"And then those limits pushed back."

We learn that the browser-based MMO Glitch is shutting down next month. The team at Tiny Speck breaks the news in a frank statement that eloquently and powerfully expresses the heartbreak they feel coming to this decision; I take the expression as genuine, and not without my own source of sympathy.

I accepted a friend’s invitation to mess around with the game a bit only a few weeks ago, and two things struck me immediately. First, the writing was very good, especially in terms of in-game text and dialogue. I’d also been nosing around with Guild Wars 2 at the same time, and found the contrast between Glitch’s intelligently whimsical banter and Guild Wars’ generic-fantasy blah-blah quite striking.

But I could not shake the feeling that this game really wanted to live on a tablet. The colorful, 2D world with its goofy, melon-headed player-characters seemed very out of place running on a PC. This is a game that invited play as a pleasant attention drain while relaxing in a comfy chair, perhaps with the TV on, or chatting with others in the room — not sitting at one’s desk, with mouse and keyboard at hand. And indeed, Tiny Speck points to the inexorable trend towards mobile — and, by definition, away from their chosen platform of Flash — in their shutdown announcement.

I can’t help but think of another game that’s captured our attention lately that also very much seems out of place running anywhere but on a tablet, yet here it is running in a little window on our PCs. I know nothing about Glitch’s development history, but based on its scope I’m willing to guess it shares something that I know to be true of The Fool and His Money: that the game took long enough to plan that, when making initial targeting decisions, Flash seemed ubiquitous and invincible, and mobile nothing more than an interesting future possibility.

I cannot fault anyone who made decisions five years ago that didn’t account for mobile becoming a new primary platform so quickly; the iPhone existed, but the sense of inevitability didn’t really take hold until the (Flash-free) iPad became a mega-hit, three years later. When Adobe announced their abandonment of Flash-on-mobile not long after, I saw technology pundits nod with satisfaction, but I can’t imagine that Tiny Speck met that news with a great sense of assurance.

So, to a certain extent, I blame rotten luck for Glitch’s misfortune. It had the bad timing to choose a platform that dropped from obvious to obsolete due to a truly amazing and very rapid shift in the direction of personal computing. But — and I realize I say this as a newly minted iPad game developer, who is therefore beholden to the King — it also serves an an object lesson in the risks you take when you bind your fortunes too tightly to a single, proprietary platform.

Stay flexible.

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5 Responses to "And then those limits pushed back."

  1. Gunther says:

    It's too bad because one of the people behind the game is (was?) Keita Takahashi of Katamari/NobyNobyBoy fame, but unfortunately it was clear pretty immediately that this would never go anywhere. I'm astonished it survived as long as it did, to be honest.

  2. Robert says:

    I have been informed that the generic fantasy dialogues in gw2 are more pronounced in some races' starting areas and less in others. I've only done humans so far.

  3. You are focussing on the Flash-ness of it all, but it would be a mistake to believe that the platform is the game's *primary* problem. As they say: it isn't making money. Maybe with time its user base would grow, and the decline of Flash is a *factor* in the long-term revenue projections, but if it were self-sustaining this month they would keep it running next month.

    (Porting it to mobile would be a large additional effort even if they *hadn't* started with Flash. This game is pretty clearly beyond the easy-port capabilities of HTML5-as-a-platform -- it chugged the hell out of my *desktop* machine, as is, already.)

    I've lived through this story once (see endless Uru Live posts on this blog), and the moral I would draw is: when you're planning your niche MMO, you'd better ensure your niche is above a certain minimum size. Keeping these things running is a serious ongoing expense.

    • I guess I should establish my context here. I signed up for Glitch early on, the end of September 2011. I spent one long evening playing it -- ran around, did a bunch of introductory things. Tried to get an apartment, but it was impossible due to the crude state of the housing model at that time. (Looks like it went through at least two major updates after that.)

      It was fun. I never went back to it, after that one evening. It didn't have either the narrative hook or the world-exploring hook that carbonates my gamer hormones -- I'll sink time into a game for either reason. Quite possibly later updates fixed those too, but I never got around to them.

  4. misuba says:

    They were a little late to developing actual gameplay that wasn't a grind. They got a lot right about making an MMO that hit a non-MMO audience, but the audience they hit with the good bits was not interested in the Calvinist play ethic of grinding your way to the interesting part.

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