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Glitch dev warns against social "scorched earth policy"

Tiny Speck co-founder believes charging for progress will "burn out" players

Tiny Speck co-founder Stewart Butterfield has warned against the "scorched earth policy" employed by social game companies like Zynga.

Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz about the development of Glitch, Tiny Speck's ambitious debut game, Butterfield discussed the tendency in social games to charge players for progress.

"The fundamental design of the game became 'Here's a stop sign in your gameplay, you can stop now and come back in a day, or you can keep on playing and it will cost you three bucks, or a buck, or ten bucks, or whatever it is," he said.

The rapid spread of this trend steeled Tiny Speck's resolve to avoid similar monetisation techniques.

"Not just because it seems unsavoury and I think people will burn out on it, but once you go down that road and start designing the game mechanics around that you can't help but design the whole game around that," he added.

I mean, I could be wrong about that, and I hope I am, because that would be a lame future for games

Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Tiny Speck

"That has to be the basis of the game, because if you did the alternative to that then it's not going to work."

Butterfield believes that the "scorched earth policy" driving revenue to most social game companies holds the very real danger of driving players away in the long-term.

"People will get burnt out on this," he said. "Maybe some of them will last for a very long time, but I feel like the easy successes have been taken already, and that won't work in the long run. I mean, I could be wrong about that, and I hope I am, because that would be a lame future for games.

"Just my own reaction, the first time I saw that it was okay, the second time I saw that it was okay, and by whatever time it is now I'm like, 'I get this. It's transparent, and I don't give a shit about having a bigger building here that cost me three dollars.'"

Glitch is a free-to-play, browser-based MMO that launched at the end of September. At present, the only paid content relates to avatar customisation, meaning that the entire world is completely open to every player regardless of when they started playing or how much they have to spend.

Butterfield doesn't expect Glitch to attract the number of people that play the most popular social games. However, he believes that, by appealing to as wide an audience as possible, games like CityVille ultimately become disposable to everybody.

Hundreds of millions of people eat at McDonalds, he reasons, but very few would wear a McDonalds t-shirt or put a McDonalds bumper sticker on their car. He expects Glitch's audience to be smaller, but more engaged and dedicated.

"When there's 100 million people playing CityVille, the overwhelming majority will have just tried the game that day, or they'll spend five minutes and they're never coming back," he said.

"They won't be as into it as someone who's playing WoW is in to WoW, or someone who's playing EVE is into EVE, or even someone who's playing Civilization IV is into Civilization IV. It's a much lighter touch."

"People who play StarCraft hardcore for several years, it becomes a significant part of their life and their identity. Whereas a year from now, six months from now, they'll forget they ever even played CityVille."

In an article published today, Butterfield gives a detailed account of the development of Glitch. To read more, click here.

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Matthew Handrahan

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Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.

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