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King of the Castle

Gas Powered Games boss Chris Taylor sheds more light on 'developing in the public eye'

One of the interesting announcements made during DICE week was that of Gas Powered Games' latest title - Kings and Castles - most notably because development was only a month in...

Here, the founder of the studio - Chris Taylor - explains more about the thinking behind developing in full view of the public, why it's exciting rather than brave, and how the publishing model could be affected.

GamesIndustry.biz The idea of developing in the public eye is an interesting one - is it brave or exciting?
Chris Taylor

It is exciting... the brave part? Not so much. I think it just makes sense - in a way, too much sense. One of the challenges we have in our business is the introduction of new properties. People are afraid of them because they don't have a business model that they can model out on Excel and show how they're going to make a good return on their investment.

Now, as a coincidence, I just had somebody email me last night who's working on an MMO. They've put all this money into it but they can't get the funding to take it to the next level in order to get the PR and marketing support to get the message out.

I thought: "Man, that's not a problem I'm having right now" - but that's because I've got 22 years of experience, I know a lot of people, and I've placed an incredibly high value on relationships, getting out there, and not hiding away somewhere.

So I've already got a leg up - but I also have a tremendous amount of respect for our customers and fans. I really respect them, so when I do my first videoblog, for example, I'm not jamming a product message down their throats - instead I'm having fun with them, because it is after all about entertaining.

So I'm in a bit of a unique position to do these kinds of experiments - when you're Evel Knievel and you're jumping 14 buses for the first time, but you've already jumped 12, it looks really scary to people in the audience. But to you it's only a few more buses than you normally jump.

GamesIndustry.biz But it's still jumping buses - there's nothing that can take the risk out of it completely.
Chris Taylor

Exactly - so you really understand what I'm saying. So you can add a flaming hoop and throw a lot of things into the experience to make it more challenging, but at its core it's what I do - I make original IPs, figure out a way to get the world to learn about them, and I have to be increasingly clever and creative because the market is a changing place, there are more properties circulating, there's more noise.

There are a lot of things that make it more challenging today than the guys who dropped the first cassette tapes into zip-lock bags. They had an entirely different problem, but it wasn't noise... you walked into that little boutique software store in 1981 and there were only six bags hanging on the wall with games on them, and that was the entire state of the industry.

So it's really important that we evolve, and we evolve with the changes and challenges we're confronted with. That's all I'm doing right now.

GamesIndustry.biz I guess the economics and the market has conspired to bring us a situation where the most solid bets are either sub-$500,000 or $15 million-plus projects, but everything in-between is risky... a bit like an inverse Bell curve...
Chris Taylor

Well, it's a bit of a Bell curve, but the question is, where is the floor on that, where the curve touches zero... because if we truly are at the bottom of the curve, but there are 3 million potential customers and no competitors in that space... that's a great spot to sit!

I gave a talk many years ago, before World of Warcraft shipped, and there were 100 hundred MMOs in development. They had this huge potential, but Blizzard went and realised it, so was that a good part of the Bell curve to sit in? Is the iPhone market, which is the other end of that market, a good part to sit in right now?

My spot on the curve is looking really good right now, so I'm quite happy [smiles]

GamesIndustry.biz So videoblogging is one thing you'll be doing, and Deathbot9 is your Twitter feed - what else is in the plan for communicating with potential consumers?
Chris Taylor

Well, we put out a fun videoblog every week, and the goal is to take them behind the scenes. Videoblog number two will take them on a drive with me into the office, so we're establishing the location, and people will know where we're doing all this stuff in Redmond.

Then we go up the elevator, get a little deeper, start to introduce the team to our players. Then we go into the concept creation area, the brainstorming area, peeling the onion one layer at a time and truly take people on an adventure where they can tune in every week - and if they miss it, they can always catch up.

So not only is it hopefully going to be a great way to get exposure to the new game, but it's going to be educational and fun for those who are watching it - so it's a total win all the way around. And it's going to be darn interesting to look back on that two years from now to see how it went.

GamesIndustry.biz And hopefully others in the industry will look back on it with envy...?
Chris Taylor

Yeah - every once in a while you want to be first, or among the first, to try a new idea - rather than always moving with the pack.

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