Tiny Speck’s new, free massively multi-player game, Glitch, is based around the idea that if you give players the right tools, they’ll be far more into building a community than they will pulling that community apart at the seams. The game follows the usual MMO strictures of giving players quests and letting them explore a giant world and meet other players hanging out there, but it’s intriguingly formless beyond that. The quests are rarely too difficult, there’s little combat, and the game’s main thrust is community-building and creative expression. The ultimate goal seems to be creating a kind of online Utopia, a place where newbies and veterans can sit back and shoot the shit while building a new location or exchanging goods and services.
Glitch’s backstory, involving 11 giants who dreamed the world of the game into existence, is mostly stupid. Players inclined to figure out what’s going on can wander the world, talking to trees and rocks to learn more of the past of Ur, the land where the game takes place. But the mythology is mostly incidental to having a good time. Glitch is almost completely dependent on players figuring out their own fun, and this aimless quality may irritate more goal-oriented gamers, who long to be told what to do.
But freer souls will find Glitch an irresistible canvas. It supports a wide variety of play styles: Social butterflies can wander the world, meeting as many new friends as possible and banding with them to complete team-oriented quests. Grinders can spend time working through the game’s more than 500 (and growing) achievements, or trying to max out their levels as much as possible. Those interested in building the world of the game can take part in pre-designed construction projects that open up new “streets” for players to explore, or can join the game’s thriving community to set up new events to attend, or form groups to achieve in-game goals.
It’s all a little formless, and at the game’s higher levels, particularly once quests become few and far between, there isn’t always a strong sense of the next step, outside of players creating their own adventures and tasks to tackle. The world of Glitch is suitably large, and there are many ways to traverse it—from taking the subway to teleportation—but there can also be the occasional sense that it’s all a lot of empty space to travel through on the way to trying to find something else to do.
On the other hand, few other games—particularly free, browser-based games that don’t require players to pump endless amounts of cash into the game to advance—allow players so much opportunity to move in and build a true alternate life within a digital space. Glitch players can buy houses and specialize in certain tasks. They can construct items and sell them at auction. They can make new friends and compete in mini-games. In some ways, Glitch feels like a meal made up entirely of side courses, but when all of the sides are this well-done, it almost doesn’t matter that the main meal is absent.