sends you gifts or returns them more frequently than others.  As a result…remember those 30 to 40 people that I mentioned up above that I have the most interaction with?  I always make sure that their requests are at the top of the list, and they always get fulfilled.  The others I take care of when I can, but even those always get returned items, just because that’s the way I play the game.  Many don’t though…and that’s okay.  Eventually the game will let me know that I don’t really hear from them any more, and they’ll get dropped.

Sound familiar?  It should – Greedy Networking Guy plays Mafia Wars, too.  “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” exists in all walks of life, and you’d be surprised how much you can learn about someone’s “real life” personality based on how they interact with others over a click-click game.  You have to be willing and able to help others if you’re looking for help yourself.  You have to be willing to send out 100 items to help others in order to get the 10…or the 5…or even just the 1 that you need in order to help yourself.  And the network remembers – if you’re a “taker”, you will be forgotten over time.

Lesson 5: Daily engagement brings results…good and bad.
Do I really need to know every random thought that passes through your head each and every minute of every single day?  No, I don’t.  One of the good touch/bad touch things about the game is that you have to become Facebook friends with someone before they can be in your mafia.  You get to meet folks that you might not otherwise have any connection to…but you also get to get all of their status updates in your update feed as well.  At some point…say, after the 37th update in the last 4 hours that is nothing more than yet another daily series of updates about what’s on television, who just called to chat, what kind of soup is being had for lunch…it can just get to be too much, and the “unfriend” trigger gets pulled.  Be gone with you.

Yeah…I’m looking at you, Twitter/LinkedIn update guy.

Lesson 6: It’s not always about what the group can do for you…sometimes it’s about what you can do for the group.
Yep, there are groups in Mafia Wars – gaming groups, or “clans” as their known.  Many people join them because they’re getting picked on/bullied by someone and they want support, or they’re looking to increase their friend/mafia counts, or they just want some help in order to be able to play the game better…but there’s always a trade-off.  Yes, the group can help you…but you also have to be willing to help the group as well.  Even if it’s just acting as cannon fodder and letting an opposing group waste time and energy on taking out your character so that they’re not hitting someone else at that moment while some stronger players get engaged to take them out…it’s just part of the game.  As you get stronger and make progress in the game, the expectation is that you’ll provide that same support and air cover to the ones coming up behind you.

Same thing with networking.  When you’re just getting started, you have to simply realize and acknowledge that you’re “weak” in this area and need help.  And that’s perfectly okay and acceptable – in fact, it’s expected.  But you may bring things to the group that can help as well – a friend in the industry that might be of benefit to someone else as a connection, a skill in a particular area that the group desperately needs help with, or even just helping to spread the word about the concept…all valuable, all essential, and the last one in particular is easy to pull off.  As you grow over time and your network becomes better established, the expectation is that you’ll use it to help others just as others used theirs to help you.

Lesson 7: Choose your allies carefully.
In no small part, you are known by, have perceptions formed and assumptions made about you based on those with whom you associate.  As I mentioned, there is the “clan” concept in Mafia Wars, and that’s the first way that people can form an impression of you.  Is the group known to be full of “bullies”?  Are they known for fair play?  Do they help people in need, or are they known for cheating and trying to hack people’s accounts?

The same applies in spades when it comes to real-life networking…even more so, actually.  When you start a sentence with “I was referred to you by…”, the next few words out of your mouth are critical.  Is the person with whom you’re speaking someone that’s had some really bad experiences with your contact?  Are you now “tainted” by association?  Or will that connection be your “in” to landing that new job?  You can’t always know the answers to those questions in advance…so be careful who you choose to align yourself with, and make sure that you do some homework.  Ask how your connection knows the person you’re looking to target.  Be blunt – ask if you should avoid using their name, or if it’s okay or a good idea that you do so.  Being a little self-interested here isn’t going to be a bad thing.  Much the same way that you would carefully choose the people that you ask to write a letter of recommendation, the ditto that for introductions.

I refuse to be this guy.

And that, my friends…is what a silly little time waster of a game like Mafia Wars can teach you about networking.  Sure, the same holds true for any game that falls into that same realm and genre…but thankfully, I’ve come to terms with my addictive personality and realized that I cannot even so much as start another one of those games for fear of turning into a basement dwelling recluse that does nothing but play Facebook games all day.

That’s all for this time.  Make sure you check out our other Don’t Be That Guy entries…oh, and stop by and say “hi” on The Bar and Grill if you happen to be a Mafia Wars player, or just look me up directly.  Doctor Detroit always enjoy meeting and adding other players from the metro Detroit area.  If nothing else, who can kick who’s butt will give us something to chat about at upcoming events.