Flickr Co-founder's New Startup Finds a Glitch

Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield’s new startup Tiny Speck has announced its first product, to be released in the fall of this year: a massively multiplayer online game called Glitch. Judging by the video trailer provided at the Glitch site, the game is a modern — and somewhat psychedelic-looking — take on the 2-D genre, like a trippier version of Super Mario Brothers (for some screenshots, scroll down). According to an in-depth description at CNET, which got an exclusive look inside the development of the game, Glitch will have a number of social elements, such as collaborative puzzle-solving.

The Flash-based game, which Tiny Speck has been working on since the launch of the company in March of last year, is a bit of a “back to the future” move for Butterfield. As some Flickr fans know, he and now ex-wife Caterina Fake got their start building a massively multiplayer online game called Game Neverending in the late 1990s, but changed course after it became obvious that users were more interested in the photo-sharing portion of the game. That feature ultimately became Flickr, which the pair sold to Yahoo in 2005 for $35 million. In what could be a veiled reference to Butterfield’s earlier startup, the description of Glitch at the game site calls it a “neverending feast of imagination.”

The company’s choice of Flash as the basis for a game also makes sense given that Flickr was one of the web services that helped popularize Flash as an interface. Using it as a platform means Glitch will be relatively easy to distribute and even embed in other sites or services (except the iPhone or iPad, of course, neither of which support Flash), and also suggests that Tiny Speck is going after the kind of casual-gaming market that has made Facebook games like Farmville and web sites like AddictingGames.com so popular.

Butterfield formed Tiny Speck last year with several senior Flickr staffers, including Cal Henderson and Eric Costello. They were later joined by Digg designer (and, like Butterfield, Canadian emigre) Daniel Burka (Digg co-founder Kevin Rose interviewed Burka about Glitch here). Tiny Speck is backed by Accel Partners and serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen. In an interview last year with the Globe and Mail, Butterfield said the game was inspired by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and “magic realism” author Jorge Luis Borges, and that the goal was to create a “fun and really interesting world with its own rules, absurdist and strange but fully realized, if imaginary.”

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This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

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