Shadowrun Team’s Third Project Will Change The Way You Think About Kickstarter

by Mike Futter on Jan 13, 2015 at 06:13 AM

Today, Harebrained Schemes launched its third Kickstarter project. The studio, which has successfully funded two Shadowrun campaigns and the digital/tabletop hybrid Golem Arcana is returning to the crowdfunding platform, but not how you might expect.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is definitely going to happen, which isn’t something most Kickstarter projects can claim. Instead of looking to the community as the sole source of revenue, Harebrained Schemes hopes to engage its fanbase as partners. 

“With Shadowrun Returns we asked the community to fund the game. We were only the 3rd Kickstarter ever to surpass $1 million, so the concept of stretch goals was very new,” says Mitch Gitelman, Harebrained Schemes co-founder and executive producer for Shadowrun. “Dragonfall was free to our backers as the second city promised in our stretch goals; and then Director’s Cut was a free upgrade for all Dragonfall owners, so that initial investment essentially delivered three games.”

Unlike those past endeavors, Hong Kong is already well into development. Harebrained Schemes is using its own funds to create the title, but it has aspirations for the game beyond its resources alone. 

“We've got a budget, a plan, and a story we're really excited about, and it's a 12-hour campaign,” Gitelman says. “But there’s so much more we can do and want to do with this game that didn’t fit into our budget.”

Harebrained Schemes is essentially starting at the stretch goal phase, but that’s not how the studio is thinking of them. “We don’t think of them as stretch goals – they’re co-funding goals,” Gitelman tells us. “The more the Kickstarter raises, the more game we’ll be able to make. Essentially, we have a co-funding relationship with the players – instead of going to a publisher to finish it off, we are going to the fans. So if they want to have this cool stuff as well, hopefully they will back us.”

The first target of $100,000 will fund revamped controls with further benchmarks leading to animatic cutscenes, another principal character, and side missions. There are currently five goals, with all funded at the $300,000 level, but depending on progress, more could be added.

The Hong Kong campaign will be non-linear, just like Dragonfall (the second Shadowrun campaign funded by the original Kickstarter). “We are looking for more ways to open it up even earlier so you have a sense of exploration and urgency,” Gitelman says. “There will be new cybertech, new weapons, outfits, characters, and new creature types featured prominently in the game. And as with the other releases, there will also be an updated editor so our creators have access to all the new features.”

While Seattle and Berlin are prominent cities in the Shadowrun universe, Harebrained Schemes has good reason for bringing the action to the east. “There is a metric ton of untapped potential in the Shadowrun IP,” Gitelman tells us. “This game has been around for over 25 years and there’s been hundreds of books written. That’s why we didn’t go back to Seattle. We are traveling all over the world to show you the world of Shadowrun, not just a different part of Seattle.”

Hong Kong will change up the relationship players have with Shadowrun’s blend of magic and technology. “There is this concept of Wild Magic – based on the Chinese culture – and it works differently in Hong Kong; it works in unexpected ways. Hong Kong contains fantastic elements for a new Shadowrun setting: an underworld of triads, tongs, and gangs to navigate, wild Asian magic to harness, and bleeding edge cybertech to equip.  Plus, Hong Kong’s culture is steeped in 'guanxi' – a network of influence and relationships based upon 'face' – a combination of social status, and prestige.”

When Shadowrun: Hong Kong was first teased in December, many wondered what this would mean for the studio’s long-term business model. One thing is certain. Harebrained Schemes wants to maintain its independence for the benefit of its fans.

“We wish to avoid imperial entanglement,” Gitelman says. “We are fiercely independent and we only serve one master - our audience.   

He says this new approach to Kickstarter isn’t necessarily a maturing (the studio may decide to approach things as it has in the past once again) or a weening. 

“It’s adapting our approach to the needs of the project,” Gitelman explains. “Funding our games through Kickstarter allows us to talk with our audience and deliver a product they really want to play. It is both beneficial to the company (with a built in paying audience) as well as the community.”

That relationship with the community has allowed Harebrained Schemes to grow five-fold since the launch of the first Shadowrun campaign in April 2012. The studio started with fewer than 10 employees and now employs nearly 50 individuals on three teams. These include Shadowrun, Golem Arcana, and another video game, Necropolis (to be demoed for the first time at PAX East).

With Harebrained Schemes’ success on Kickstarter, we asked Gitelman to share some advice for others hoping to bring their projects to life. “Crawl, Walk, Run. You can’t deliver multiple projects until you prove you can do one successfully,” he says. “It’s about over-delivering on your commitments and being passionate about serving your audience, building their trust, and staying committed to them.”

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is live on Kickstarter now.

Update: Harebrained Schemes has already achieved its $100,000 funding goal. At the time of update (3:23 p.m. Eastern on January 13), the project has raised $123,435.