MMObility: Tiny Speck explains Glitch's big unlaunching

Glitch screenshot
If you've kept up with Tiny Speck's unusual browser-based game Glitch, then you might be familiar with The Announcement. The developers have decided to unlaunch the game in the hopes of retooling and redesigning many of its core features. I'd bet that this decision was not made lightly, not at all, but I wanted to get more of an insight into the decision. Thankfully, Tiny Speck's Stewart Butterfield was prepared to give us just that.

Even after speaking to him, though, I am still a bit confused about the announcement. Is my confusion due to the fact that many developers would never do such a thing as going back to beta, or is it the offer for full credit and subscription refunds that boggles me? Either way, players have to find their comfort zone with the announcement and decide what they want to do.

Click past the cut for my thoughts on the interview and feel free to leave your own in the comments section!

Glitch screenshot
The first thing I wanted to clarify with Stewart was how players have reacted to the announcement. "So far, so good," he said. "The Twitter response has shown that people are pretty positive, and there have been a lot of 'congrats' and stuff like that." He also acknowledged the biggest concern that came from the community was concern about a possible game reset. "A reset is super unlikely; there's no real reason we would have to do it. A lot of the fundamental mechanics are up for change." A reset would mean that much of what the current playerbase has worked hours and hours over the last two months for might be wiped away. Stewart stressed that this was very unlikely.

As a show of good faith, the devs have even gone so far as to offer refunds for subs or other purchases. Despite the game's having done "well" with subscriptions, very few people have actually asked for any type of return. Was he surprised at that reaction? "Not really because the community has been really tight and loyal."


"Everyone will like it much, much better because then the house can be an expression that is also part of the gameplay. You know, you craft items to use as decorations and that kind of stuff."

I also asked him to elaborate on the new systems that might be coming into place. He obliged me: "Here's a couple of examples. For one, the way housing will work... we're going to make both the land and the house itself fully upgradeable and expandable, which doesn't make sense with the way our housing works right now. It's a pretty finite amount of space given how close [houses] are packed into each other. Everyone will like it much, much better because then the house can be an expression that is also part of the gameplay. You know, you craft items to use as decorations and that kind of stuff." (At this point in the interview my eyes started to glaze over as I daydreamed of crafting my own armchair.) "Another one is rethinking levels and experience. One thing we'd really like to see is, rather than giving you experience points so you level up, we instead let you earn something. Let's just call it imagination, and with that you can customize your character. You could choose to use that 'imagination' and make your character have a bigger energy tank or run faster or jump higher or expand the size of your property or one of a million other things."

In other words, going back to beta basically means that the developers can make larger changes to the game. Initially Tiny Speck thought it could make a little incremental change here and there and arrive at the intended destination, but a re-designation of the game's status was needed. The game will still be live and changing, and players will still have access, but the developers would not feel right if they were in a "launched" state and charging players for different services while they made these large changes. That means that the changes Stewart is hinting at must be pretty big.

Beta will give the developers "license to make the changes that we feel like we need to make to make the game better," Stewart said. The devs will continue to sell subs and items while the game is in beta, something that might confuse players. The company still needs to make money, but the team feels that giving the items away for free or stopping the sale of items at this point will only set the players up for disappointment when they are asked to start paying again. The reaction from the playerbase has shown that current players are not really worried about the payments, anyway. After all, the game can still be played for free, and the optional items and subscriptions will remain. Stewart explained further: "Any credits that you buy now or any credits that you get due to a subscription will be doubled when we re-launch." The offer even goes retroactively back to the point of the original launch. You can also cancel your subscription right now and get a full refund, then resubscribe later.


"While the concerns run high about the possibility of a reset, Stewart says that it is 'really almost not a possibility at all.' Still, the concern is out there, especially for those players who have put so many hours and hours into their characters and customization."

Instead of going through all of this trouble, why not just get the changes ready in one massive patch, shut the game down and then re-launch it as a "2.0" version? Tiny Speck is sort of going to do that, but it will happen several times. The game is designed to allow these small changes to happen while the game is running, so all that is really needed is the "beta" tag. While the concerns run high about the possibility of a reset, Stewart says that it is "really almost not a possibility at all." Still, the concern is out there, especially for those players who have put so many hours and hours into their characters and customization. It's good that the reset is close to a non-possibility.

Even after the release of The Announcement (as it is being called in certain circles), the game is being patched and updated. While I was in the middle of writing this, a new set of gameplay update notes were released on the forums. They include the promise of new skills like Potion Making, Distilling, Tincturing, and Unlearning. Of course, many of the effects of these skills will have to be searched out in game, but the notes promise things like rainbows that will throw players into the air, magical spells to be cast on others, and home-brewed booze. Pretty nifty!

Near the end of our interview, I had to ask: Was this a bad announcement? "I don't think so at all," Stewart told me. "What would have been better is if we have gotten everything right the first time. Some things are complicated, and some things take experimentation and trial and error to get to the right decision. We tried to be as open and honest as we can since the very beginning. This is not some way of hiding that we are not sure about Glitch or that we're laying people off or anything like that. We're still hiring people."

That's good news, especially to the hardcore fans who play the game every day. I'd like to thank Stewart for taking the time to talk to me and for clearing up a bit of the confusion behind The Announcement.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published on Massively.