Monday, February 16, 2015

Shadows Are Falling

We're now in the last day for kickstarting Shadowrun: Hong Kong!

I continue to be impressed at how mature and thoughtful HBS has been in conducting this campaign. They've obviously been around the block before, and having experienced the entire cycle of crowdfunding has taught them what to do and what to avoid. This has helped prevent them from overextending themselves, and increases my confidence that they will deliver an even more successful project than before.

The clearest example of this is their handling of stretch goals. Practically every successful video game project that I've backed has added stretch goals which make the game cooler by adding more features. That's great, but also inevitably means that they blow out their initial release date: more features means more time. In this case, Harebrained Schemes identified early on what stretch goals they wanted to support, and identified how they would staff up to add them while still sticking to their schedule.

The campaign has been a success, and they blew past all of their defined stretch goals. Lots of speculation arose over what would come next: adding support for the astral plane? Implementing a compelling stealth system? Letting players modify their body shapes?

Nope: rather than follow the traditional $50k bumps in tiered stretch goals, which tends to keep up momentum, they added a new $1 million goal above their previous-highest $700k goal, a 40% increase without any intervening rewards. What was that goal? Not a feature or an enhancement, but an expansion: a new mini-campaign to be delivered and set after the end of Hong Kong.

That is a brilliant idea. It neatly solves the schedule problem that every other game kickstarter runs into: it creates an entire separate schedule, not tied to the already-committed dates, for a later improvement. They don't need to scramble to hire new staff: this gives their existing staff their next project to work on after Hong Kong. And it avoids the feature creep that causes things to spiral out of control.

That $1 million goal was pretty aggressive, but realistic. Based on the trends at the time, it seemed likely that they would hit it during the final hours, especially with the last-minute bump that kickstarters often get. They ended up exceeding expectations, landing the goal this weekend with several days left to go.

Backers immediately exploded with yet more speculation. What would come next? Maybe they could add something more for $1.1 million? Some other incentive to ensure that people continued flocking to the project and pushing it higher yet...

HBS did what I don't think I've seen any other creators do: they said "no". They were delighted to have hit their funding, and are refraining from piling on more tasks for themselves. In a very candid and thoughtful update, they demonstrate their familiarity with Murphy's law. More funding will be used, but it will be used to help cover the cost overruns and unexpected disasters and last-minute tweaks necessary to get out a successful game. They had their vision, and are sticking to it, even when strangers on the internet are throwing dollars at them.

So, why should people continue to back the project if it's reached all of its goals and doesn't have any higher goals to achieve? Well, for their own benefit. People who back at the $15 level are essentially pre-ordering the game at a discount, and getting some exclusive digital exclusives. Those who back at higher levels are getting rewards that won't be available anywhere in a few days. And everyone is getting the benefits that earlier backers have already unlocked, like more miniature figures and an expanded game and a free (for backers) expansion.

I thought that was a very noble and reasonable attitude for HBS to take, but was a bit concerned that they might kill their own momentum by essentially telling people "Thanks, but we're good." I needn't have worried. The last-minute push continues apace, already creeping up to that $1.1 million mark and poised to go well beyond.

I'm excited to see where this all ends up, and even more excited to see the final game when it arrives in August. I probably have more confidence in this game than any other I've backed on Kickstarter before. If you'd like to get in on the action, you still have some time; otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for a fun new adventure coming later this year!

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