Butterfield on the death of Glitch

Tiny Speck founder: A lot of people were just like 'I don't know what the f*** I'm supposed to do.'

Tiny Speck founder Stewart Butterfield has revealed some of the factors that lead to the death of the company's quirky MMO, Glitch. The game announced it would be shutting down last month.

"If it was growing quickly enough and there was a path to it being successful, we wouldn't have shut it down," he told Gamasutra.

"We had spent a lot of money; we had a big team; we had no real avenue to port to mobile, or have a good and powerful mobile component. If one of those things was different, it would have made sense to keep going. Given the totality of the position we were in, it made no sense."

When Tiny Speck announced Glitch's closure to its players they cited insufficient audience numbers as a major factor in the decision. Butterfield believes the vagaries of the game's design were part of that problem.

"We realised a year after we started that we shouldn't've done it in Flash"

"A lot of people were just like 'I don't know what the fuck I'm supposed to do.' Some people took 'I don't know what I'm supposed to do' as an invitation to explore and ended up loving it. Other people closed the browser. That's it."

"We didn't do a good job of explaining what it was or why they'd be interesting. So a lot of people who would have loved the game didn't get past the trailer, or the first part of the tutorial, or really had no idea." He added that the team had also been "trapped" by its decision to use Flash as a platform, which meant missing out the now huge iPad market.

"We realised a year after we started that we shouldn't've done it in Flash. Not because any intrinsic problem with Flash, but because it really prevented us from porting it to anything else."

"In retrospect, we would have been better to throw it away at that point, but it didn't seem like that at the time."

Nobly, part of the decision to shut the game down when it did was based on looking after the staff at Tiny Speck, instead of waiting for things to collapse entirely.

"We wanted to stop before we had to so we could give people severance pay, and support them in finding new jobs, and refund players," said Butterfield, who also revealed he was planning to take a break from games development.

"I definitely liked the challenge and it was really interesting, and I learned a lot. If we were starting fresh today, we would have done an enormously better job."

Glitch officially launched on September 27 last year, after a considerable period in beta. On November 30 2011 it was announced the game was going back into beta to allow the addition of extra features.

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Latest comments (3)

Zidaya Zenovka Blogger, Writer, freelance artist. 5 years ago
Glitch was great, if flawed. It's a shame to see him leaving game development because of this. Best of luck to you wherever you go and whatever you do, Stewart.
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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive5 years ago
This is rather sad. They had an interesting style and ambitious objectives, perhaps too much so for their own good. While I yet had to try this game, it looked a bit disjointed from the outside. The first few minutes of any game are crucial for player retention and if the general reaction could be summed as "I don't know what the f*** I'm supposed to do" then there's clearly an issue (and a major one at that).

Inviting the player to discover your world is mandatory, but this only comes after enabling your audience with purpose, or at least giving them enough direction to get them started.

I'd really like to see a tally of failed high-profile projects in the online/mobile/casual space to determine the success rate of our industry. While we have some enormous successes, I keep having the impression that breaking even is still incredibly difficult for most developers.
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Dave Wolfe Game Developer, Cosmic Games5 years ago
I don't understand his comments about Flash. You can run Flash content on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry by using AIR. They're not stuck in desktop browsers at all, there are tons of Flash mobile apps. I think the only part that would be tricky is on iOS since it has to be AOT compiled, making it more difficult to create a modular application. There are ways to work around it, but it can be a lot of work depending on how the game was written.
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