L015: Flickr Founders' Farmville Finisher; Glitch in Beta

Glitch [ http://glitch.com/ ]
LAUNCHERS: Stewart Butterfield | Cal Henderson | Eric Costello | Serguei Mourachov (all from Flickr). The mother company, Tiny Speck, was founded in March 2009.

WHAT: A free, massively multiplayer online (MMO) game designed to appeal to stay-at-home moms and kids -- not just hard-core gamers. Glitch lets you customize your character, a typical MMO game element, but there are no battles with Orcs (i.e., nothing to kill). Instead, you are in the minds of 11 giants, in Super Mario-looking environments doing two of the most powerful gaming mechanisms ever created: farming and leveling up. You learn skills and complete quests as you aim to build community and shape the world.

LEVERAGE: Glitch is built on a platform, so a public API is certainly coming. It took a long time to build (Stewart started in March 2009), but by doing so Tiny Speck will be able to make changes and introduce new content quickly. Zynga launches a new Farmville, Frontierville or Fishville every couple of months, so new Glitches (or at the very least more brains inside of Giants) should be coming down the pipe. Don't be surprised if some cost 99 cents.

WHEN/WHERE: In alpha since April 2010, in beta since Wednesday. In Vancouver (creatives) and San Francisco (engineers).

WHY: Stewart has loved video games since childhood. He wanted to make a game back in 2002 but his team switched to making Flickr since social gaming didn't really exist at the time. No MMO has gone mass market (i.e. tens of millions of users) the way the Wii did or Farmville has (despite rabid World of Warcraft fans, it still remains a vibrant, but smaller, niche of "only" 10M paying customers). Glitch wants the 70M+ reach of breakout Farmville with the time spent and revenue of WoW (10 hours spent per week, on average).

Stewart tells LAUNCH: "To be honest, I don't think we're really in a head-to-head competition with anyone else, [Glitch] is like unlike anything out there. People have only finite, discretionary amount of time to spend online. We compete with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, the New York Times, everything.

"But I don't think it will be a zero-sum game with respect to other games. People who play Farmville, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, PS3 or World of Warcraft -- people tend to play many games  at once, but not many massive multiplayer games at once. We're adding rather than stealing users."

LAUNCH Translation: "I'm an entrepreneur, so in my delusional mind we compete with no one. However, Zynga has a $10B market cap on SecondMarket making the same sloppy, derivative drivel that's so powerful that moms forget to pick up their kids from school while spending $9 a week on virtual goods. I'm going to pretend that folks play a lot of games and there is room for everyone, because that's the courteous thing to say in Silicon Valley's hypocritical kiss-you-on-the-cheek-while-stabbing-you-in-the-back culture, but the truth is we want to crush Zynga and make Angry Birds look like Atari 2600."

After you choose your character, pick the clothes -- jackets, pants, shoes, etc. And then you can change your hair color and skin tone from a rainbow palette.
Glitch 1

The tutorial teaches you how to water trees and pet and feed animals (you can only interact with the objects when you're close enough for them to get the light-blue outline). Things you collect -- such as food and tools -- appear in the boxes below the main screen. Use the arrow keys to move and the space bar to jump.
Glitch 2

When you enter a "street" within the giants' minds, you see floating capsules of energy and money ("currants" in the game) that you can collect, as well as trees to water and harvest, animals to care for, etc.
Glitch 3

Your quests early on are intended to teach you, and completing them earns you mood and energy points, as well as currants. Later quests are related to the skills you are learning, such as petting six pigs after taking an "animal kinship" class (the class means you complete those actions faster and lose less energy).
Glitch 4

WHO BACKED IT: Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners since the beginning, most recently for $10.7 million, for a total of $17.2 million.

WHAT A GLITCH ALPHA TESTER THINKS: Hannah Jones is a student in south-east England who's not a huge gamer. She signed up for Glitch in June 2010 because she adored Flickr (and read about Stewart's latest startup in this BBC article).

"The varied and beautiful visual artistic styles of locations are different from any other MMO game out there. Also, the world environment isn't shut off, so what one player does can be seen and affects the others – it is maintained by the community as a whole (trees kept alive and new streets being unlocked by 'street projects'). Finally, I like the tone and the wit that is found in the game dialogue."

WHAT A SERIOUS GAMER THINKS: Sam, a paid, full-time video-game reviewer and tester, thought Glitch was for kids and called it a starter-kit version of an MMO.

"I see what they're saying about the different worlds... different areas all have a different feel to it. But it still lacks a motivating force. It lacks a sense of why."

LAUNCH Translation: "This game is for little girls and moms who don't want to kill a boss at the end of every level."

LAUNCH Analysis: Stewart got "normal rich" from Flickr, but a $30M sale has to be frustrating given that MySpace bought Photobucket a couple of years later for the same price plus one important zero. Not only did Stewart sell way too soon, he didn't work on his true passion and watched Mark Pincus go from "Tribe.net zero" to "Farmville-hero" overnight. Stewart is a true talent who got to show 2% of his potential on Flickr.

With Glitch, Stewart gets tens of millions of dollars in funny money from legend Marc Andreessen and the VC that Zuckerberg built (a.k.a. "Accel") to build a Zynga-killer at exactly the right time. If this game gets 10 million users in the first year, the company is instantly worth the $300M that Flickr should have been sold for, and if Glitch breaks out to Farmville-like numbers (50M+) -- and there is a chance it might -- Stewart would be sitting on a billion-dollar company in 2012 as the same moms who play Farmville shift their 401K money from index funds into ticket-symbols ZYNG and FCBK.

Man, do we love this game!

1. Watching the birth of Flickr co-founder's gaming start-up (CNET, Feb. 9, 2010)

2. Six years on, why is World of Warcraft so enduring? (Yahoo! Games, Nov. 9, 2010)

Stewart Butterfield
Email: stewart at tinyspeck dot com

Andreessen Horowitz
Accel Partners

Glitch Blog


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