Vancouver’s Tiny Speck re-imagines Glitch
It’s not every day that a video game gets released to market and then recalled. But that’s exactly what happened with Glitch. Tiny Speck, which is developing the massively multiplayer online social game, decided to move Glitch out of beta testing in September. Two months later, the developers changed their minds.
Stewart Butterfield, who cofounded Flickr before starting up Tiny Speck, made the announcement in a November 30 blog post entitled “The Big Unlaunching”.
“We recognized there were some problems,” he said in an interview, “and we wanted to fix them.”
Speaking with the Straight at the Tiny Speck studio in Yaletown, Butterfield explained that the original plan was to continue updating Glitch once it had gone “gold”—had its full public release. But the changes that are being made, he said, are altering the game at a fundamental level. “Unlaunching” Glitch was a way to make it clear to players that the game will be dramatically changing.
Perhaps the biggest shift is that “imagination” is becoming a mechanic. Instead of earning experience points or currency for accomplishing tasks in Glitch, players will earn imagination, which can then be spent to upgrade a character’s skills, for example, or to purchase currency. Not only does imagination fit nicely with the overall theme of Glitch—the game is set in the minds of 11 giants—but it provides wonderful flexibility for gamers to play Glitch how they want.
Imagination also fixes Glitch’s housing problem. Right now, houses and apartments for the little humanoid creatures that players control in the game are fixed to a place in the world, which means more world would have to be built to accommodate more housing. So housing will become something that the Glitch creatures imagine. “It’s vastly simpler for us to manage, much easier for us to scale, and allows for some really interesting possibilities,” Butterfield said.
Not only can players customize their residences, but their living spaces can be connected by their friendships. “I can put a signpost in my yard with signs on it that link to the people I know in the game,” Butterfield explained. Players visiting could then wander that social map, visiting the dwellings of friends of friends.
Butterfield had just returned from a Tiny Speck board meeting in San Francisco, and said investors in the company, from venture capital firms Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, aren’t concerned about the shifting status of Glitch. “It’s a good business once you get it off the ground, and they like the product so far.” The next gold version of the game is expected to debut some time this spring.
While Glitch is free to play, gamers can pay for access to more custom features. Tiny Speck has offered refunds because of the game’s “unlaunching”, but Butterfield said less than three percent of players have taken advantage of the opportunity to get their money back. It seems that even though Glitch has moved back into beta testing, people are still spending money on the game.
Feedback from players of the game is also positive, according to Butterfield. “People really love it,” he said. “We’ve got to make it so that a greater percentage of the people coming in the front door end up loving it.” The changes being made will make the game much better, he added. “Everyone will be happier.”