8000 Bottles of Butterfly Milk, or Why I Love Glitch

I don't work for Tiny Speck. I just love Glitch. Here's why, and what everyone can learn from it.


Glitch is an open world MMO in disguise. Everything happens on 'streets' and for a long time you don't realize that all of those streets are connected in giant webs of territories across several continents. When you do, you get this wonderful scale shift moment - an instant of abrupt comprehension when your perception of the world suddenly expands by orders of magnitude. It is vast, but you don't feel overwhelmed. You consume the world in bite sized chunks (there's even GPS directions to wherever you need to go) that make you hungry for more. Glitch takes the complexity of WoW and makes it easily digestible to casual players. You don't need to make simple systems for casual users - you just need to make complex systems accessible. Introduce small pieces. Don't overwhelm players. Enable them to discover more.


Things in Glitch feel valuable because you have to invest in them. By making you earn teleportation instead of giving it to you, Tiny Speck makes teleporting more fun, exciting, and satisfying. Challenges are compelling. Use challenges to imbue value in an experience.


Glitch doesn't have open loop mechanics that punish you for not coming back on time (this is a common retention tactic). Crops don't wilt, piggies don't starve, items don't disappear. The only thing you lose by not coming back is opportunity. And in fact, Glitch's skill-learning mechanic makes it OK to go out and live your life. Learning skills takes a certain amount of real-world time - from half an hour to the majority of a month. I can go do something else with my life and still be making progress just by passively using the time to learn. But then I'm adamant about returning when I can start to learn the next one. The faster I can learn the skills - the sooner I can start using them. Make players want to come back, not need to come back. It's the difference between "I have to get back or I'm going to fail" and "Everything is fine, but if I go back I can do even better". Obligation is not a good experience.


I'm doing an entire post on fractal game design, but the core is repeating patterns at different scales. In Glitch, crafting exemplifies this. The best items require exponential quantities of parts and pieces, multiple machines, and loads of time and effort. Here's just one example:
SDB recipe from the Glitch Strategy Wiki
To make one Storage Display Box (SDB), you need 4 boards, 8 snails, and 2 metal rods. You also need a Construction Tool to put it together, 40 energy to use the Construction Tool, and the skill Furniture-Making II. And that's just the top level. To get a board, you need 4 planks, a Woodworker machine, energy to use the machine, a Fuel Cell to power the machine, and the Woodworking skill to use the machine. To get a Fuel Cell you need 2 White Gas, 8 Blocks of Peat, and 12 Clumps of Jellisac (and a Fuelmaker machine, the Fuelmaker skill, energy to use the Fuelmaker.... and a Fuel Cell to power the Fuelmaker). Suffice it to say listing out every single item needed for every step of the process would take up this entire article. If it takes that much work - how can this possibly be a good thing? Because you can start small, and start fast. Along the same lines as the quick to learn, difficult to master adage, it is incredibly easy to craft something like Butter (just use 2 energy to shake Butterfly Milk) - but over time you can get new recipes, new machines, and new skills to make bigger, better, more wondrous things. And no matter how much time you have, there's something to accomplish. If you have 30 seconds, you can still make a few planks. If you have a week, you can create an SDB for every item in your inventory. In a way, it's also a dynamic difficulty system. There's something for everyone, regardless of the skill level you're at. You can always challenge yourself, and you can always pick at a few low hanging fruit, too.


People prefer collaboration to competition 3:1, and everything about Glitch honors that desire to work together instead of engaging in zero sum endeavors. So how did they get away with so little competition in a giant MMO? Besides eliminating any sense of PvP, it helps that Glitch doesn't have a singular goal. It's not "do this and win". There's no system to break or cheat or take advantage of so you can be the best. Without that ability to compare progress towards a fixed target, competition is moot. You can't weigh my stash of butterfly milk against your Transcendental Radiation II skill. You're not "better" in Glitch - you're just different. But it's not just minimizing competition - it's facilitating collaboration.
Collaboration is incentivized in most core Glitch activities. You get bonuses for mining together, harvesting together, and scraping barnacles together. It isn't for friending people, for sending them invites, for getting them to click a link - it's for working together with another human being in real time. That is social. It's social presence, it triggers emotions like gratitude (reverence for something given: service, item, or otherwise), and it fosters a positive, goal-oriented community. The optimal strategy is to work together. There are so many other ways Glitch lets you play together: projects (everyone working together + contributing items and unique skills), parties (buy them from vendors and everyone can add money to the time the party room is available), and house-sharing (let other people have keys to your house, so they can help harvest resources + leave presents). But I think you get the gist.


Few games pull off Free To Play models without tainting the experience. Glitch does. Here's how: 1) I never feel pressured to pay. I can play as long as I want, do as much as I want, without ever running into a pay wall. Nothing in the game is restricted based on my wallet. I'm not bombarded with pop-ups or pay prompts. It's never shoved in my face, never injected into my experience, never a hassle, pressure, or inconvenience. 2) I'm not out done by people who do pay. In a lot of F2P games, paying gives you inordinate advantages over others. To be on the top, you have to pay. Not so in Glitch. Remember how I mentioned no competition? 3) I pay to express myself. What I can buy in Glitch is clothing, supplies, and community votes, not fundamental changes to the game that let me feel like I'm cheating (though that can be fun sometimes!) and not features that fix things inherently broken in the game design (I see this way too often). 4) I can pay how I want. If I just want to have a constant boost, I can subscribe. If there's that one item that I really really want, I can just buy just that item. With more ways to pay, more people are going to monetize.


Agency is someone's capacity to effect intentional change: their ability to make meaningful choices and uniquely express themselves. In Glitch, the entire game is about figuring out what you want to imagine. I happen to enjoy meditation, so I learned all of the meditation skills. Then I realized I wanted a house, so I figured out how to get a housing permit, then how to raise money to purchase a house, then location scouted, and so on. Glitch doesn't tell you what to do, but it gives you a clear if challenging path to do whatever you choose. Don't know what you want to do? There are always quests to fall back on, and failing that, every object in the world has multiple interactions - I've probably only witnessed a fraction in my time.


Part of all artistic media is to help us better understand ourselves. In games, we get to test out different actions, realities, personalities, identities, and moralities. In Glitch, not only do you have avatar, house, tower, yard, and butler customization (aesthetic expression), but you can specialize in different skills, collect different items, worship your preferred deity . You can choose to be someone who takes pictures or posts auctions or throws parties or plays minigames (mechanic expression).
There are several currencies in Glitch: mood, energy, currants, and imagination. You get Imagination (iMG) for doing virtually anything in the game. Whatever you want to do, however you want to do it, Glitch rewards you just for being active in the world. It is the most flexible and all-encompassing system I've encountered, and I think it's brilliant. It makes whatever you want to do the thing you should do. There is no right path. The best thing you can do in Glitch is be who you want and do what you want.


I feel when I play Glitch, and feeling is awesome. The dialogue and writing are hilarious. The scenario (living in the collective imaginations of 11 giants) is bizarre and wonderful. The quests are sometimes silly, sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes I don't know how to feel, which is sort of a cool feeling too. Getting a new achievement makes me feel accomplished (their achievements range from quirkily mundane to so difficult less than a dozen people have them), discovering a new street makes me feel curious and proud and masterful. You don't get that range of feelings in most games. You don't get the subtler emotions (contentment, meditative focus, relief, calm), and you don't get the variety (kill! explore! kill!). Make your game evocative. Practice affective design.


Yesterday there was a new miniature experience to explore in Glitch, called a Summer Day.
The game left it open to interpretation, inviting you to find your own meaning in walking through the whitewashed world, touching floating sprites and landing on visible (and invisible) platforms. It was pointless. But that's what made it brilliant. Here, take this, discover what you will, feel what it makes you feel. Summer Day was a built-in pause, a few moments of reflection, a delightful dose of novelty mixed with the deep appreciation that comes with one-off opportunities. I can't go back there. I did it, saw it, felt it, experienced it, and now it's over. Not everything needs a point or explicit purpose.


Glitch is always evolving and changing. From their infamous un-launch to features that blow in and out of style, there are always tests going on and the team invites you to participate and respects whatever time you invest. You can tell the product is alive and loved, and that encourages all the more investment and goodwill.


Glitch is different. Glitch has resisted all the detrimental shortcuts, the spam, the pop-ups, the pay prompts, the pressure to make things easier, simpler, and more like what's "been proven". It has features that exist simply to elicit joy, wonder, and curiosity. Despite being a game designer, there are very few games I play for more than a few hours. There has never been a social game that I played for fun. Glitch is a social game that I've enjoyed for a year and a half, and counting. I have 8000 bottles of butterfly milk. They're doing it right.

6 Responses

  1. Wow, this makes me want to play even more than I already did. It sounds amazing and I can’t wait until it gets open for everyone or until they send me an invite letter. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts with us!

  2. wow. that just brought a tiny tear to my eyes i havent even played glitch yet (been waiting 8 months GET ON IT TS) yet i already feel like paart of the community

  3. So true.

    On top of all the brilliant consistency, there is often just one thing that is different from the rest, adding to the experience. Pigs do in fact starve, unlike all the other things that do not force you to come back on time. I have lost several pigs when taking a couple of weeks off from Glitch. Now I have put them in my street where visitors sometimes will fill the feeders so that helps a bit. I should just stick to other activities when I don’t play so often, but the piggies are so cute :-).

  4. Perfectly put, this is exactly what I’d hope to say myself if asked; now I can simply point to you! Thank you!

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