Seattle based developer, Motiga, announced earlier this week that they were making significant and temporary studio layoffs for their up and coming title, Gigantic. As the second wave of redundancies to have hit the indie studio in several months, it has come as quite a shock to those currently playing the game and no doubt the staff affected. Having announced on January 21 that Gigantic had reached a major milestone in their beta timeline and as a result, would be launching 24/7 game services for both Xbox One and Windows 10 users, there was the impression that the studio had found its feet. Seemingly not and news that things are worse than feared begs the question: what went wrong at Motiga?
Having been founded in 2010 under the partnership of Chris Chung and Rick Lambright, Motiga state they officially began work on Gigantic in early 2012. From that point forward they’ve worked exclusively on the title until its first public appearance at an exclusive event in Seattle on July 17, 2014 before visiting PAX Prime in August 2014. At PAX Prime they demonstrated what is now known as Sanctum Falls alongside many of the Heroes already in the existing roster. Having been well received by the majority of the gaming press, including ourselves, Destructoid, Kotaku, PCGamesN and many more.
In March 2015 Motiga officially announced that they’d partnered with Microsoft to bring Gigantic exclusively to Windows 10. Despite the chorus of groans from many, Motiga were adamant that the deal was a positive step for Gigantic. Cross platform play, use of Microsoft’s experience and Windows 10 features but importantly, that the studio would still remain independent: a partnership, not a purchase.
Despite some negative press surrounding the new found alliance, Motiga appeared at a variety of other tradeshows swiftly after, including PAX East, E3 and Gamescom through to 2015 (having also hosted tournaments along the way). Its arrival at Gamescom was unquestionably one of the largest marketing pushes they’d made and involved both the community and a whole host of the Motiga team, including 50 Windows 10 PCs, 30 Xbox One booths, 25 European community coaches and 22 Motiga developers set across two halls, for 5 whole day: no doubt at great expense to the studio. Many of the coaches I’ve spoken to have fond memories of the trip and all felt it was an outright success.
Gigantic's Clash Course series hosted by Forrest Raynard.
With Gigantic’s closed beta arriving shortly afterwards in late August, the game was - on appearance - shaping up nicely and had begun a favorable presence on Twitch. Its Clash Course series, lead by Forrest Raynard, were infectiously good and demonstrated great swathes of iteration that Heroes and their designs have gone through. The switch to Windows 10 however brought its own issues, with chat functionality and the party system - that were both previously working well - disabled for nearly five months until Beta 2.0 (or 4.1) in January 2016.
Unfortunately and one month before, many of the community team were released (including Forrest):
“Motiga is committed to making Gigantic a great game, and we’ve established deep connections to our community to help us do just that. We've received lots of valuable feedback throughout our testing phases, and as we reflect on the things we must accomplish to meet the expectations we have set for ourselves, it is clear that we need to move the launch window for Gigantic into 2016.
Unfortunately this change in schedule has meant Motiga had to make some difficult decisions this week. As a pre-revenue startup, our resources are finite. Stretching Gigantic development milestones over more time requires that we stretch those resources in the same fashion. As a result, today Motiga has had to lay off 16 employees at the studio. All impacted employees are receiving severances and job placement assistance.
Saying goodbye to these dear friends and talented colleagues is painful, but we remain committed to delivering Gigantic at the highest possible quality. As part of that ongoing commitment, we will soon share our updated production roadmap, within a post detailing the state, and direction, of our game.
For now, we are wishing our friends a sad but very fond farewell, and we hope to cross paths with them again soon.”
Beckett, the latest addition to the Gigantic lineup perfectly highlights their brilliant Hero designs.
While the loss was undoubtedly difficult, justification was relatively easy to find: a game in its infancy with a small closed beta playerbase doesn’t necessarily need the expense of social media professionals or those with - arguably - fringe roles. With a variety of roles merged or removed entirely (5 of the community team remained) most players were eagerly anticipating the forthcoming roadmap to gauge the likelihood that Gigantic would reach its release.
When the roadmap eventually appeared and published by Vice President of Product Development, James Phinney (of Starcraft and Guild Wars fame), it certainly set out what was needed and on paper, it seemed a great deal. Considering the original launch goal was 2015 to coincide with Windows 10, it was clear the studio was many months out despite development time of more than three years.
With the successful introduction of cross-platform play in Beta 4.1 as well as functioning parties, news broke shortly after the arrival of 4.2 that the vast majority of the staff would be released temporarily, while the studio sought investor backing.
“It is with deep heartache that Motiga announces the temporary layoff of a significant percentage of our studio today. Our financial situation is such that we are unable to continue supporting the entirety of the studio at this time. Though we are in active and promising discussions with a number of potential investors, the timing for those negotiations extends beyond the resources we have to maintain the staffing required to continue development on Gigantic. While we intend to continue supporting Gigantic game services for as long as we are able, the reality is that a decision of this magnitude will impact all departments across the studio, an impact that will be felt by our community of beta testers as the services they depend on will operate without the key staff on hand to support those services.
Owing to our commitment to transparency, both to our studio and the Gigantic community, this is a decision that has been shared with every member of our team before the posting of this article.
Motiga continues to engage in active discussions with our partners to identify ways to remedy this situation, but we are not in a position to provide any specific information on our next steps at this time.
It is of course our goal, and our deep hope, that we are able to secure the necessary funding in the near future in order to bring Gigantic to market.
We would like to thank everyone for their support over the last few months, and while the situation is far from ideal, the sheer number of people that have enjoyed playing Gigantic has affirmed what we’ve believed all along: while we still have a lot of work to do to polish the experience for the players, the current closed beta version of our game introduces a legitimately fun gameplay experience with great promise for the future.
Our goal at this time is to work aggressively to identify the resources we need to rehire the members of the Motiga family that were laid off today, securing our financial future so that the Gigantic community can continue to work with us to develop this title, and ultimately bring the complete Gigantic experience to the marketplace.
We will continue to keep our community, and the world-at-large, apprised of this situation as it continues to unfold over the coming weeks.”
Effectively, the studio has ran out of money and they are no longer in a position to pay their staff (or the vast majority of them) and as a result, will be attempting to limp to the finish line - or not at all - should they fail to secure investment. Having already received one round of funding in 2014 totalling $20 million from NetEase, Smilegate and Neowiz, three of the biggest backers in the online gaming industry, alongside a no-doubt sizeable sum from Microsoft for exclusivity, it begs the question: how have they reached the point where they’ve ran out of money and why isn’t the game prepared for launch?
Having set up studio in particularly affluent state, Motiga, according to LinkedIn, have between 50-200 employees. Though it would be difficult to speculate on their exact employee number and with Motiga having removed their staff page on their official site after their first round of redundancies, I would speculate that at their peak and based on discussions with those who have visited the studio, that they employed at least 100 people. As a AAA title backed by Microsoft, headed by industry experts such as Chris Chung, Chris Phinney and Troy Hewitt, it isn’t entirely inconceivable. Taking this into consideration and if we were to speculate on an average salary of $70,000 (complete with favourable benefits) the studio may have been looking at staff expenditure of up to $10 million a year. With no income and having failed to allow players to pre-purchase Gigantic through a founders pack, the studio is inevitably burning through its capital. Without factoring in server costs, studio rental or promotional trips to conventions such as Gamescom, it isn’t entirely surprising that funds have rapidly dried up. The release of staff in December only bought them a little over a month additional development time and had much wider implications for the game development.
Mistforge, now known as Sanctum Falls was only recently completed, having been one of only two maps and first shown in 2014.
Lack Of Pre-Purchase
In October 2015 smitedatamining.com scraped the Gigantic client and discovered the likelihood of an impending Founder’s Pack. Although there’s no telling when this information was pushed to the client, it seems sensible that Motiga were intending to do it at some point within the year. Offering instant access to the beta, all launch heroes, exclusive skins and Beta keys to share there’s still no sign of it arriving any time soon. With the exception of an official stream from Motiga earlier this morning showing an image on their internal client, there has been no further mention of such a pack. What’s somewhat strange is the fact that even now, after being out in the public domain for so long, Motiga still aren’t willing (or able) to allow people to buy into Gigantic.
In contrast, Paladins developer Hi-Rez allowed pre-purchase of their newest venture almost from day one, including microtransactions from within the client. As a game that’s intending to have a similar payment model to Gigantic and arguably a somewhat similar playerbase, it’s surprising that Motiga haven’t pursued this path. No one is suggesting that pre-purchase would remedy their financial constraints, but there’s no doubting that at the very least it might go some way in mitigating it. Perhaps their exclusive contract with Microsoft prevents pre-purchase?
Prior to the announcement that Gigantic was to become Windows 10 exclusive, there was a sense that real progression was being made. The party system worked, matches rarely failed to connect (certainly for me), chat was enabled and patches were regularly arriving to the client. Unsurprisingly and when the deal was struck, priority was turned to not only ensuring cross-platform play worked but also integrating Gigantic into Xbox Live for the PC client. Development effectively stalled and while Motiga were clearly beavering away in the background working on the progression system we see in 4.1, progression was near standstill. Even now, five months later, the party system has returned but it’s a convoluted mess that’s hindered immeasurably by the need to utilise the Xbox app. In desperate need of refinement, we’re also still missing basic chat functionality (one assumes because Motiga are unsure how to handle chat when console players tend to lack a keyboard) and matches still regularly fail to connect.
To play devil's advocate for a moment, I personally have no issue with the fact Motiga signed exclusivity with Microsoft for Windows 10. Based on their current financial situation, I’ve no doubt money played some part, but without Microsoft’s partnership the game might not have even made it this far. From my experience of the operating system, having used it for many months, Windows 10 has proved to be robust and barely discernable from Windows 7. While I had some minor teething troubles upon installation (my network drivers were failing to be recognised) this was swiftly fixed by Microsoft’s fantastic Twitter support.
What is undeniable in all of this is that integrating Gigantic into the Windows 10 infrastructure, across Xbox Live, proved more difficult than Motiga first anticipated. So much so that even after five months, it’s still far from right and even something as simple as registering a beta key or inviting a friend to a party is a challenge. There’s every possibility that any money Microsoft compensated Motiga for when they made their exclusive partnership was eaten up in their endeavors of trying to make it work, instead of going into their coffers to finish the game.
The old Naga before he was redesigned.
Companies such as ArenaNet regularly iterate. They’ll seek feedback from their internal testers, their community as well as their own staff and then rework what they originally thought was a good idea. They’ll do this several times until they have something they’re eventually satisfied with. Part of the reason why ArenaNet can afford to do this is not only their financial situation but because they have time on their side. In contrast, Motiga approach development of Gigantic in a similar fashion yet they have neither the budget nor the time.
With 16 Heroes, one game mode and two maps (a third in development), Gigantic certainly isn’t arriving with bags of content. Considering Sanctum Falls, their showcase map first revealed at PAX Prime in 2014, has only just been finished, 16 months after it was first showcased, iteration and pursuit of perfection is clearly having ramifications on development time. Having played Gigantic for over a year, Sanctum Falls and Ghost Reef have been redesigned multiple times and even to date, continue to receive minor tweaks to certain layouts or to add visual effects. The level of commitment to ensuring these two maps are perfect is admirable but the time its taken perfectly emphasizes both the lack of urgency and a unwillingness to compromise.
In Motiga’s defence, there’s no questioning the quality of what’s on offer - both maps and all Heroes are exceptional - but the continued revisions to maps, Heroes, Guardians and core mechanics - when one could argue they’re already of a quality superior to rival products, seems particularly wasteful of both time and resources, especially when the tutorial is still in desperate need of being truly reflective of the game.
Poor Public Relations
An exclusive contract with Microsoft, forcing players to upgrade to Windows 10, two instances of redundancies in a matter of months, combined with failing to deliver competition prizes for the PAX East and South winners - even if it is outside of Motiga’s control - is a headache. Microsoft already hold a poor reputation in gaming circles (remember Games For Windows Live?) but to make redundancies before you even launch leaves potential players with doubts as to whether Gigantic even has longevity and importantly, if they spend money on it, will they still be able to play in six months time?
Unfortunately for Motiga there’s no quick fix for this type of reaction and it’s entirely understandable. Despite that Motiga are going about tackling such issues in the right way by being as honest and as open as humanly possible. Sadly for them, that in itself is partially the cause of such player reservations. There’s no easy way out of this for Motiga until they launch their product.
Game development is expensive, it’s challenging and getting any product out the door is a monumental undertaking, especially when you’re attempting a new take on an existing genre. Gigantic isn’t experimental, nor is vast in scope. However, for a start up coming and as their first project, it’s undoubtedly ambitious. Many of the team behind Gigantic are industry veterans unquestionably highly skilled. You only have to look at the quality of the Heroes and their design to see the pedigree. In spite of that, at some point it has to be acknowledge that its resources have been mismanaged or they simply bit off more than they could chew. Three years to develop a game isn’t in the grand scheme of things a long time, but when there’s only one game mode and a handful of Heroes, it begs the question as to why it’s not yet ready.
I’ve spent a year playing Gigantic, getting to know its community and the staff who make it. It’s an exceptional game - truly - and there’s a passion here I’ve rarely encountered before. It deserves success not just because Motiga have set out to do something different, but also because it’s just so much fun to play.
If Motiga can ride out the next few weeks and find the investment needed to iron several key areas (queue stability and Microsoft integration) there’s no reason why it shouldn’t immediately launch. It’s already in a far better state than Paladins and a damn sight more original than Overwatch and Battleborn. Going forward however, they have to get leaner and meaner when it comes to making decisions and if necessary, be unafraid to run with something that isn’t necessarily perfect. If Hi-Rez and Blizzard can do it, why can’t Motiga?
I wish them all the best: I was counting on playing Gigantic for the foreseeable future.
Ten Ton Hammer has contacted Motiga for comment in relation to their recent press release regarding staff being made temporarily redundant. Please also be aware that some of the links on this page transfer directly to the Gigantic official forum where you will be required to login.
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