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Gas Powered Games forced into layoffs as cash runs low
Gas Powered Games forced into layoffs as cash runs low
January 18, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

January 18, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi
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Just four days after it the studio started a Kickstarter campaign for its Wildman RPG, Demigod and Supreme Commander developer Gas Powered Games has been forced to slim its staff down dramatically.

"The studio is still operating, but we had to slim WAY down to conserve cash reserves," studio head Chris Taylor confirmed to Gamasutra, following earlier reports from Kotaku.

As Taylor told us earlier this week, the studio is betting all it has on Wildman, and has little funds left to continue operating.

"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," he said.


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Comments


John Woznack
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Perhaps now would be a good time for Chris to cancel his Kickstarter campaign?

E McNeill
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Why? It sounds to me like they made this decision specifically so that the campaign might be viable. That amount of money will only sustain a small staff (and not for long), so it makes sense to cut down to only the most essential personnel. It seems like valid reasoning to me, not that that makes it suck any less, of course.

Ian Brown
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If the campaign is successful - which seems likely so far - he can give those people their jobs back to actually make the game.

Maria Jayne
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Seems he's asking the backers what he should do.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gaspoweredgames/wildman-an-ev
olutionary-action-rpg/posts/388863

Pretty tough to watch actually, he's obviously upset about it. The link seems to be broken in this gamasutra posting method but it's a video of him asking the backers if he should continue.

Ian Brown
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And fortunately, the vast majority of them want him to continue.

Ian Fisch
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This is such a load.

As if the studio head didn't know this was going to happen 4 days ago (when the kickstarter launched).

I really don't like feeling manipulated, but as a backer, that's how I feel.

Michael DeFazio
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@Ian

you read and commented this:
"My issue is that I feel like characterizing this effort as a huge risk is intentionally misleading."

on the last article which had the following quotes from Chris Taylor:
(from the Jan 14th article)
"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."

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/184775/Gas_Powered_bets_it_all
_on_a_new_Kickstarter_campaign.php

And NOW you are upset because you realize he WAS "Risking it all"

The fact that he is offering his employees severance packages is based on the fact that the funding for KS wasn't forecasting towards success, so he decided to cut staff and offer severance packages to his loyal employees, rather than risking coming up short on Kickstarter and screwing over his people (Given them all pink slips and no severance pay).

Yes Chris and GPG are in a bad situation, but at least you can accept the fact that he is doing the RIGHT thing (for his employees) in a bad situation...

(As far as feeling "manipulated"... did you even donate to the kickstarter? You seem to be bitter about something, but geez get your facts straight)

Ian Fisch
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@Michael

I'm sorry but that's a load.

My statements were not contradictory at all.

I first criticized him for characterizing his kickstarter campaign as a huge risk, when in fact, it's far less risky than the normal situation (actually investing money toward making a game and then hoping it sells).

I still don't think it's a big risk, because he's still not really risking all that much. This seems like a very inexpensive kickstarter campaign compared to those like Castle Story and Star Citizen. There's little more here than concept art.

I feel manipulated now because he's asking for over $1,000,000 (far more than the average vg kickstarter), with the implicit threat 'if you don't back the project, these people will lose their jobs'.

Ian Fisch
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@Micheal

For the record I'm a big fan of Chris Taylor's previous projects, especially Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander.

I backed this project before I read all the 'huge risk' stories, because I thought the project sounded interesting.

I wish he didn't have to resort to this in order to get money.

Jay Anne
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@Ian
Your complete inability to understand the situation and willingness to kick a man when he's down probably means you have a bright future as a gaming industry executive. Congratulations.

William Harms
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@Ian: He's not risking much? He's risking his entire company. They've already had large-scale layoffs and who knows what will happen if the KS doesn't hit its funding goals.

I really don't understand your logic at all.

Rob B
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'I really don't understand your logic at all.'
I feel for the guy but plenty of people are make or break when they go to kickstarter. Most will push out new and interesting bits of design or prototypes, few resort to making a vid of themselves being brought nearly to tears to ask people whether you should wait 25 days to see if your company can keep going. The kickstarter will already decide that for him.

That is whats meant by 'no risk'. I dont believe Ian is referring to the fact that his company isnt in danger, hes pointing out that the only additional risk in going on is in whether he can keep the lights on for another three weeks. As Ian said he should have known those layoffs were about to kick in, and I dont buy that the kickstarter didnt go well enough to keep them on, he was already heading towards its goal before this happened. It wasnt because of the difficulties of running a kickstarter that they were fired and if he stops the kickstarter that situation isnt going to change. It literally has no bearing on those who are pledging. (Though, for what its worth he handled the severance very well.)

Im not cynical enough to think he was purposefully running some emotional blackmail here, I think he was genuinely distressed, but when there is little reason to have made this appeal other than to impart the fact that if you dont pledge your support people will lose there jobs, emotional blackmail is what it comes out as.

Its not 'Kicking a man when hes down', its saying that it isnt fair to place the responsibility of looking after his employees on the people who are good enough to pledge.
We are small investors paying for his product, not a charity running his company.

Michael DeFazio
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@Ian,

I am not going to call you a liar, but the fact that the KickStarter
started on January 14th, and then the Gamasutra article ran (on the 14th),

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/184775/Gas_Powered_bets_it_all
_on_a_new_Kickstarter_campaign.php#.UP1X3qtqnXo

in which you entered (the second comment) at: 14 Jan 2013 at 12:29 pm PST

"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."

...then numerous other times on that day for the post (all of the posts were critical of the funding)

... and you are telling us :
1) you backed the project
20 Jan 2013 at 4:40 pm PST
"I backed this project before I read all the 'huge risk' stories, because I thought the project sounded interesting."

2) you feel like you are being manipulated
"I really don't like feeling manipulated, but as a backer, that's how I feel."

so somehow you heard about the Kickstarter project and backed it(on the 14th), and within a few short hours started bad mouthing the project on Gamasutra?

---I mean I was born on a Sunday, just not yesterday.

Ian Fisch
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@Micheal

It's the press releases that irritated me.

I'm a big proponent of kickstarter projects and I like to back those that sound interesting.

The kickstarter page itself looked promising. It was a solid pitch and my kind of game. I generally avoid backing those by industry vets like Peter Molyneux but unlike Project Godus, Wildman looked like it genuinely wouldn't get made without the backing.

It didn't try to play up the 'risk' and 'betting the company' aspect in the way the press releases did.

For the record, I haven't cancelled my pledge. I just wish GPG would play it more straight.

Michael DeFazio
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@Ian
The idea that me(or anyone else) can change your mind about this situation seems moot at this point given your constant reluctance to look at the facts (and your own posts) and read them as any other rational person would (hugely contradictory).

Your mind was made up as soon as you saw the Gamasutra Post about the Kickstarter, you decided (for whatever reason) to start badmouthing this project and miscategorizing the situation as an opportunist deferring risk to the public rather than a studio who had fallen on hard times, and in an effort to stay alive made a Kickstarter campaign to try to stay solvent.

I think the root of the problems started with this quote from you minutes/hours after the project was unveiled :
"It's a little annoying that an established industry vet is launching a kickstarter, but framing it as a huge risk is just disingenuous."

First off, ...What is wrong with an Industry Vet Doing a Kickstarter?, How is that different from (Elite:Dangerous, Star Citizen, Wasteland 2, Double Fine Adventure ...)

Secondly it was NOT disingenuous... people lost their jobs.

The only thing disingenuous here is the idea that you are maintaining you actually backed this project and you feel manipulated (AS if we are supposed to feel bad for YOU).

let me be clear:
YOU DID NOT BACK THIS PROJECT and you've been lying and muck-raking for some sick twisted reason, and I don't sympathize with you one iota (you can always cancel your backing if you did ever back, but there is no way you backed the project then went online and started badmouthing it... 0% chance that happened).

Ian Fisch
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@Michael

It's clear that you work for the studio, or have some other personal investment in Wildman and GPG.

I did back Wildman, and I'm not going to cancel my backing as you suggest.

Despite my feelings toward the way your studio has been presenting this project, I still think it's an interesting game and one I'd be interested in playing.

My uneasiness about being misled and manipulated seem to be pretty widespread, both in the comments here and on other sites.

Jay Anne
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@Ian Fisch

How much money do you think GPG spent on their playable prototype and pitch?

Michael DeFazio
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@Ian

I respect the individuals who work at GPG although have never worked with them (nor talked with met or otherwise conversed with them). I can at least sympathize with their plight (the mid tier independent studio trying to make it when the indie mid-tier studios are getting crushed)

People losing their jobs is real business, but you seem to want everyone to focus on your "feelings of being manipulated" and act like YOU are the one who has been wronged. When...lets be honest...you never backed the project to begin with.

In the future (when you may be looking for a job on a Dev team) normal procedure is to google people, and studios will likely come upon these posts... (aren't many Ian Fisch's out there) and then, well...you know what they say about Karma.

I just think your attempts to mis-characterize the people and the situation (even if it does get traction or popular opinion) is something you should be ashamed of rather than proud of.

...but that's just my opinion (as unpopular as it may be)

P.S. you aren't at least a little ashamed of writing:
"It's a little annoying that an established industry vet is launching a kickstarter, but framing it as a huge risk is just disingenuous."

--in the wake of the entire studio getting axed sans 3 people?

Ian Fisch
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@Michael

I've gone through 2 studio closings myself.

I know how the industry works and I know what it's like to be laid off.

I feel for these employees as I've been in their position before. I just don't think that two wrongs make a right.

John Woznack
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Because when he started his Kickstarter, he didn't mention he was about to lay off nearly his entire company. I think that makes a huge difference.

It currently has 3,557 backers. I'm sure many of them were thinking there would be a large team to complete the game once it got fully funded. How many of those backers would have decided not to join in if Chris had told then that the actual dev "team" was only going to be around 3 people?

(Odd, I hit the Reply link in order to reply to E McNeill...Hmmm.)

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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That's the odd thing about Gamasutra's comments system. In this case, you have to reply to your own original post to reply to him.

Regarding the article, I hope its not as bad as you make it out to be i.e. "around 3 people". Reminds me of Interstellar Marines, actually.

Michael Krehan
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I think "around 3 people" is coming from the initial report about the lay-offs on Kotaku. The official statement is that about 40 people have been laid off (well, "affected").

Maria Jayne
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@ John Remember anybody can back out and cancel a pledge before the final day of funding ends.

Kris Morness
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Either the project gets funded or it doesn't. If it gets funded, he will try to hire his key staff back. His team is much closer to this than we spectators are. What was said or done is largely between them. Imagine being in their shoes right now?

I pledged and nothing happens unless the kickstarter campaign succeeds -- they don't even charge my credit card unless it succeeds. If anything, this will likely have the effect of generating additional attention, thus pledges to his campaign. I would like to see them succeed.

Chris has been more direct than most executives in this industry, and I like that.

Sean Monica
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Actually after reading this it made me feel like it was a cash grab... I mean I know that is the lowest way to look at it but I mean come on. Fire 90% of staff just before you know you're about to make money? If any other business did that in the world they would be under hard fire. If he really wanted to push for them to stay together they would have come to some kind of deal.

R G
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What's funny is they'll still be able to keep their Kickstarter money.

This reminds me of the project where a group of kids formed a dev team for their very first game, drew art for a JRPG (supposed to have 50+ hours of gameplay) made in RPGMaker, "because it is an extremely difficult program to use", got ~10,000 USD, and never delivered.

Lewis Wakeford
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To be honest that's really the backer's faults for donating to such a risky project. Inexperienced dev team using what if effectively a game-maker instead of doing anything themselves. It's unlikely the final result would have been worth cash anyway.

sean lindskog
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It shouldn't remind you of that. GPG is a respected, experienced, and extremely passionate game studio. They plan to hire back those who haven't taken another job already if the KS goes through.

Michael DeFazio
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Ugg...

A well respected Dev who has multiple big hits and is running a known studio for 15 years and has shown gameplay of their game
-reminds you of-
kids forming a dev team who drew art for a JRPG and took $10K

...Also, they need to hit the total to keep the money... this isn't a donation... and I have backed and have faith (if they hit thier goal) it will pay off.

(care to place a wager on the other side of that bet?)

R G
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I am willing to make that bet based on precedence.

It's a neat idea, but this has happened so many times before. I'm sure they're a great dev, but if they're that passionate...can't they come up with the funds on their own? It's a sketchy thing to ask for donations for a project not even out yet. So many other teams

To each their own, but I doubt the game is coming out.

Michael DeFazio
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fabulous!

so you are effectively betting that "I am the sucker" for supporting GPG kickstarter. I supported the project, and:
If they don't hit their funding goal I'm never billed (get my money back) (I win the bet).

If they DO hit their funding goal and take my money:
...and they deliver the game (I win the bet)
...and don't deliver the game (you win the bet)

(the cynicism apparent on this site amazes me sometimes)

Zirani Jean-Sylvestre
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Every time you invest, there's a risk. It's up to you if you want to take that risk or not.

R G
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"I'm a sucker"

I stopped right there. No, you don't get your money back at all. That's why it's a donation, not a loan.
Yes, you're supporting a system that supports teams not being able finance things on their own, which makes you essentially a sucker.

I love AoE, but this is not Ensemble. This is GPG. If they were this experienced, so called "grassroots", then they would do what other humble teams have done: Take the time and build it on their own without asking for handouts.

Michael DeFazio
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@Robert

if they don't reach the funding goal on Kickstarter, backers get their money back---

from Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/help/faq/kickstarter%20basics

"Every project creator sets their project's funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers' credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing."

maybe you should read more before your comment ...

...it is not a donation or loan.
a Donation is: effectively a gift (and with no reciprocity expectation)
a Loan : assumes the money borrowed is going to be repaid

It is effectively a preorder, if the project doesnt go, you get your money back, if it does you are charged.

Dunno why there are so many people who don't seem to understand how kickstarter works and spew all this nonsense on here.

What's everyone got against GPG? did they wrong you in a former life or something?... I can see people not being interested (diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks and all that), but to go on message boards and spread lies and misinformation just seems mean spirited and to no ones benefit.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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"but if they're that passionate...can't they come up with the funds on their own?"

I sure do wish it's as simple as that. Imagine making money out of magic by pure willpower alone...

No, passion isn't enough. You have to have business acumen. Heck, even companies who have no passion but good business sense make money (i.e. evil publishers).

Jason Tate
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The timing of this seems odd. Are they hoping to get sympathy donations for their Kickatarter in order to save these jobs?

Daneel Filimonov
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Sympathy or not, they need it badly. It's a viable reason and I think they are worth it.

andrew easter
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I have read this site for so long and rarely feel the need to reply, however, my fondness for GPG and also my desire to see a PC first developer stay open has made me suddenly find a voice. I backed Wildman on the first day and I have read every interview and followed every update.

It looks like GPG tried to stay innovative and make the games they are proud of, not ports or movie licenses, in an age when nobody wants to fund PC development. It appears that they had the finances to develop one last prototype that they took to kickstarter after being turned down by a publisher. Chris was most likely hoping for an Obsidian effect and an immediate positive reaction that would have prevented the need for redundancies. However, after a modest 4 days and 12% funding he made a tough choice. Give his friends and colleagues a chance to recover with time to find a job and redundancy to pay the bills, or risk their lives on the hope of success. If he had failed there would be no payments, no cushion, just stress, fear and anger.

Microsoft killing off AOE probably didn't help and I would not be surprised if that had impacted the companies short term finances and their ability to pay staff. Or even hastened the decision on redundancies.

Chris has now replied after a crazy day that has currently added over 800 backers.

"Creator Gas Powered Games
Hello everyone!!
I don't think I've ever experienced anything like this in all the years I've been making games.
The response has been to overwhelming positive, I don't think anyone has to actually make a count of the yes and no responses.
I'm going to get a proper update pulled together, but this comment is just to let you know that I'm here, I'm watching and reading every comment. (Shane, please don't cancel your pledge, this forum would not be the same without you - let's all send Shane our love so he has no choice but to say something nice)
And speaking of love... I've never felt so much, all at one time, from so many people, with so many nice things to say. FB is spilling over, my phone gets continuous texts, and people from all over the industry are reaching out to see how they can help. I'm supposed to be a grown man, but I spend half the time with tears in my eyes, this is not how I thought this campaign would play out.
Without a doubt the response has recharged me, and has given me and everyone hope. I don't know how this will end, but at this point, I have a pretty good feeling about it, and we'll keep going now until the very end.
Thanks everyone, I can only hope that one day I can return the favor.
Chris"

I was almost made redundant last year and that redundancy payment was the only thing that would have kept my family afloat whilst I looked for work. I applaud Chris's decency, to risk losing every he has worked to build, to protect everyone else. Re-hiring a team is easier than building one from scratch, especially when you keep hold of their respect.

Guerric Hache
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"my fondness for GPG and also my desire to see a PC first developer stay open has made me suddenly find a voice. I backed Wildman on the first day and I have read every interview and followed every update."

This. I backed Wildman (and the other handful of projects I've backed) because I desperately want more PC-first development, and figure voting with my wallet is the best way to go. Plus, GPG are one of the foremost larger studios in that respect. I really hope they are successful, and I am really happy they are trying new PC game with new IP instead of simply disintegrating and forming a half-dozen mobile game studios. I wish them all the best.

Jason Tate
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After reading comments from GPG employees as well as watching the video from Taylor, I must say I appreciate his handling of the situation. I have worked for companies that failed and continued to ask employees to work for no pay for many months. Companies like GPG should be praised and supported by the community and I will be donating.

Christopher Enderle
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Yes, GPG should be held up as an example to every person who runs a company. This is how you do it right.

Majd Abdulqadir
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That 3rd update from Chris really felt honest and emotional for me. I don't like their games much (other than AOE Online), but I'd hate to see another PC RTS company go down like that.


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