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Creating A Glitch In the Industry

December 17, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

Stewart Butterfield is best known as one of the founders of successful photo-sharing service Flickr, but he's long held the inspiration to make an online game. Prior to launching that service, he worked with a team on Game Neverending, a title that never launched, but was a shared social and creative space.

Post-Flickr, Butterfield has moved forward with plans to launch Glitch, which he hopes will become a successful social online world in a way different from traditional MMOs.

The game, which is built on a sophisticated and flexible web-based toolset which allows quick iteration, is a colorful and appealing, with a variety of aesthetics and snarky humor. It also is designed to allow players a voice in the direction the game itself takes.

Butterfield hopes the mix will attract a savvy new audience. This might be a difficult proposition, as new-style gameplay is tough to market, and creative-focused social spaces are still unproven. But with investment and artistic vision behind it, Glitch stands a chance.

Where'd you get the idea for Glitch?

SB: So, I've been kind of thinking about this for a long time -- I've been thinking about it forever, basically since Sim City. When I used to play Sim City, I got obsessed of the idea of playing the game from the perspective of the little ants, like when you see them on the cars and freeway. Rather than top-down, it would be emergent from the collective decisions of all the people playing the game.

I feel like MUDs became Ultima, EverQuest, WoW, and MOOs and MUSHes just never went anywhere. There's that path that just really... I don't know, I think it would be really interesting. There's obviously things that are kind of similar, kind of inspired by... Metaplace was like that a little bit.


SB: Second Life... Yeah, "was."

Second Life is also an incipient "was", I think.

SB: Yeah. Yeah, well... In both cases, I think, there wasn't enough game context. Well, there wasn't any game context to take off. I remember the first time I ever installed Second Life and sat down, I was like... First of all, it was super fucked up then. I mean, it was really buggy... That was probably 2003.

And actually at that time, there was kind of a buzz. There was Second Life, then there was There, and then the Sims Online was about to come out. We felt like that was like, not "social games" in today's sense, but there was going to be this era of social games, and all of them busted basically.

I think There [did] just because they spent too much money, because otherwise a lot of it had really nice polish and nice feel. When you were talking to someone, they had a great way of doing eye contact and spreading people out in a group, so it was a good social experience.

But again there wasn't any game there, and it was all about these brands. I don't want to go into a virtual world and look at Gap shit, American Eagle T-shirts... It's just... I don't know, it seems kind of gross.

I'm sure you could write a psychology thesis on it or something like that, but you can't really role-play in that context. If you have real world brands in front of you, you can't... You can't invent a persona because you can make yourself look different and you can fly and stuff like that. I don't know, it definitely breaks the magic circle. There's no real opportunity for playing.

There's never been something that I feel like has been the right balance of social hang out, social experience, and enough of a game context. I mean, Metaplace was fucking awesome, technically, the stuff that they did. The tools were really cool and stuff like that, but again, just like Second Life, you get there and like, "What am I going to do?"

So, I think that the idea of a collaborative simulation is probably the core bit of it. That and bringing something like the MOO or MUSH experience to a bigger group of people, people who never got to experience it because they didn't... You know, if you got online on '95 or later, they were pretty much dead.

So, what do you see as sort of the important aspects of that experience that you want to preserve and move forward to people?

SB: That it's open-ended. It makes it tough for us to market, right? Or tough for us to have a headline. It's a real disadvantage, I think, because... like FishVille -- or I don't even know if that's a real one -- or any of those subject matter-plus-Town, Ville, or City, it's totally obvious what you're going to do.

Or if it's an existing genre of any other kind of game. People know what an RTS is. People know what a first-person shooter [is]... It could be a variation. You could like the style. Maybe they have some nice mechanics. Maybe they have better physics or whatever. It doesn't really matter; you know whether you like those kinds of games or not.

For this, what we want to do is build something that's a lot more open-ended, where people end up building the world out the way they want but still in the context of a game. So, it's not just, "Go and make a world." You get building blocks. There's a physics -- I don't mean in the Newtonian sense -- to the world. There's a ruleset and dynamics that are built into it that people can manipulate and take advantage of.

But I think that the game is much more about driving the culture, like people can create corporations and religions and weird cults and stuff like that, and create an agenda, and drive it forward. So, there's roleplaying in that, that doesn't have to be too serious.

What we really want to capture is... There's a kind of social attraction that happens in the context of games that just doesn't happen elsewhere. My dad loves to play bridge, and he doesn't like playing bridge against the computer at all, even though he likes the mechanics of the game.

At the same time, he wouldn't just invite those same three people over his house just to hang out if they had no agenda because there's something that happens in the context of the game. There's the competition, there's the friendly banter, there's the out-thinking each other, and it's just not possible outside [of that context].

I think that's a place where video games currently really actually fail a lot.

SB: I mean, poker is the same way, right? So much of the game is just looking at the other person.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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Skip McGee
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I couldn't even make it through this interview. It was basically jargon and buzzwords intermixed with f-bombs. This guy can take a seat next to Mark Ecko and every other bajillionaire who thinks he "really" knows what games are about. The moment someone makes the claim that they've found the "it" in MMOs that WoW is missing, I can basically conclude they don't know what they're talking about.

Ardney Carter
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Interesting take on it. I didn't read it as him declaring he'd discovered some secret sauce that WoW was missing. Just saw it as him saying he wanted to do something different than WoW and hoping it would catch on enough to stay afloat.

Mark Venturelli
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It's funny how he takes design lessons from philosophy books like The Grasshopper, but that definition of game is surprisingly close to what you get from the best design books around. The only thing that is missing, which kind of defines what he clumsily states as "physics" and "socio-physics", is that a game is a system. So that's what he is creating, a system. It's as much of a game as The Sims, in which the system allows for conflict no matter what goals the players themselves end up deciding on.

Jack Everitt
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"The game, which is built on a sophisticated and flexible web-based toolset which allows quick iteration, is a colorful and appealing, with a variety of aesthetics and snarky humor."

Is there anyone in the world who can explain what this says or means?

Hobvias Sudoneighm
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it means they have a web-based level editor that lets them churn out levels really quickly and a web based item editor that lets them churn out items really quickly .. and so on.

"quick iteration" means that because they can churn out this stuff quickly they can then test, tweak, re-test, re-tweak etc etc until they get it right.

this jargon is pretty common in the web development world. it isn't really all that complicated.

Jack Everitt
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david paradis
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6 pages of talking, and what I gather is, he has no idea what exactly he wants this game to be.

Sounds like he is going to put a bunch of random things he thinks might be cool, interesting, engaging, fun, intriguing, and as many gimmicks and tools that could have a chance of being the apparently missing "it" that MMOs lack, and hope the players figure out which one of the gimmicks is "it". Than he will expand on "it" on the fly. And hope the other junk that people discover are not the "secret sauce" doesnt turn them away.

And if it does, it's fine because as long as he cons 200k people into playing this Concoction of Chaos, he will make money and fly around in a helicopter, laughing at the suckers who bought into it.

Sadly, it will most likely work.

Hobvias Sudoneighm
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i think he puts it pretty succinctly at the beginning of the interview.

it's like SimCity, played from the perspective of a citizen of the city.

so you're working with other people to build the world and in-game economy.

of course, it is more fun to talk about "concoctions of chaos", a term that means less to me than any of the so-called con-artistry in the article. what's so wrong with coming to conclusions based on experimentation? why isn't experimentation a valid way to develop a game? it's a valid way to develop lots of other things.