Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Back to the drawing board

Glitch has gone back to beta.  I haven't played the game since the day I quit cold turkey (Isn't 'cold turkey' a truly outrageous expression?  How the hell does 'cold turkey' have anything to do with quitting something instantly?) but I have been telling the game to learn new skills for me every few days with the assumption that I would cap out my skills roughly by the start of January.  Maybe I will play some more, maybe I won't, but getting more powerful with so few clicks is hard to resist!

I am not especially surprised by this change because for a short while most of my friends were playing Glitch like maniacs, logging in during the night to do daily donations and putting in tremendous hours and then fairly suddenly everybody stopped.  I think many of us hit the same wall where we had most of the skills, had explored everywhere that was interesting, bought the biggest house and found that the remaining goals were really uninspiring.  There needs to be something big and creative at the end of the initial exploration phase (which for me lasted until I got all 11 Icons) and hopefully the creators of Glitch can make that happen.

The reasons given for sending the game back to beta, which is a gutsy move, are that player housing and player control of the world were not working out.  I completely agree with that assessment.  The game was marketed as one in which players could design the world and the community would drastically influence how the world evolved but that wasn't remotely true.  Players could poison trees and then plant new trees to replace them but there were only 6 kinds of trees and any given tree plot could usually only take 1-3 kinds.  Being able to replace a single terrain feature with a single other, functionally identical terrain feature is not dynamic content creation.  Minecraft has certainly set a new bar for player created content and although Glitch is a lot of fun it isn't going to scratch the 'I can make the world be whatever I want!' itch that players wanted and which the company promised.

Housing was a similar disappointment.  In particular there were issues at launch that gathering enough money to buy the most expensive house was easy, the supply of houses was small and all the top end houses were identical and located in the same place.  This created a huge mess in that people who liked the look of the cheap houses (treefort house!) couldn't get the advantages of the expensive house (modern condo) and people were stockpiling cash without anything to buy.  What was needed, I think, was the ability for players to spend massive quantities of resources designing their own houses.  It doesn't have to be practical at all as there really isn't any penalty to having other players have spectacular mansions they spent bazillions of hours creating so the players need to be let loose to build furniture, create gardens and do other such things.

Of course designing frameworks where players can build their own houses, furnishings and designs is a big undertaking.  Even bigger is the challenge of letting players design the world itself, which is made far more challenging by the issue of players griefing one another for profit or pure malice.  Doing these things is going to be very hard and not at all quick so I think Glitch rightly should be back in beta where they can justify all kinds of downtime and small bugs while pounding out big changes.

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