Posted by SOTTO Monday, October 1, 2012

Friend of the Blog Shaula E engaged me in a bit of conversation about Tiny Speck's cartoon MMO, Glitch. I thought her email was worth posting:

It's an odd little game. And a lot has changed in the course of a year, especially with the in-game economy, which drives gameplay now in a much larger way.

It is definitely a grind-heavy game, although it is much less so in light of changes made in the past year. Players can run their own stores, so lazy players (like me!) who don't like to grind to harvest some of the basic materials can buy them from other players. That change opens the game up to a lot of different kinds of gameplay.

One of the most interesting game design choices to me is that Tiny Spark has gone out of its way to foster collaborative game play. Some of the recent changes have made that less "pointless" and built more obvious rewards for players. There is an alt currency, called imagination points, that can be earned in many ways, and spent on in-game upgrades (that significantly enhance gameplay), and some of the consistently most efficient and profitable way to earn these points come from assisting other players. It's an incredible exercise in social engineering, and I've wondered from the start if Stewart Butterfield hasn't fielded it as a "game" as a front for experiments in gamification and behaviour modification; I really hope they've got some good academics riding shotgun and studying how the community works and how in-game incentives affect player behavious, because some really cool stuff is going on in there.

Basically, it is more like an MMO civ game than anything else, where there are no warfare options, but a lot of incentives to trade and barter and collaborate. (Only I doubt the players think of it that way at all.)

The strength of the game is the environment: the developers have built a really rich world with great visual and auditory details. It's incredibly immersive. For example, some areas are built on the "toxic moon" background (party packs and individual players' streets), which has a built-in soundtrack of the 2001: Space Oddyssey theme arranged as a disco song played by banjos and a horn section. Hard to imagine. It cracks me up every time I hit one of those areas.

It isn't a game you can "win", and it suffers from all of the limitations of sandbox games. From the outside (I have no inside lines, btw), it looks like the devs are working on releasing a steady stream of micro-quests for achievement-oriented players; there was a period where most beta testers had accomplished the majority of the in-game goals, and that lead to a lot of grumbling, and any reviews that came during that time period will be pretty negative.

Their financial model is interesting, too: you can play for free with a rich game experience, but if you choose to pay money, you get some cool extras for it. Tiny Speck has stated that they are committed to keeping the free play model valid--Glitch is the antithesis of, say, Farmville in that regard.

I find the theory of the game fascinating. And I play because, at the moment, I'm having a lot of fun with the game economics (I imagine that will plateau for me eventually), but most of all because the game environment is awesome.

Glitch is ultimately more of a "toy" than a "game", though, by my standards, and I wouldn't want to try to predict if Tiny Spark can make a go of it financially or not. They have been in beta for a LONG time, and their commitment and standards are high. I just don't know if the game will have enough appeal. I expect a lot of industry observers won't "get it", either, because it doesn't fit a conventional game model.

I don't know if I love it, but I respect it! How's that for an answer. And so far it is really intriguing.

The game got savaged last year in Rock, Paper, Shotgun; here's hoping they've used the year to fix the issues.


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