The Wildman stumbles: Chris Taylor talks layoffs, planning for an uncertain future, and Kickstarter
Chris Taylor’s Gas Powered Games launched a Kickstarter to fund its next game: Wildman. Days after the campaign began, Taylor made the tough decision to lay off the the vast majority of the team, and he’s still struggling with creating a plan based on what may or may not happen with the continuing campaign.
“I realized that the campaign was a failure by Wednesday night, and I watched it grow progressively worse on Thursday, so that afternoon I let the senior staff know that it wasn’t going to work, but they already knew, we were all glued to our screens,” he explained. He described the game as being “poorly timed,” and that gamers didn’t respond to the mixture of genres.
I asked about the “Risks and Challenges” section of the Kickstarter. There was nothing there that mentioned the possibilities of large-scale layoffs with the company, and they took place so quickly after the campaign was launched.
“We were totally aware of the possibility of the layoffs, and it came up when I was doing the press before the launch, but I think the Risks and Challenges are not referring to that I think they mean that the company will be operational,” Taylor said.
The hope was that the funding would come through quickly, thus ensuring he could continue to pay the developers knowing that the budget was secure. “We saw many projects do 200 or 300 percent of their goal, and we held out hope, that we could keep everyone if the initial numbers did well the first three days.” Unfortunately, the numbers just didn’t make that plan seem feasible.
The campaign page also mentioned that people could support the project using Paypal, and I asked about how much money was given via that method. “From the last time I got a report, it was absolutely minimal,” Taylor said.
So what now?
If the campaign is successfully funded Taylor is going to get to work re-hiring as much of the team as possible.
“I realize some people will find jobs and some won’t, but on some level, if everyone found a job right away, I might be hard-pressed to get the game made on time. We’d make it, but we’d likely slip our dates. But hey, the main thing is that people found work,” he said.
Those that come back would find a very different work environment, and the more things you can do on the project, the higher your chances of being taken back.
“If you want to walk through it theoretically and say that 25 days from now everyone was available, I would have to choose the best people, and the qualification would shift, like who can wear multiple hats in a smaller team configuration,” Taylor said. The returning team would also be dealing with “crazy long hours,” and Taylor described the work as likely being a “tough grind.”
“Some people actually don’t want that, and that’s totally okay and respectable, so they’re probably secretly happy they were laid off,” he said. “In fact, I don’t love it either, but that’s what would be called for. In short, you have to solve for many variables, and do the best you can.”
There was many aspects of the project to juggle, and Taylor wondered what would happen if the campaign was funded, but just barely.
“What would the team look like at that size of project? Should we move the date up to compress the overhead component, or should we stretch it out, make the team smaller and improve team efficiency? And seeing that I had never even considered that this could happen, I haven’t got much of a plan, but it’s top of mind,” he said.
“In fact, today I just called up some of the guys to see if they’d talk to me tomorrow about possible outcomes. It’s not like I’m calling people and hiring them back, I’m simply saying, come on in, lets brainstorm, I’ve got some ideas, lets talk about the possibilities,” Taylor said, when I asked for specifics. “You can imagine that we’re all completely floored at how the extra press from the layoffs has effected the campaign… I don’t think anyone could have seen that one coming.”
Which makes us wonder…
There has been some backlash against the idea of keeping the Kickstarter going, even though most of the team has been let go and it seems more of an uphill battle than ever. I’ve heard people say that it seems like he’s holding the team hostage for donations, or that the campaign itself is unethical. Is it possible that the layoffs have become a sort of perverse play to gain publicity?
“I think that they have every right to ask that question. From the beginning one of the things we talked about when going the crowd funding route was to be transparent,” Taylor answered.
“In fact, there’s something else that’s quite positive about this terrible situation, and that is an opportunity to talk more about what goes on in the business. I’ve always had this desire to share the inside story, but it’s really not been possible up until now.”
The realty is that Gas Powered Games is in a tight spot, but I get the sense that if I handed Chris Taylor a giant granite triangle he would find a way to spin it. I asked him how much stress his old team must be under while watching the Kickstarter continue, hoping that they’ll be hired back.
“However, I think it was also a huge relief for many, and they’re happy to know what’s ahead of them. And if you think about it, they can keep an eye on the KS campaign at the same time as they are sending out their resumes,” Taylor told the Report. “And they’ve got money in their pocket. A big part of this decision was because of other big developers closing down, people finding out on payday that there’s no money, that the company is broke. Everyone at [Gas Powered Games] knew that I would never do that. In all of the 15 years I’ve run the company I’ve never missed a payroll, and let me tell you, that’s saying something!”
Much of the company’s future is riding on the success or failure of the Kickstarter campaign, and backers need to be aware of how much the situation has changed since the campaign’s launch. For now, Taylor and the developers he used to work with are stuck watching the total money given to their Kickstarter campaign, talking about what might happen in the future, and hoping for some good news.