Social MMO Glitch to Monetize Through Android, iOS Apps

Glitch is a web-based “social” massively multiplayer online game developed by Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield at his studio, Tiny Speck. The developer recently closed a $10.7 million round of funding ahead of entering closed beta, which Inside Social Games got a taste of this week.

The game is interesting for several reasons, notably for the part where it plans to use mobile components to supplement its core browser gameplay, which would provide more revenue streams than what a lot of social games have. These components aren’t in place in the beta, yet, but Butterfield elaborated on some future plans to monetize through paid iOS and Android mini-game apps. The game also plans to feature APIs that players can use to incorporate art from Glitch into other mediums. Facebook Connect integration is planned to get users started playing the game, but Tiny Speck doesn’t think it could get enough screen real-estate out of Facebook to justify a full Glitch app.

Butterfield describes Glitch as a “collaborative simulation,” and claims it draws its inspiration from influences as diverse as hardcore MMO space simulation EVE Online and the turn-based strategy Civilization series. The team wondered what SimCity would look like from the perspective of the tiny people on the street, and Glitch is an attempt to realize that while drawing visual inspiration from stylized titles such as the Katamari Damacy and LittleBigPlanet series. Butterfield says the biggest influence on Glitch is “games that have their own unique style.”

The game allows players to explore, socialize, gather materials and learn skills — and like EVE Online, players don’t have to be actively playing the game for their skills to develop. There is no combat in the game, no set goals or quest lines, and players are free to explore the world and set their own priorities rather than following a linear path. Butterfield is keen to emphasize the fact that unlike many other social games, Glitch is “a synchronous, shared, persistent world as opposed to a single-player game where you can just peek at your friends’ progress.” And unlike many other MMORPGs, there are no “shards” or “servers” in Glitch — the game world is one contiguous entity with a single ecosystem and just one economy. This will help promote a coherent community, rather than fragmenting it by server.

Aside from the planned iOS and Android mini-game apps mentioned above, the game will be monetized through in-game premium currency, although this hasn’t yet been implemented. (Update: Premium currency was added to the beta as of late yesterday.) Butterfield tells us that the team has been keen to stay away from selling gameplay assists wherever possible, and try to keep to a policy of only offering premium cosmetic customizations. There will also be a subscription plan available, which will unlock a number of skin colors, facial features and clothing for “free” as part of the package. Butterfield also says players will have the ability to purchase ads for their in-game services, corporations, religions and cults.

Social features in the game are diverse. There’s a solid chat and IM system in place already. An upcoming feature will allow larger groups to have their own “group hall,” much like a guild hall in a traditional MMORPG. There are also a number of collaborative projects to complete throughout the game world. These encourage mass cooperation in the name of unlocking new areas of the world, so everyone has a reason to contribute, but those who contribute the most will have appropriately larger rewards.

Tiny Speck doesn’t have a final release for Glitch scheduled as yet, and the team intends to continue active development for “many years.” At present, the game world is only available for specifically scheduled tests, but the beta period will feature more regular, lengthy test opportunities. At present, there are 39,000 people in the queue to join, but soon the game will switch to a system where players will be able to invite their friends rather than all invites having to come from Tiny Speck itself.

Glitch will open to the public later this year, “when it’s ready.”