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The “power of the crowd” brought Shadowrun back from the video game graveyard in 2013. And thanks to Kickstarter (and, well, themselves), fans of the venerable cyberpunk role-playing franchise have more than one game to enjoy.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s campaign on the crowdfunding site ends tomorrow, and the only question isn’t if it will make it but how much it’ll bring in. The effort has already tallied almost $1.1 million, breaking the $1 million mark Sunday and blasting its initial goal of $100,000 in less than two hours after it debuted Jan. 14. It also makes Shadowrun the first video game franchise to fund itself as a series on Kickstarter.
“So far, we think so,” said Mitch Gitelman, the executive producer and studio manager for Shadowrun: Hong Kong developer Harebrained Schemes. “Our friends at inXile [Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera] funded their [second] game in 2013, and Brian [Fargo, inXile’s CEO and legendary RPG developer] recently announced that they’re coming back with another Bard’s Tale game soon. It’s great to be part of the resurgence of turn-based CRPGs.”
Harebrained Schemes includes Jordan Weisman, one of the founders of FASA Corporation, the original makers of the pen-and-paper Shadowrun game. Much later, Microsoft acquired FASA and the Shadowrun rights, so for each of these Kickstarters, the studio has had to pay a licensing fee to the Windows/Xbox giant.
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“It’s kinda odd licensing an IP that Jordan created,” Gittleman said.
The studio has also encountered success outside of Kickstarter. Games that started on the crowdfunding site have also found their way to Steam. Divinity: Original Sin and Darkest Dungeon have both enjoyed greater sales on Valve’s digital gaming storefront than on Kickstarter. The same applies to Harebrained Studio’s Shadowrun Returns.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. Our audience has expanded well beyond our initial backers,” Gitelman said. “When Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall — Director’s Cut started winning all those RPG of the Year awards and all those great articles and reviews started coming out about us, word spread through the gaming community. And the comments about the games on Steam have been great, too — helpful when you find them in the store where you buy games!”
After running a couple of Kickstarters (Golem Arcana, a game that mixes mobile and miniatures, just barely made it there), Gitelman has learned a few tactics to help ensure crowdfunding success that don’t really apply to the triple-A development sector.
“What we learned doing Shadowrun Returns and Golem Arcana is that you need to engage with the community — don’t just put up your Kickstarter page and sit back to see what happens,” he said. “Communicating clearly and directly, listening to backers, and treating them with respect are really the keys to this whole thing, and I think our backers have really responded to our approach. Of course, it helps when you’ve delivered — and occasionally exceeded expectations — twice.”
So, once Hong Kong is finished and in backers’ hands, will Harebrained go back to the Kickstarter well to fund a third cyberpunk game?
“We’ll see how this one goes!” Gitelman said. “The best thing about a game setting that’s been around for over 25 years is that there’s an entire world to explore. We started in Seattle because it’s the iconic Shadowrun environment, and then we moved to Berlin and in Hong Kong based on feedback from our audience. It’s great exploring how different cultures in our cyberpunk future have adapted to the return of magic.”
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