This is not shaping up to be a good year to be working in games.
This is not a privilege, or something that I'm excited about writing. I will admit that it's not often that you get to see a potential disaster -- albeit a slow moving one -- unfold, and yet it seems that when it comes to the gaming industry these days there's no lack of incidents to follow. It would appear that, slowly but surely, Gas Powered Games may be about to be the stage for another one of those incidents.
You may not have heard of Gas Powered Games, they're a small studio best known for their Dungeon Siege and Supreme Commander series. They're not exactly what you'd call an indie studio, since they've gotten the help of a lot of bigger publishers in the past, but they're still pretty close. Of course, in a few short weeks Gas Powered Games might not be much of anything anymore....
The first signs of trouble came earlier this year, when the studio was announced as no longer supporting Age of Empires Online, and was confirmed when during an update for their Kickstarter project -- Wildman which is touted as "an evolutionary action RPG" -- company CEO Chris Taylor confirmed that he had to lay off most of the employees.
Whether or not anyone would like to admit it, the companys immediate future seems to be entirely dependant on the success or failure of the Kickstarter project. It's impossible to predict whether or not the funding will be met, although right now it's hovering at about $450,000 out of the required $1.1 million with roughly 10 days remaining. Although it's not impossible, I would say that drumming up that much funding in the remaining would be difficult to use the most optimistic of terms.
Now, my angle on this isn't that of Kickstarter tragedy in the making, although I'm sure that some will interpret this as such. Rather, I'm confused as to why Gas Powered Games is betting everything on crowdfunding. Have things gotten so dire for them that they could not go down the more traditional financial avenues? I'm also stymied as to how the studio got itself into this hole to begin with, there seem to be no details as to where the financial problems are stemming from. The most concrete thing I've found is Taylor's response in an AMA:
"Costs in the our business are high, no doubt about it, that's why game engine's like Unity are becoming so popular. I think you'll see a ton of game engine's hitting the market in the next few years, and licensing will cost very little, 5-10K, compared to the days of Unreal which was 7 figures."
I wouldn't call that nickle and dime stuff by any means, but it does seem to be the expected cost of doing business these days. Perhaps more information will come out later as to why the company found itself in this situation to begin with. Right now though that's not even my chief concern.
I'll admit that it's not a popular, or kind, question, but what happens if this Kickstarter, even if it's successful, isn't enough to save the company? I would certainly hope that it would at least be enough to make Wildman, but what if even that becomes a promise that ultimately can't be kept?
The only things that are certain in this situation are: there's a lot riding on this current project, too much if we're being completely honest. That and the fact that the future is far from stable, and even further from secure. I'll be watching the Kickstarter closely, as I'm sure will many fans of GPG and other media outlets. I do wish them the best, but in a case like this wishes aren't going to be good enough.