Recent months have seen some pretty substantial cracks start to form in Kickstarter's once saintly reputation. We all knew it was a bit of a gamble and we all told each other that we didn't really mind if it didn't work out - this was for the good of us all. I'm afraid we've been lying to each other...
Kickstarter has been in for some bad press as of late, and the reaction has not been very pretty. Double Fine had everyone freaking out, talking about charging for early access after already raising a whopping $3.3 million for their upcoming adventure game; Penny Arcade totted up $230,000 to bring back their podcast and definitely caught some flak in the process while 22Cans had backers seriously worried when it was revealed that Godus was entering a publishing deal to reach mobile platforms.
Individually these stories have led to a few awkward public statements from the parties involved and that's, more or less, been about it. However, it has started to feel like the Internet is holding its breath, just waiting for one of these big name Kickstarter projects to trip up. Then we can all pounce, beat it into submission, and demand reparations for how unfairly we've been treated. We're getting a tad bloodthirsty.
Thankfully Shadowrun Returns has proven to be the tonic that we've needed. It's a game that simply couldn't exist in today's market without the support of something along the lines of Kickstarter. Can you imagine Harebrained Schemes trying to pitch this game to a publisher? It's an incredibly old-fashioned experience and its appeal is almost exclusive to fans of either the tabletop game, or the trilogy released in the early 90s. A recent attempt at rebranding the franchise as a first-person shooter in 2007 was greeted by an audible 'meh' from fans and critics alike (Editor's note: I liked it...)and we really hadn't heard an awful lot about Shadowrun since.
How do you convince a publisher that there's enough of a market out there? How do you convince them that an isometric turn-based RPG that looks like it's just crawled out of the 90s will be more successful than one of those oh-so-popular FPS games with all of the cool kid graphics? How much money do you think they'll gamble on nostalgia? I'm going to say that it's probably not $1.8 million.
Without Kickstarter, I'm confident in saying that Returns would likely have never happened. Unlike projects from other studios this isn't about avoiding publisher demands, maintaining creative control, or even gauging the popularity of a new game idea. This campaign is a direct response to all the fans that begged and pleaded for another Shadowrun that played just like the SNES or the MegaDrive version. A big part of being a gamer in the age of email, twitter and hashtags is the option, nay, the right to demand that your favourite childhood nuggets of yesteryear are remade. The Harebrained chaps did exactly the right thing in this situation:
"You'd like us to make another Shadowrun? OK, how about you put your money where your mouth is, folks!"
- Probably a quote from someone at Harebrained
The reaction justified the developer's hopes as they overshot their initial target by almost $1.5 million. It's been one of the most successful games to make it through the Kickstarter slaughterhouse and it's really very difficult to be cynical about it. It didn't promise to change the world and actually it barely promised to do anything other than make a spiritual sequel for a series a lot of people are still very passionate about. The end result is almost exactly what we assumed it would be - and that's reassuring given the aforementioned hurdles the service has recently faced.
In short, it's been a perfect match for Kickstarter and we've all taken a lovely big sigh of relief; there are still an awful lot of projects out there promising a lot of awfully big ideas. It won't take many failures to start poking some serious holes in this crowd-funding parachute, but here's to hoping we get a few more Shadowruns before everything goes terribly wrong. As we plummet towards the ground, cursing all of those false promises and broken dreams that tempted us so, let's take some small comfort in the fact that a whole bunch of dedicated fans came together and managed to very successfully fund a trip back down memory lane. That, at least, is something to be happy about...