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Gas Powered bets it all on a new Kickstarter campaign
Gas Powered bets it all on a new Kickstarter campaign
January 14, 2013 | By Kris Graft

January 14, 2013 | By Kris Graft
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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."


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Comments


TC Weidner
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I wish these guys the best of luck. I really like their art design I'm a big fan of that animation style.

Ian Fisch
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This irritates me.

He's "betting the company" by asking a bunch of strangers to take on all the risk?

It's a little annoying that an established industry vet is launching a kickstarter, but framing it as a huge risk is just disingenuous.

Getting a bunch of no-strings funding, up front, is literally the least risky thing that a game company can do.

TC Weidner
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well it's risky because if the KS campaign doesnt reach the goal, they get nothing. Thats pretty risky, especially if you dont have a VC in your back pocket.

Kyle Redd
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On top of asking strangers for the money, he's also talking about "further revenues" in the game. So that's lots of micro-transactions and DRM on top of it. Not exactly the sort of Kickstarter campaign that I am eager to support.

Jay Anne
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They spent real money creating polished art for the pitch. Also, the reputation of the studio and the project is hurt greatly if they create a public pitch that doesn't get funded...who's going to fund it later if Kickstarters rejected it?

Ian Fisch
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@Jay

So they spent a small amount of money on concept art for a pitch.

Virtually all projects start with a polished pitch - usually this entails much more than concept art.

Then far more money is invested in the creation of the actual game, with the hope that it's earned back via sales.

Here, that second, much larger sum, is not at risk. Hence, this project is far LESS risky than virtually all other videogames.

Joe E
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I don't know this, but I think his point about "betting the company" is that if they don't get this funded, they don't have other funded options to keep the lights on? As I'm sure this is not the first time they pitch this game to get it funded.

Michael DeFazio
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I'm not sure what exactly is to be mad about.

A known industry guy who has worked on some good games who started a small studio which has a proven track record wants "the public" to fund the development of a potentially new and risky (unproven) IP and new genre (RTS/ ARPG) instead of trying to get other publisher types on board. (Seems like you are mad he's a known guy with a legit studio, would it be better if it were
1) just Chris and and his hopes and dreams (no known existing studio behind his name)
2) a complete nobody who want the public to pony up a million on hopes and dreams (all hype and hope)

I kinda thought this is the very essence of what Kickstarter was all about (the public wants games that wouldn't otherwise be made by a proven name and team with a proven track record.).

Jay Anne
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@Ian Fisch
Actually, they said development has already started. So they already spent money on the project besides the pitch. If Chris is being truthful about pushing all his chips in, it means they spent ALL their money on the project and pitch so far. If that's the case, then yes, pretty big risk for them. But yes, that could have been an exaggeration.

tony oakden
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He took the same risks that everyone else takes when self funding a pitch. I am also irritated by the tone of the pitch which seems to imply a level of risk and self sacrifice which either isn't there or at least shouldn't be. If they really are putting their last chips down on this then either they are desperate, stupid or things have recently gone very badly for them.

J Todd Coleman
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Ian, i respectfully disagree. It is a huge risk, and I applaud Chris Taylor and him team for taking the gamble.

If a KS campaign doesn't reach it's goal, it sends up a warning flag to potential investors and publishers that the "market is not interested" in the game you are pitching. That means you are effectively "all in" -- the campaign takes, or you're done.

Further, I wish more established teams would use crowd funding. It raises the chances that a quality game will actually be released after the campaign is successful. We're still in the honeymoon period right now; many of these kickstarted games are going to be over-promised and under-scoped, and end up spending the funds with no game to show for it.

Successful campaigns that result in fun, finished games = good for everyone. (except traditional publishers, of course. ;p )

Ian Fisch
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I think you don't understand the definition of 'risk'.

As you said, if the KS campaign doesn't reach its goal, that means the market probably isn't interested in the game.

So the company will know whether its product will be a failure, before investing money in making it.

Again, that's LESS of a risk than with non-crowdfunded games.

A S
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@Ian While you may think J Todd Coleman doesn't understand the definition of risk you -certainly- do not. The key phrase is here.

"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."

Studios do not run for free. They require funds to do so. He has 2 options, investment or credit to meet his liabilities. If he fails to secure either of these the studio is bankrupt. This is the definition of financial risk in a business sense.

Claiming that somehow getting crowd funded gains you market research value that offsets the risk of loss of your company (especially when backers get copies of the game and so won't buy again) simply demonstrates lack of understanding of business.

Ian Fisch
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@A S

Thank you for the economics lesson. I had thought that studios do run for free, and I thank you for correcting my misconception.

Sarcasm aside, you say that the studio needs funds to meet its liabilities, and without these, the studio will close. Then you claim that this is the definition of risk.

I think the definition of risk is putting up money for something that has a chance of failing to recoup the money (plus opportunity cost, etc).

In most cases, a studio head reaches out to investors or creditors. The investors/creditors risk their money, and the studio head risks his reputation (ability to get more money from the creditors).

In this case, Mr. Taylor is risking far LESS. His backers/charitable donators will be happy to back future projects so long as the game is good. They're not looking to make a profit.

If the kickstarter fails, he will cancel the project, knowing the market isn't interested. He will have thus spent far less money than it costs to actually make a finished product.

Is there anything wrong with this business model? Not really.

My issue is that he's categorizing a low risk business model as the exact opposite, and presenting a glorified pre-order campaign as a 'save our studio' charitable drive.

Troy Walker
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I'm taking it that KickStarter isn't for people actually trying to start a new company/venture anymore...

Doug Poston
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Right now all but 1-2 projects on KickStarter's Popular page ( http://www.kickstarter.com/discover/popular?ref=home_popular ) are new ventures.

Even with a couple of block-busters, there is plenty of innovation being funded on KS.

Joe E
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I see a risk here, in that I don't think $1.1M is actually enough to make the game they're pitching in the time they're proposing. Assuming $10k/man/month (and that's a lower end estimation) over 12 months that only gives you a team of ~9 people total (including any QA) - on a deadline that a team double that size would have issues meeting. Given the scope proposed, is this possible to pull off? It seems they're betting on a runaway success ($3+M) which would come near the actual budget needed.

Marvin Papin
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Moreover, they just have artworks and even with company's ancient code and knowledge, i hope they have other fund. They're trying to make an RPG...

Evan Combs
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That was my first thought too. I feel like they are using this to show other investors that there is interesting, and hoping that if they meet their goal they will be able to lure an investor into investing in the game.

Jeremy Reaban
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Who? I don't think they have the name awareness that a company needs to be really successful, and a caveman themed MOBA?

William Harms
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You don't know who Gas Powered Games is, or Chris Taylor?

Simon T
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@ You don't know who Gas Powered Games is, or Chris Taylor?

What are you, a caveman!?

Porter Nielsen
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RTS RPG sounds intriguing, but they didn't really explain how this would work. Also caveman just don't really appeal to me; so best of luck but not enough meat for me to feel compelled to contribute to their campaign.

Lewis Wakeford
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Total Raised
$ 75,420.00
Total Backers
3

...WHAT!?

A S
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lol I've wondered if people do this. Seeding funding drives to create the impression of momentum is classic marketing =D

Sean Francis-Lyon
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Must be a bug because according to kicktraq they had 1447 backers when they reached $ 68,366 at the end of day 1.

Maria Jayne
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Sounds like an interesting game in a unique theme. Seems a bad time of the year to be pushing for funding though.

Michael DeFazio
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For anyone upset about Chris Taylor (I am looking at you Ian) and think he is simply a greedy "successful" developer who wants to simply "defer risk" to the public... I would ask that you would first read this small article (from 2010) where he talks about the trials and tribulations of being a smallish "indie" studio and "risk"

(effectively he had to risk his kids college money to develop demigod)
FYI he spent $2million of his own money on Demigod, and by all accounts it was not profitable.
http://www.1up.com/news/kids-won-college-demigod

or watch the panel about the trials and tribulations of being a small independent game studio:
http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/702706/dice-2010-hot-topics
-adam-sessler-discusses-indie-games-with-chris-taylor-and-mike-ca
pps/

Also, just in case you think he (and GPG) have been resting on their laurels, I'd believe they are going to use some of the stuff from Kings and Castles (in Development from 2010)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Taylor's_Kings_and_Castles

Best of luck to him.

Ian Fisch
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Chris Taylor is a great, passionate, developer.

Personally, I've played Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, and love them both.

My issue is that I feel like characterizing this effort as a huge risk is intentionally misleading.

Bob Johnson
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The risk is if they don't receive further funding then the money will run dry and the company will have to close shop.

I don't see how that is disingenuous in and of itself.

David Lee
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I wish Chris and his team best of luck. As usual with a Chris Taylor game (with the exception of Dungeon Siege), it's a little off center in terms of a concept that's easily pitched but as with TA one hopes great execution turns it into something that will be great to play. It definitely seems a case of a developer making the games they want to play and hopefully gamers will want to come along with them for the ride.

J Todd Coleman
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@Ian yes, we get that you feel that way. and we disagree.

your argument seems to presume that this kickstarter is guaranteed to be successful. That isn't true. I'll grant you, IF it succeeds, then the model is great, because at that point, he's gambling with other people's money. but that is hardly assured.

the risk is right now. GPG used the cash they had left in the bank to try and make this pitch look as good as possible, in the hope that the campaign will be funded. if the kickstarter doesn't take, his company goes out of business, he lays off all his employees, and his wife leaves him (or worse: http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/01/14/wildman-interview-chris-taylor/
3/ )

they have one shot, and if it works, they win. if it doesn't, they're screwed.

that's the textbook definition of "risk."

Jacob Crane
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I disagree with this mentality entirely. Sometimes you have to make bets, but if you can avoid it you do. Which in this case they must have just hit some tough spots. I hope it does well so they can avoid a situation like this in the future.



Jay Anne
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So many successful companies have a story like this one, where they made a bold risky bet during a difficult transition phase, quite often involving a situation where money was running out. Given the changes that the industry is going through, I'll bet you that there are many companies going through something like this. When the foundation of your business model is becoming uprooted, it is sometimes considered more dangerous to be staying where you are and merely cinching up your belt and trying to weather the storm.

Jacob Crane
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@Jay I totally agree with you Jay. But after you make that success shouldn't you be trying to make good evolving decisions to stay away from getting put in that situation again?

Jay Anne
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@Jacob
If I had to guess without knowing actual statistics, I would guess that GPG never had the kind of breakaway hit that would allow them to control their destiny in the manner you describe. They have always been a studio-for-hire. And if I had to guess, they refused to sell out to another company even in hard times, which is probably what most other companies have done.

They are, at heart, a PC-oriented RTS studio. A genre and a platform that has gone through hard times in the last 20 years. If you ask Petroglyph, Westwood, Tilted Mill, Ensemble, Big Huge, and Relic about that, they would probably tell you that surviving till 2012 as a PC RTS independent studio is a very difficult thing to do

Jacob Crane
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@Jay Agreed

Michael Moore
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Having worked with Chris Taylor and the programming team for Dungeon Siege II, I can assure you that he has moved heaven and earth to keep GPG afloat. Quibble if you will about the risky nature of kickstarter funding, but it misses the point in my opinion. I find the tale of GPG to be inspirational, having witnessed just how hard Chris fought to keep games funded when budgets were over estimates and cancellation loomed. I swear he single-handedly pulled GPG from the jaws of the abyss through sheer force of will and passion. He could make you see the dream, and more than once it was this singular ability that convinced decision makers.

I have nothing but admiration for him and everyone working at the company. If GPG shuts it doors, the industry will be the poorer for it. We need outliers pushing the envelope to keep us healthy - especially in the age where you're either developing mobile games or immeshed in a multi-platform console/PC development team so large that take ten minutes to roll the credits. It has never been easy, but it has always been admirable.

Best of luck to all at GPG.

Jacob Crane
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Michael, I like him a lot and I love his passion. I would hate to see GPG close down at all. My hope is that GPG does well and learns from it's past and does not repeat the situation. GPG is not a success story, it has been successful.

I don't know everything and I'm sure there are 1000 things that can happen in a company that can force someones hands. I just don't like how it seems in this article makes it sound like boasting for making all or nothing bet. If able, that should be the last ditch resort. The thing you do only when you could not avoid it any other way. I have nothing but support for every game dev out there to be clear. But I sure hope that it goes well and this kind of situation is avoided in the future.

<- Huge fan of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander and Chris 's passion is great. I hope they make it.

Kris Morness
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You got my pledge Chris. Best of luck to you and your team! I have no doubt you'll make another great game.


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