Flickr And Slack Both Started As Failed Video Games
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In 2002, Stewart Butterfield founded the software company Ludicorp with his wife Caterina Fake, who lived in Canada (we know it sounds like he was just making her up, but he wasn't). Their goal: to make a massive multiplayer online game. That's the genre most associated with stuff like World of Warcraft, but the one they planned, under the working title Game Neverending, was instead a non-competitive, funny game, something to do with building a city.
As the name suggested, the game had no win conditions, and it didn't even really have any of the addictive progression systems we associate with MMOs. It lacked everything that makes those games evil, and so it never left the prototype stage. But one feature from the game stood out: the tool for letting players share images. Ludicorp spun that into its own product, called Flickr, and it was so successful, Yahoo bought the company out.
Butterfield was still interested in making an MMO. And so he left Yahoo and founded another games company, Tiny Speck. The new MMO he developed, Glitch, actually made it to release. This game too was non-competitive, but this one had a lot of features that would become huge in games to come, like crafting and farming in a persistent world. It sold cosmetic items. The few who did play it remember it fondly today.
Glitch was ahead of its time. A few years later, it might have thrived as a phone app, but it worked in a browser, it never quite took off, and in 2012, they shut the game down. Here too, one feature was worth salvaging: the game's chat tool. Tiny Spec turned that tool into its own program called Slack, and rebranded themselves as Slack Technologies. Slack got pretty big, as you might have heard. This summer, this company too got bought out, this time for $27 billion.
We trust Butterfield will soon leave his current position and try yet again to fulfill his dream of running an MMO. The game will fail, but in the process, he will accidentally perfect cold fusion.
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Top image: Slack Technologies