Glitch game. Tiny Speck | BCBusiness

Glitch game. Tiny Speck | BCBusiness
The makers of the freemium Glitch game join the steady stream of members of the Vancouver gaming community who have relocated or shuttered.

Rapid technological change and a bet on the wrong platform brought down Vancouver game developer Tiny Speck’s game Glitch. The shutdown game was another blow to the city’s once-thriving gaming industry.

I was sad to see recently that Vancouver game developer Tiny Speck will shut down Glitch, its “massive multiplayer online” game, next month.

The reason given was that the $17-million game built in Vancouver and San Francisco couldn’t, and never would, attract enough players to make it commercially viable.

So, apparently it wasn’t as massively multiplayer as imagined.

Glitch was conceived years ago by Stewart Butterfield, who turned instead with his then-wife Caterina Fake, to making Flikr. The hugely popular photo-sharing site eventually sold to Yahoo for estimates that run between $28 million and $35 million.

About four years ago Butterfield returned to Vancouver with venture capital money from some of Silicon Valley’s big names to revive the game under the banner of Tiny Speck.

Star-Crossed Development

But it was star-crossed. An initial beta test resulted in the need for a complete makeover. Then more than a year ago when the game was launched, it had to be “unlaunched” to fix … well … a few glitches.

Recently it was launched again, obviously to an underwhelming response because it’s shutting down permanently on Dec 8.

This is disappointment enough for Butterfield, but it is equally as troubling for Vancouver’s digital community, which has seen a steady stream of gamemakers leave or close down.

However, it does illustrate how rapid technological change can destroy a company that took too long to create and was consequently buffeted by constant change.

In this case, Glitch was designed for play on websites such as Facebook, much like Farmville which swept the online world only a few years ago. It also had Farmville’s freemium model in which play was free, but items needed to play the game had costs attached.

Glitch was a critical success but players complained that it was slow and aimed at desktop computers because of its Flash-based platform.  

Glitch couldn’t play well on mobile phones because they usually can’t handle Flash. Meanwhile, many of its millions of potential customers had become enthralled by iPhones and their Google-powered clones.

So, Glitch was too big and too late.

Sounds pretty emblematic of a sector in which today’s great idea becomes tomorrow’s bomb because technology catches on and passes it.