Gas Powered Games CEO Chris Taylor is no stranger to the poker table. But this time, he's not betting chips -- he's betting his company.
Today he and his crew at Gas Powered are launching a Kickstarter campaign for an action RPG/real-time strategy game/MOBA hybrid called Wildman.
The goal is on the high end of video game Kickstarters at $1.1 million. Studios relying on crowdfunding may have a fall-back project, a "plan B." I ask Taylor what would happen if Gas Powered's Kickstarter came up short.
"It's not good. We're all in on this," he says. "We spent all the last dough that we've had, and the last several months working on it. So we're betting the company on it."
The gambling analogy might seem callous at first -- this isn't a stack of chips we're talking about, livelihoods that are at stake. But when you consider the kinds of games that Gas Powered wants to make -- deep, high-production value, full-fledged PC strategy games -- risk-taking is probably going to be an inherent factor no matter what.
Wildman is a bet, a gamble, a risk. He's used to making game development "interesting," so to speak.
"It's not the first time that I've bet the company," Taylor adds. "That kind of freaks people out when they first hear it.
"But I've bet my company on Dungeon Siege, going from 1 to 2, I bet it on Supreme Commander, I bet it on pretty much every big game we've ever made. And that's the name of the game, to take risks, as an independent developer. Many studios have closed shop, but they're big boys, they knew what they were doing."
Very broadly, Taylor says Wildman brings the RTS into the RPG, and the game also incorporates MOBA aspects. It has players taking control of a caveman-esque "wildman" or "wildwoman" who is subjected to the surrounding evolving technology and culture, and who is pushing to dominate the surrounding environment. As that push for geographic expansion continues, players will encounter enemies, and conflict will ensue.
Taylor says he wants Wildman to hearken back to the so-called glory days of PC games, conjuring up the spirit of his successful games such as Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander and Dungeon Siege.
In other words, it's not the kind of game that major publishers would really be interested in these days. With the traditional publishing model, Taylor knows what it's like to draw a bad hand. Over the years, Gas Powered has seen its share of cancelled games -- projects that quietly died as publishers pulled the plug.
Taylor revels in how once a game is adequately crowdfunded, "it is not cancel-able." He says, "We've had projects that we've been working on over the past 15 years that, three-quarters of the way through, some almost finished, some halfway, and they get cancelled.
"When we've been working on something that whole time, we can't tell the world what we've been doing," he adds. "They don't even know what we've been up to. People think we've been twiddling our thumbs. And yet, we've been working on these cool games, and the publishers don't care to tell the world that what we've been working on has been cancelled. From their perspective, that just creates noise, so of course they don't want to do that, that makes sense.
"But from a developer side, it's like [we want to come out to the public and say] 'Hey, we were working on this!' and hope that the fallout would be [fans saying] 'Hey don't cancel that, that's awesome!"
As Kickstarter becomes more of a normality, Taylor states the increasingly common (and obvious) reason that Gas Powered went the crowdfunding route: It's easier to ask a whole bunch of people for $20 than it is to ask one for $1.1 million. If the game does release, then further revenues will help drive future content, "laying the tracks before the train."
The tone of Taylor's voice expresses his usual, contagious excitement for making games. But his words would stir up anxiety in the faint of heart.
"I'm at the poker table, I've pushed all my chips to the center. I've got a decent hand, and I'm waiting for that next card to come off the top.
"And it's either a good card or it's not."