Chris Taylor, CEO of Gas Powered Games, launched a Kickstarter that would eventually kick him around in ways he never anticipated. We got his thoughts concerning the launch of Wildman, layoffs, and what he learned throughout.
Author’s Note: This interview was conducted before Chris Taylor announced the cancellation of the Wildman Kickstarter. While some of the information is now outdated, it still provides an insight into Taylor’s mindset leading up to the cancellation and the journey from beginning to end of a tumultuous Kickstarter campaign.
Chris Taylor was exasperated. The Gas Powered Games CEO’s latest efforts brought him through an emotional roller coaster that has now come to an end. Within five days of launching a Kickstarter campaign for his latest “evolutionary” game Wildman, he laid staff off, released an emotional and public video about the layoffs, re-hired key staff, and talked to any press that would listen about Gas Powered Games’ trials and tribulations.
The tone of those press interviews slowly changed as the Kickstarter went on: the raft of interviews that he did to advertise the Kickstarter launch were full of optimism and excitement, but just two weeks on – while the optimism hasn’t quite faded – the mixed emotions he’s feeling have clearly taken their toll.
Speaking to him over Skype, the fatigue in his voice was clearly audible. He was saddened by the decision he made about his staff, but was happy he could give them the best send off possible. More importantly though, he learned lessons; lessons that will shape the way he deals with issues publicly, lessons about honesty, and lessons about the industry. But for a man who experienced heavy lows in the past few weeks, he still remained in amazingly good spirits.
Before launching the Kickstarter it was business as usual for Gas Powered Games. Wildman was a full-blown concept and Chris Taylor spent time looking for partners who would be willing to back his “evolutionary” project. But he had staff to pay and a business to run, and after cancelling some late-in-development projects months prior, something needed to happen. But publishers weren’t budging.
“Business as usual in the videogames industry means that it can take many, many, many months and you can hit one little bump and have to go another month. Who pays the salaries on all your staff while you’re waiting that extra month? You got 30 people. 50 people. Who’s gonna pay for all those people? Well, they’re not. And so you have to pay for it,” Taylor explained.
“You have to have that money sitting in your ‘war chest’, which is more like a cookie jar that you’ve scraped together money in, and the thing is that that model is so hard I figured ‘You know what, we’re gonna keep talking to people anyway,’ but by November, we decided that we’re going to have to, in parallel, start working on a Kickstarter campaign.”
There’s a convinction in Chris’ voice as he explains the scenario. The welfare of his staff were clearly his top priority and making sure they were taken care of, by getting funds, was part of that. He wanted them to feel secure and inclined to stay with GPG.
“We started working through November to December, we launched it in January and guess what happened during those two and a half months? Almost every single publisher we talked to gave us some standard cliche answer that they’re going through a re-organization, or they have a new direction they’re focusing on, or they’re thinking about mobile now, or Christmas sales didn’t come in quite the way they wanted to so they’re gonna have to wait a little while now to see how things go in the Spring.”
The Kickstarter was more than just a way to fund Wildman and his struggling company. It was a way to move out of the hard model that virtually put the company under in the first place. It’s a model he may have to live with a little bit longer since the Kickstarter didn’t go through, but that won’t be the end of the world.
“The fact is, if those conversations go well, we may end up back in the model we came from,” said Taylor. “And that wouldn’t be the end of the world, in fact, we would be grateful. We would be grateful. You have to look at it that way.”
Unfortunately, no matter how well the Kickstarter did, it wasn’t going to save anyone from layoffs; it was always more a case of when those layoffs would actually happen: “There was no way that Kickstarter was going to hit the kind of numbers to sustain the full team. And that’s why I had to do the layoff.”