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Who Is Gas Powered Games?
Gas Powered Games has been in business for 15 years (since 1998). In that time, they have created, designed, developed, and delivered many popular gaming titles such as Dungeon Siege, Dungeon Siege II, Supreme Commander, Supreme Commander II, Demigod, and recently worked on Age Of Empires Online (AOEO).
I Have Heard They Are Closing And Laid Everyone Off...Is That True?
In late 2012, the company began to downsize due to losing three contracts for games with various publishers, including Microsoft with AOEO. Chris Taylor states that GPG was told the reasons the contracts were canceled were not because of the actions/inactions of GPG. The majority of the remaining staff began to work on Wildman in the late Fall/Winter 2012. Entering 2013, the company looked to Kickstarter in hopes of funding development for the game. On the fifth day of the campaign (Jan 18), after a tepid launch, Chris Taylor decided to take action to protect his employees. He was faced with the decision of running the campaign with the full team working on the game, or laying off the majority of the team so that they could receive paid time off (PTO) and some time of severance while GPG still had the money. Taylor took the difficult decision and laid off almost all of the team.
This caused a great deal of commotion in the gaming press, and led to questions of the stability of GPG and their ability to deliver the promised Kickstarter. After an emotional day at the company, a visibly upset Taylor released a video update asking the backers of his Kickstarter if the campaign should continue. Some backers withdrew, but the majority responded hoping the campaign would continue. Taylor also received a great deal more support in the form of new backers who were present just to support GPG. On Monday Jan 21, Taylor announced that some staff members decided to move on, while others would stay and work with the understanding that they may not receive any severance. Apparently, with the expectation that they would only reach their original goal, they also contained the size of the team with what they could afford moving forward in that situation to about 13 "key" people to the project.
In a remarkably open 'reddit AMA' interview that day Taylor answered a question regarding the state of his company saying that they did not have any debt, and that in light of just making their goal there was an understanding further money may have to be raised elsewhere to complete the game.
Doesn't This Show They Are A Bad Investment And The Project Will Never Be Completed?
In light of these events, many have questioned the management abilities of Taylor and the ability of GPG to deliver on this project. The situation that Taylor and the company were in was not really a fault of their own, but instead they were victim to a business model that rewarded publishers in AAA game development. The development company would receive an advance from the publisher in order to work on the game. That advance must be paid back in game revenues times some multiple before the developer can realize a revenue stream. Taylor has called this a "500% loan". In an interview, Taylor remarked how even though Dungeon Siege has sold 1.7 million copies, Gas Powered Games did not get money from those sales. The developer goes between contracts without steady revenue from previous success.
It is true that the timing of the layoffs were extremely poor, but Taylor had made the correct decision to protect his employees as best he could in those circumstances. It does appear there was some optimism when entering the campaign that the project would not only make its goal, but possibly would hit stretch goals as well. The intention appears to be that the game development would continue to be worked on during the campaign by the full staff, and then downsizing would be applied as needed. What was not anticipated was the slow start of the campaign, and that forced GPG to not only rethink what level of funding it would receive, but also whether or not the project would get funded at all. So Taylor acted to protect all employees. In the opinion of this writer, that was a very bold and honorable business decision, one very few CEO's would make.
So the question is: Can Gas Powered Game deliver Wildman?
They have delivered several critically acclaimed titles in the past. They have the crew and experience to do it again. Wildman is not considered a title of the project scale of a "Supreme Commander" or "Kings and Castles", but instead a smaller game - yet still rich with concepts and game play.
We have now seen several Kickstarter campaigns that have either underestimated their goal or overdelivered in tier rewards. Many have called Gas Powered Games' goal of $1.1 million as high or ambitious - but they are not setting a lower goal just to get some money. Also, Taylor has acknowledged the intention of bringing additional funds to the project if needed as well, and the company is debt free and solvent.
With this Kickstarter, they are trying to take out the publisher middleman, and go directly to the consumer for advanced funding. Chris Taylor has commented that with the success of this project, future GPG offerings such as the large, and anticipated Kings and Castles RTS game would come later. There is also the exciting prospect of Project Mercury for GPG. We hope they succeed in their funding, and move forward as an independent developer.