Glitch: dreamlike whimsy and play in a MMO

Ars Technica has an in-depth review of Glitch, the whimsical, free-to-play game from Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield (we've written about Glitch here before) and his new company, Tiny Speck. Glitch uses whimsical, cooperative tasks to produce fun and delight, rather than combat:

Tuning the quests and interactions to provide the right level of difficulty and reward was complicated. In beta testing, the development team found that while singing to butterflies was repetitive and boring, people would still sing to butterflies obsessively—because it provided small but guaranteed amounts of experience. The devs tried to balance this by making singing to animals cost energy, but then players simply farmed huge numbers of girly drinks (which made animals interactions cost no energy) and continued to grind the same thing again and again. The girly drinks were then nerfed, and people immediately complained.

"We realized that if we incentivized things that were inherently boring," Butterfield told me, "people would do them again and again—it showed up in the logs—but that they would secretly hate us."

Player housing is implemented, with an apartment-style design that lets anyone have their own home without cluttering up the landscape. You can decorate your home and grow things in your own garden on the patio. Unlike many games, in Glitch it does not take long to save up enough cash for a place of your own, though making it look less than spartan will take considerable effort.

Funny little touches to the game litter the game. For example, getting the right papers to let you purchase an apartment requires multiple trips to the Department of Administrative Affairs (Ministry of Departments) where you spend much time in a waiting area while bureaucratic lizard men play Farmville on tiny computers.

Butterfly milking and pig nibbling: building the strange world of Glitch


  1. I wanted to like Glitch, I really did.  The idea of a lighthearted MMO that encouraged cooperation seemed like a fine idea.  But for all the nice art and cutesy dialogue, it was just mind-numbingly repetitive. I found it had a downright sadistic inventory system, decidedly un-fun time-based skill advancement (like Eve Online), and for all its charm it left me with no desire to keep slogging through the same tasks over and over.

  2. Yeah, I have a Glitch account and once you get past a certain level, you really run out of things to do. People have “parties” to blow through their money, but there simply aren’t enough quests.

  3. I had a similar experience to calph. Glitch to me seems to be all of the grinding of a game like World of Warcraft, but none of the payoffs in terms of learning the lore of many interwoven stories.

    Supposedly there is lore somewhere in there having to do with the various giants and why they need all these little Glitches to nibble pigs for them, but I couldn’t find anything. 

    I gave up after a couple or three weeks when my SO walked in on me tending to the garden in my house and made a comment about it looking like Farmville, but with more hoarding. He was right.

  4. Glitch is unfortunately pretty grind-heavy at the moment.  I can see where they’re going with trying to make a multitude of easily accessible paths of activity to be pursued and explored.  You can make a farm, you can craft items, you can delve caverns for ore and gems, you can help to construct new locations, etc.  Figuring out how these new systems work is fun and engaging without being competitive.

    But it doesn’t really take that long to exhaust all the paths available.  And once you’ve figured all the systems out, there’s really nothing to do but grind on those systems.  At this point, the game is pretty much over, since the competitive PvP elements which usually draw out the novelty and variability of a multiplayer game aren’t really there.  Not saying that there should be combat or PvP – it’s a refreshing change…but it does create some new challenges for keeping the player engaged.  I think currently grinding is filling in the gaps left by PvP, and that’s not really any better.

    1. Seriously?  I actually like the game, though I do understand why some might not (the points made above are good ones).  But, you won’t play a fictional game because it has fictional “gods”? 

  5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had too much grinding for me. (Seriously, you have to call your girlfriend regularly and take her out on dates or she gets mad at you?  You have to eat regularly or lose health points?  YOU HAVE TO WORK OUT?  I play games to escape crap like that!)  So I imagine this is not my cup of tea. ;-)

  6. The worst thing about Glitch is that gameplay involves other people. I use computers because I don’t want to interact with people sometimes. Duh.


  7. Tried to play it between calls at my job.  Discovered that if you idle your health falls over time.  Stopped because I’d die too much while working with Glitch sitting in the background.  Doesn’t work for me.

  8. Glitch is certainly different.  As a long-time EvE Online player, I found the lack of competition in Glitch to be both frustrating and fascinating.  It’s a world of cooperation, giving, and being downright friendly (!) to other players. 

    Much of the game is simply exploring the world – there’s a lot of amusing content there.

    By making it relatively easy to collect currants (the in-game currency) and other resources, the game mechanics encourage generosity.  That ease, however, could also be a major problem long-term:  things too easy to obtain aren’t worth anything, so why spend the time in-game to obtain them?  Even the most valuable things are trivially easy to obtain…a lot of people are going to feel like they’ve “won” within a few weeks and not have much incentive to continue playing.

    Tiny Speck has a big challenge to make the player-to-player interactions more meaningful and enable the community to create more end-game content.  They seem to recognize this and have been responsive enough in the past, so I’m going to hang around and see how it plays out.

  9. I tried playing for a while but I got bored really fast. The game is repetitive but worse, I just didn’t see any point in continuing once I’d done just about everything. Everything in the game just kind of is, and there’s not more to learn or draw me back in once the novelty of hunting down pigs and nibbling them wore off. And boy did it wear off.

  10. I was part of the beta test of Glitch. I honestly got kinda bored with it; in the alpha phase (which I missed), players got to construct and name the different streets. When I got to the beta, that was removed because Glitch had all the space it was likely to need.

    The thing about Glitch is that there’s nothing that, on a metascale level, could be seen as ‘story’: in another cooperative MMO, A Tale in the Desert, you have the option of working towards building a huge Egyptianesque monument for one discipline or another; this is a task that takes large amounts of resources and time.
    The point is, Glitch would be a lot more interesting if there was something big players could work towards and cooperate on. Or maybe several somethings. Or if the world had more variety.

    But, for now, I’ll leave Glitch behind and search for other worlds.

  11. I’ve been having tons of fun with Glitch for a few weeks now. The one-week-only Halloween thing with pumpkins and candy was really great, and it hinted at where things could go in the future. Yes, the quests run out after a bit, but then there are about 500 achievements you can get, and I’m barely halfway through them. There’s an Achievement Filter that really helps you sort them out. I’ve seen one or two street projects since the game went live, hopefully there will be more of those. Also, Rook attacks seem to be on the rise, and some of the nicer items (Grand ol’ Grinder) have disappeared from the vendors, so now there is incentive for people to begin crafting and selling them in auctions.

  12. I’ve been happily playing Gitch for a couple of months now.  The main emergent gameplay we’re seeing at the moment comes from player interaction in the world, so if you don’t want to interact with other players this game probably isn’t for you.

  13. It would have been nice if, in this day and age, they could have crafted it without requiring bloated and processor-taxing Flash.

  14. I’ve been playing since beta, and it certainly is self directed and better with cooperative game play. There is a nice little culture of helpful and happy mutant type folks on there. The influx of new players who think you have to grind to get the biggest house, etc, has been a bit strange.  The devs are really quick on the fly to add new content and are very interactive with feedback.

    I’ve been playing for months and still discovering new things to do.  

  15. I tried it. I honestly did. I knew there were talented people working on it, and the visuals looked great.  I had also heard it was written similarly to the MMO I work for (won’t mention it here; don’t want to be accused of plugging).

    So I wandered around. I got an achievement or completed a quest every time I took two steps. I began to feel like the game thought I was a mentally deficient puppy in need of constant positive reinforcement. “You walked two steps! GOOD JOB! We’re SO proud of you! Walk two more steps for your next quest!”

    I clicked on a butterfly to milk it. I thought that was a little grotesque. I was told I should lotion my hands before clutching the butterfly’s sensitive nipples. I thought that was more than a little grotesque. “GOOD JOB! You clicked on TWO butterflies! Achievement Unlocked: Butterfly Masturbator! Milk THREE MORE butterflies for your next quest! Don’t forget to lube up!”

    I tickled a pig. It gave me some meat. I wondered where the meat came from and why I didn’t need to lotion my hands before I tickled the pig. I mentally smacked myself for even thinking that sentence. “GOOD JOB! You tickled a PIG!”

    I amassed a ton of items that didn’t do anything, but could be traded for other items that don’t do anything, or combined with other items to make new things that still served no purpose.  I searched for any meaningful objective. I searched for anything resembling a game. I recalled that my butterfly milk was full of “effervescent butterfly farts.” I hit my limit for pointless tasks and grotesquely strained attempts at whimsy and deleted my account.

    Total play time: 30 minutes.

  16. Having read the Ars Technica article and all these here comments, the game sounds just awful to me.  Other people may enjoy the hell out of it, but I think I’d rather go fight the Covenant, or blast through a gang of Super Mutants, or just shoot some transdimensional holes through walls.  Or reorganize my sock drawer.  Now there’s some grinding with a tangible payoff.

  17. I find it really interesting that a lot of people who play a lot of games find Glitch so pointless.  Obviously everything is pointless, things are only meaningful when we assign meaning to them.  I’m not trying to say that people *should* like Glitch, but more that I am really interested in the fact that they don’t.  My (now defunct) World of Warcraft guild mostly started playing Glitch and now they have all stopped except for me (to the best of my knowledge).

    Somehow the game does not endear itself to most people who like video games, but it does seem to endear itself to another group of people who fell in love with it in the beta.  I feel no need to go up levels, no need to collect achievements, and aside from an initial infatuation period I don’t even feel a need to play and yet I like it a lot.

    I think it’s worth trying, and worth stopping if it isn’t for you.  I’m very glad it is around.

  18. I would like this more if there was an actual game there. It felt like someone had a whole bunch of design crap laying around, wanted to show you their T-shirt fodder and decided the best way to do this was to attach it to a dull mess .

  19. I’ve been playing Glitch for a few months now. I like it because the other players are helpful. I like it because you don’t have to buy things to play the full game. I also like it because when I get bored with saving up currants (in game money) for another bag to hold my ever-increasing pile of stuff (because who knows when you may need to tune a bubble or make a frittata with seven different ingredients?), I go play Fallout.

  20. Glitch is insipid and heartless. I have to wonder how one could acclaim  Tim Roger’s piece on The Sims Social and not recognise Glitch as it is.

    What happened to joy?

  21. I’ve been playing since beta, and have more or less loved it- I’ve gotten bored before, but then I had the realization that much of the fun is what you make of it. If you don’t like to use your imagination, yeah, it’s grindy. If you wanna kill orcs and conquer castles, it isn’t for you. But if you enjoy exploration, interaction with others, helping others work toward goals, etc, then it can be very enjoyable. As far as building new streets being axed, that’s crap. The world is ever-expanding, will continue to expand, and has done so since going public, so I dunno where the idea that “Glitch had all the space it was likely to need” comes from, as it’s pretty clearly not true.
    Also, it’s pretty damn important to remember- this game is a little over a month old as a public game. Things are being added and adjusted all the time. I feel like, while I may end up grinding from time to time, there are some really cool things in the pipeline, and I’m very excited to see where the world goes from its somewhat humble beginnings. It’ll take a bit of patience at times, but I believe it will be worth it.

  22. I tried to like Glitch. The concept of a big, childlike, sandbox game- the real Internet playground- was intriguing, relatively virgin territory between the gore and gravity of most games. Unfortunately for Glitch, I had just read the scroll-length expose on the Sims Social, and every freshly sharpened sense was alerted to the unfortunate mechanics of free-to-play MMOs, and I found nothing that bode otherwise.

    Menu-clicking games are a dicey preposition to begin with- unlike a shooter, or a flight sim, or a RTS, or a puzzle game (from Myst to Portal,) the primary source of capability is not the player per se, but the player’s avatar, and the primary determinant of success is no longer reflexes, or familiarity, or developed skill, but tolerance, and the blood drains from my ass awfully quickly, personally. The tyranny of scripted games may get painted as limiting, from time to time, but there is no getting around the fact that someone made it a central goal to interface with the portion of your brain that flags things as interesting- that is, things that can be described as stories. My ‘free-form’ child’s play primarily consisted of everyone in the crew collectively crafting a ‘script’ of sorts- where the dragon’s were, who had what powers, where we going to attack or what we might do instead, whatever- and acting it out, with a little less systematic knocking down of every door/turning over of every rock for points.

    Free MMOs ratchet the suffering one step further. Just look at the incentives. They want to keep you playing, leveling and getting a sunk investment, while simultaneously creating a game sufficiently frustrating that you will opt to buy an ingame currency to make it more playable- and Glitch just seemed more of the same- the exponentially growing artifact trees to get anything done, the grinding health meter, the notable lack of either brows pinched in thought or heart pounding in excitement.  At least you can pick where to drive or fly in World of Tanks or Battlestar Galactica Online.

  23. @AlphaBravoCharlie- The devs at Tiny Speck have said again and again (and have kept their word on it) that at no point will the game require you to buy anything to advance… what you get for RL money at the moment are clothes, teleportation and votes in referendums on the next features to be added (which, as this is *very* early days still, haven’t been implemented yet). So the comparison with games that require that, or grease the track a bit for money, isn’t very apt.

    1. None of these games *require* money- but they have to pay their mortages, and there aren’t any tipjars, and there aren’t any bills, and that inherently places them in the position of offering two grades of experience, which can make for goofy behavior when, in digital land, the two products can be furnished with equal ease.  Practical software manages to make a passable split between free amateur and paid professional packages, but in games the split is usually managed by making the free experience alluring but unfun (a class of experience people seem to overlook as not only possible, but common) and selling something that cuts down on the slog- in this case, the slog of travel. Think about that for a second- they are letting you buy out of spending time in the game.

      Of course, this can be done with varying degrees of conceit, and the Tiny Speck team seem good-natured, and make sweet environments, and are well vouched for. The fact remains, though, that the guts of the game- and I gave a good honest couple weeks, seeing what the kids were up to these days, so to speak- and it still bore all the signs of offering an experience more addictive than appealing- lots of menus instructing me to click other menus, and then wait, and then receive points. If those two terms are flipped in your personal experience, then by all means enjoy your frolic. :-)

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