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.