The game is an imaginative journey through the minds of 11 giants that is somewhat fun to play, but will probably require a little explanation. We spoke with Butterfield about Glitch.
Butterfield told us he wants to flip the model for online games by creating a gaming environment that is more about creating culture and less about the game.
So far, 27,000 people have played the game, accumulating around 34 million minutes of testing. Glitch challenges multi-player online games like World of Warcraft on one end of the spectrum and virtual reality plays on the other.
But not by much. Glitch is using a similar gaming model and a business model that has worked for "games" like Second Life, which makes $100 milion a year by selling virtual goods.
Players can create add-ons and virtual goods for others in the game; it's got in-game advertising only for the sale of virtual items. TinySpeck will release an app for the iPhone, which Butterfield says will take players out of the game. He said that they are making the API available to developers so that players in Glitch can play in other games, which sounds compelling.
Butterfield pitches it as culture building. "We provide raw materials and a stimulating environment, but it's the players who bring the infinite world alive, shaping it with their imagination," he says.
Glitch is actually the offspring of an idea that Ludicorp - the company that created Flickr - thought of at the very early days of that photo-sharing community. In fact, says Butterfield, he took the most important piece of the Glitch model from his experience at Flickr.
"Flickr was unique and different," says Butterfield. But there are similarities. "Chief among them is the importance of communication, and creating a space where people can build relationships. that can be more powerful than any individual feature we could offer them."
Glitch definitely sets the stage for that. Inside this non-violent interface are multiple areas for chatting. Characters encounter other characters, usually dressed and looking like alien wood sprites on acid, and engage in dialogue in real-time. There are dozens of prompts that gear you to interact with other players and elements in the game. You can talk to trees, and you can pet pigs.
I've only played the game for a couple of hours, but I have enjoyed it. There was a significant amount of downtime before they launch this afternoon, but I saw how someone sitting in an office cubicle would be enticed to don an artificial personality and entertain and amuse his friends. I see its similarities to a community built around sharing.
You can play a TV show for other characters, and you can give people beans, planting tools, and other things, like a special magical purple fruit that makes you see purple for about a minute.
The actions create points, and the game is set up so that a character must interact in order to keep is mood at high levels. Points are necessary to buy items needed to create opportunities for building community and for success in the game.
Conversations flow very easily when the world is purple and you are dressed like a nymph, while chickens walk by asking to be "rubbed."
If there is great fun in this game, it will be in how everything flows and changes in a way that a normal life may not. And if Butterfield's philosophy holds true, maybe that experience can create culture, in the same way that Flickr created a community around photo-sharing.
You can see for yourself by visiting the game when it opens later today.
Screen shots come from images given by Glitch and from capture of real-time play.