Gas Powered Games had more than one game almost over the finishing line when a publisher pulled the rug out from under it.
Chris Taylor told me that in an interview last week, days before it was revealed that Gas Powered Games was in dire straits and could close if Wildman isn't successfully funded on Kickstarter.
"There's multiple games that we got almost to the finish line on," Taylor revealed, reluctant to say more because of NDAs, which suggests this happened recently.
"We got a phone call from the publisher and they said, 'We're terminating.' And we're like, 'Yeah but we're only a month away from beta!' And they're like, 'Yeah we're still terminating.' And we're like, 'OK.' "
"One of these days - and it won't be from me - you guys will get leaked through some anonymous source..." he teased (I'm not entirely sure if he was joking). "And you can read a game development contract, and you will - it'll be like the Nazis when they opened up The Ark: all the flesh will melt all down your face."
Why would a publisher change its mind like that? Think of how long it takes to make a game and then think of all the people employed by publishers: there's a good chance that the person who signed the game originally wouldn't be around to see it through to fruition.
"F*** bending the spoon with their mind, they'll just snatch it out of your hand and bend it in half and stuff it up your ass!"Chris Taylor
"We're creating original titles, we're pitching original games, getting people excited at publishers," said Taylor. "Management changes over a few times, the person who signed it is gone - the person who championed it is gone. New management comes in and says, 'What the hell is this?' And this happens across the industry.
"It shows when people are up on stage at awards shows and they're thanking people for supporting the game, because what they did was, when everyone else in the office was down on it and kicking it and saying 'this will never work; nobody wants to play this', that person bet their career on it and said 'I believe in this'. So when those games make it to market, those people truly are to be held up and thanked because they really made the game possible.
"In an industry that is going through the changes that our industry is going through this last five years with the economy and going to digital and retail disappearing and the uncertainties of this and that, you really need some people with some backbone," Taylor went on.
"You need people to really slam their fist; guys like Steve Jobs, you know, who are a**holes because they believe so vehemently in what they're doing they will f***ing - f*** bending the spoon with their mind, they'll just snatch it out of your hand and bend it in half and stuff it up your ass! Take that! Let's get back to work!"
Losing the people who greenlit a Gas Powered Games project has happened "numerous times" to Taylor. But it isn't all entirely the fault of the publishers; those evil contracts he alluded to earlier are actually the fault of "naughty developers", he said.
"If you went to summer camp and said, 'Hey can we go out and play on the swing?' And someone said, 'Well no - someone turned the swing into a slingshot and killed one of the camp councillors. No one goes on the swings any more.' It's just a process of 25 years of people being naughty and the room for manoeuvre just gets smaller and smaller," Taylor remarked.
Earlier this year, Gas Powered Games suffered another setback as Microsoft ended its development contract on Age of Empires Online.
Failed projects and lack of control are why Taylor turned to Kickstarter.
Originally, Gas Powered Games eyed its MIA project Kings and Castles for Kickstarter.
"You imagine if we went out there with a Kickstarter at $5 million... I mean it just wouldn't be good"
"That was the first thing that came up," said Taylor. "We should do a Kickstarter on Kings and Castles. The thing was, we were out there pitching the game in the old model and the bottom low-low-low number on it was the $5-6 million amount. We just couldn't make the game for less than that, because the game was just the biggest RTS ever - that's what I said in my first video blog. You can't make the biggest RTS ever for $1 million, you can't do it.
"We didn't want to go out there and be too brash. You imagine if we went out there with a Kickstarter at $5 million... I mean it just wouldn't be good."
Incendentally, Dungeon Siege 2 was the studio's most expensive game at "$11.3 million or something like that", Taylor revealed. Supreme Commander cost $10.5 million, apparently.
Wildman wants $1.1 million, "an astronomical amount of money in its own right", said Taylor, but an amount that an experienced Gas Powered Games team could turn into the base vision of its Wildman game, and then build on that with stretch goals or game earnings later. Taylor wanted to be clear "we're also not saying that we're going to build a full-on triple-A game".
Whether Taylor and Gas Powered Games will ever get to build Wildman (more than they have already) is uncertain. Shortly after the Kickstarter launched, Chris Taylor revealed that many of the GPG team had been laid off and the future for the studio itself depended on Wildman.
"GPG is in a very interesting situation," Taylor wrote in a Reddit Ask Me Anything last night, "as we had enough money to get us through to the end of the campaign. What became obvious by day four is that the campaign was going so poorly there was no way it was going to happen.
"People argued this with me in the media a bit, saying it was too early to judge, but consider this, even with this weekend's surge, we're still not doing very well... can you imagine what it would have looked like without the big push from the media covering the lay-offs?"
Taylor was trying to be realistic, he said. "If you compare Wildman against Project Eternity, Star Citizen, Wasteland 2, etc, we weren't even in the same ballpark," he accepted.
"Second, I'm really not happy that too many people are pledging not because they like the game but because they feel sorry for us. That's not what making games is about! I feel terrible about that. I want people to support it because they like the idea. Otherwise it's not a true process. If it's the wrong game at the wrong time, then we need to be sent packing."
Taylor chose to lay the staff off so as not to gamble their severance money on the studio's future. That happened before the weekend.
"Some have said that it was an elaborate scheme to manipulate people... I'm like, wow, you've got to be kidding me"
"Yes, today we brought back a number of key people," said Taylor. "They have a very clear picture of the risks and had the weekend to think clearly about what they wanted. Some people have chosen to move on, and those who stay know that the future is uncertain.
"What's weird is that I think GPG would have truly been dead if I hadn't laid off the team, but of course there was no way for me to know what would happen," he later answered. "Some have said that it was an elaborate scheme to manipulate people... I'm like, wow, you've got to be kidding me... anyone who could pull that off has much bigger balls than me. I am still shocked that anyone could even think that, especially people who know me... and I've been in the business 25 years, I've got a reputation, and I've never, ever, been known to pull that kind of s**t.
"Oh, and the part I forgot to add... the entire industry has been alerted to what happened, and we've never received more attention from companies that are recruiting people... in other words, by getting media attention, we have the best chance to find jobs for those who are moving on. It's really a win-win situation."
Gas Powered Games has raised just under $300,000 of its $1.1 million goal at the time of writing.