April 5, 2012 1:00 AM | John Polson
Robin Hunicke's recently-announced move from Thatgamecompany to Tiny Speck comes at an interesting time for the Glitch developer, which just pushed its game back into Beta after just two months on the market.
As founder Stewart Butterfield explains, the slower, steadier model of web service design to which the Flickr co-founder had been previously accustomed didn't translate well to the world of online games. "We thought we'd be able to iterate our way to the promised land, and that wasn't the case," he tells us. "I think I didn't have enough experience in game design, and I think I was naive with respect to how much we'd be able to change it once we've launched."
Glitch, a web-based online play space with all the whimsy one can expect from the involvement of Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, was whisked back into the oven in November, with a lot of candid humility from the developer, which promised unhappy players that had already paid money would get that money back (only 3 percent of players took Tiny Speck up on the offer, Butterfield tells us).
How did Journey executive producer Hunicke get involved with the studio? It started with a casual trip to visit her friend Takahashi just after the birth of his new baby, and stopping by the studio, she found herself captivated by what she saw as its energy and potential.
"If you think about Journey as a very explicitly-focused, crafted experience... we worked on each piece of it so long to get it to be perfect, and it was created as a holistic experience," Hunicke tells us. "What I loved about Glitch, the environment and how the tools work... it's a lot more like Burning Man."
"You go in and there are all of these different, curated, artistic and wacky experiences," she says of the diversity of focus areas within Glitch's wide, wild scope. "There's this amazing imagination and creativity, and it was the opposite of what I had just been doing."
Part of her decision to change companies was "a natural yearning for change," Hunicke reflects. But another part came from the progress Journey had made toward the goal of encouraging players to collaborate positively, silently and in an environment of sharing. "Working in the online space made me think about... how do we get from [a two-player experience] to two thousand, to ten thousand?"
One of the strongest appealing traits about Glitch, for Hunicke, was the health and positivity of the community. "It's a truly connected online space, where people are nice to each other," she marvels. "You can talk, and you can type! You can use your normal skillset, and you do it nicely. What won me over was the players themselves. They're really into Glitch, and they make it a really beautiful place to be."
"In some ways it's a lot more like a traditional chat environment," she adds. "There were really important and wonderful developments in those kinds of communities, and ways of playing together that we've moved away from as an industry. It bears exploring; for me, it's about taking that experience of online play that's safe and creative, and taking it to the next level."
At Tiny Speck, her title will be "executive design wrangler" -- "'Executive producer' sounds silly, and 'lead designer' sounds sillier, and 'executive design wrangler' sounds the silliest," she explains.
The player tools she first laid eyes on during her initial visit to the studio are now fully-fledged, and Hunicke is excited to see what users make of them. One of the goals of Glitch is to "invent new ways for players to delight each other," she says.
"It's so easy to get locked up in tech advances and thinking through huge, elaborate systems, but there are some really basic things we can do... I've been thinking about that stuff for years, and having that come to fruition in Journey, which has such a streamlined set of mechanics gave me a lot of confidence about designing with simplicity in mind," Hunicke says of the lessons she'll bring with her from Thatgamecompany.
[This article was written by Leigh Alexander on sister site Gamasutra.]