Glitch Community Sites

Glitch was a browser-based casual MMO with a strong focus on player-to-player interaction and collaboration. Created by Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, who headed a team of amazing designers and programmers to create a truly beautiful game. During my time playing the game I created a series of sites using the game’s API to help collect information and connect players.

The Resource Database

At the heart of Glitch is its economy. Players have to gather and trade a wide variety of resources and goods to accomplish various tasks in the game. Glitch has a simple API, allowing third party developers to tap into information on the distribution of resources in the world.

A player named Linnaea created a simple Python script to collect data from every street in the world, then built a simple site to display that data. The site was well received by the players, but without any web development skills it didn’t look good. I created an unsolicited redesign of the site and she graciously accepted it, allowing me to redesign all the pages on the site. I replaced the table based layout with lists and used jQuery Masonry to create a simple and elegant layout.

Though the site is now down, the mockup I created can still be found here.

Playing in the Sandbox

The Sandbox was a player ran group that creates player-generated missions for ‘secret agents’. Some were wildly imaginative, requiring players to decorate streets with piles of spices or give ‘welcome packs’ to new players who just arrived in this wacky world. The group, appropriately enough, operated out of the 20th floor of a 19 story apartment building, which only existed because of a glitch in the matrix.

After a developer found the secret hideout and fixed the bug, I volunteered to build a replacement system for distributing missions to agents. I crafted a simple CMS using CodeIgniter display and manage secret agent missions and their reports after each mission completion. The site used Glitch API’s OAuth scheme to authenticate users, signing them in with their Glitch credentials.

This was the first complete CMS I built using PHP and I learnt many things about both the technical difficulties and design challenges of building a site from scratch.

Resource Routes - Connecting Players

In early 2012 the concept of home streets was introduced. Each player was given a public home street on which they could cultivate any resource they wanted. A group of players quickly realized that if they could link up their home streets using signposts, they could create routes consisting of thematically similar streets, allowing for activities ranging from poetry appreciation to fast resource gathering.

Routes were spontaneously organized using Glitch’s forums, with a single ‘curator’ anointed to maintain the route’s integrity. This task mainly involved going through the route, making sure everyone’s signposts were pointing to the next person on the route, and ensuring each player’s home street was kept up to the standards of the route. It was a boring, repetitive task which I quickly realized could be better managed using data from the API.

I built a site using CodeIgniter and a Node.js script, collected data on more than 10 000 player’s home streets using Glitch’s API. This allowed me to create a directory of home streets with the most number of a certain resources, as well as a simple route management and creation interface for anyone to build their own routes.

Diving into feats

Feats were one of the last feature introduced into the game before closure. They were large, global events worked on by every player in the world for a period of 24 hours. Since the game releases some interesting data for participants of these feats, I thought it would be a useful opportunity to use d3.js to visualize this information.

By plotting the contribution of the top 1000 players on a logarithmic histogram, we can see the distribution of player contributions. The game reserves the best rewards for the top few players, creating a very competitive environment. The pie chart shows how, for this feat, the top 26 players (less than 2.5% of the cohort) put in more than 10% of the contributions.

One Last Project

Glitch’s closure was announced in early November. It took a few days to digest the information, after which I decided to build a simple memorial to the special game.

In 48 hours I built a simple digital memorial wall, allowing players to leave Tweet length memories of the game. The wall proved to be a huge hit, gathering up more than 2500 memories from thousands of players, even gathering memories from the developers of the game. I also added the ability for the site to store snaps - images taken with the in-game camera tool, and created a simple Twitter bot that tweets out every new memory.


In loving memory of the game of giant imagination

2009-2012