Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
Last week Tiny Speck announced that they would be pulling the plug on their adorably surreal browser-based MMO, Glitch, on December 9th. The day the announcement was made my entire Plurk friends list seemed to cry out in anguish one after the other over the looming loss of this charming game. Tiny Speck has said that there were just not as many users as they had hoped for, leading the game to be unsustainable. Full stop. No new management, no relaunch, no iOS port, no Kickstarter-- just the plain end of one of the most enchanting and original free-to-play games to come out in a long time.
Glitch had drawn in a lot of Second Life users during its beta period, including myself, but by the game's official launch I had already lost interest and never logged in again. At least until last night. I decided to look back in on Glitch to see what I'd been missing, and to enjoy its final days... And I want to help you do the same. Keep reading for your last chance to experience this stunning world.
Glitch has a reasonably impressive developer pedigree, a gorgeous art style, witty and lighthearted storytelling, and gameplay that has everything in common with innumerable other popular games. But there's a sense that it never really lived up to expectations. It wasn't the revolution it wanted to be, and only a few months after launch it was pulled back into beta for some retooling.
If you want to know why Glitch didn't do as well as expected, most armchair critics like myself will agree that it was because social games of this kind are leaving Flash and browser-based platforms and moving to mobile ones. Another social browser-based mmo, TinierMe (which I wrote about last year) announced within a couple days of Tiny Speck's announcement that it too would be closing its doors as well. Eerily enough, TinierMe will be shutting down the day after Glitch does. While TinierMe focusses more on fashion and chatting than gameplay (unlike like Glitch), it's hard not to notice the parallels. Social and casual gaming experiences are migrating from your browser onto your phone and tablet, and the ones that fail to make this transition are faltering.
Starting out in Glitch now is a very weird experience. So much of the narrative in Glitch's introductory levels speaks about possibility and creation and the endless nature of their game-- all things that are ironic and even unsettling to read now. You walk through lush environments peppered with inspiring text that now reads with a little taste of bitterness... It made me miss this game that I hadn't thought about for two years, and it made me regret not coming back in time to really enjoy it. How much of it can I see in two weeks?
I dressed my avatar, decorated my home, planted a garden, and started working on some quests. I nibbled pigs, squeezed chickens and massaged butterflies. I fiddled with new mechanics and devices; one of my favourites is a camera mode with Instagram-worthy filters for sharing pictures on your profile or saving them for yourself, which makes taking snapshots of memorable moments much more fun.
I explored streets that were completely different than the ones I'd seen before, and in the process I found plenty of user-made notes scattered on the ground. They were mostly thank you's to the staff of Tiny Speck and the other players in the world, more sentimental and heartfelt than you might expect for the closing of a relatively young game.
Glitch has such a unique atmosphere, it's obvious that the people who made it poured their heart into this quirky little universe. Ideally, Glitch would already be a mobile game-- even if it had to lose the mmo side of things to make it work well, it would be worth it. The joy of this world is in exploring and shaping it, finding all its weird little secrets and making them your own. It already has a lot of the traditional mechanics that keep casual mobile games so addictive like energy expenditure and timing-based activities, but it uses those elements so much more effectively. It's just a shame to just lose it outright, it feels like casual gaming as a whole is losing something very important without even really noticing.
This is why I want you to check Glitch out while you still can.
If you were in the beta or played at any point you will still be able to sign in with your account. If you weren't, comment on this post and include your email-- I (and several other loyal SL Glitchers) are standing by with invites so that anyone who wants to see Glitch before it's gone can. Take pictures, write about your experiences, curate as many little pieces of it as you can, invite others to do the same, and help this surreal little world endure.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.