An emotional update from Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor has revealed a fragile state of affairs at the respected studio, explaining the untimely lay-offs and indicating that the future of the company rests on the success of the crowdfunded Wildman Kickstarter project.
Word of mass lay-offs at the studio surprisingly came only a day after the developer had shown off the first prototype gameplay footage for Wildman, the action RPG/RTS hybrid title that hopes to blend aspects learned from Supreme Commander, and Dungeon Siege into something new and unique.
According to Kickstarter analysis site Kicktraq, the Wildman project is currently trending toward hitting its US$1,000,000 goal, but Taylor's comments suggest that the developer's actual prosperity had hinged on much stronger performance, probably expecting to significantly exceed the original target as seen with Obsidian's Project Eternity.
The result of this underperformance has been lay-offs at the studio, as its contract on Microsoft's Age of Empires Online has wrapped up, and all bets were on the Wildman project. However, rather than just keep quiet and hope things work out, Taylor has taken the matter public, with a request for the community to help decide between forging on with the risky crowdfunding venture, or pulling the plug on the company while everyone can still get paid.
If I ran this team through the entire Kickstarter campaign and it fails to fund, then I have to let everyone go, shut the company down, no one gets any unpaid PTO or severance, and that, I decided was not worth it.
I really felt like it was a crazy idea to gamble in this economy and gamble with the people here who are the most talented and loyal people. To play a card game with their livelihoods is not smart.
But I have another tough decision: now that the team has been laid off, should I continue the campaign to see if the numbers do improve and hire them back? Or do I shut the campaign down tonight and call it done?
The response to Taylor's transparency and sincerity has already caused a marked uptick in backer pledges, with the developer telling Polygon that things are now "looking much better".
"I don't want to make any assumptions at this point, but things look much better, and I think it's still going to be a long road ahead, but we're prepared to work very hard to make this happen," Taylor wrote in an email to Polygon. "And I'm already making phone calls and setting up meetings to talk to key people about coming back, to see the campaign through.
"At least now, everyone has their eyes wide open, no surprises."
"I called an industry friend to share this news and potentially get some advice," Taylor said. "He felt that I should very seriously consider also shutting down the Kickstarter, as my reputation was at stake in all of this. This had never occurred to me, so I was stumped."
"It never occurred to me that the industry would rally like it did, and that people would then invest, not only in Wildman, but in helping me to save GPG and the team (in fact, it's probably the other way around, and I think the Kickstarter has become about saving a company and the game is a distant second),"
If you're a project backer, you can throw in your support or condemnation for consideration in the Kickstarter comments. Watch the clips below for both the Wildman prototype gameplay, and Taylor's tearful quandary.