Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Licenses and how not to use them (the new Shadowrun)

I was once in college, and when I was in college I played RPGs. We're talking good old fashioned pen and paper RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons. Probably my most successfully run RPG campaign used Shadowrun.

Shadowrun was a game that blended classic Tolkienesque fantasy with the relatively new idea of cyberpunk science fiction. Set some 65 years or so in the future, it was a world where magic had returned, half of humanity was no longer human, and corporations had more power than governments. It was a lot of fun.

Now, some 15 plus years later, the RPG is in its fourth edition, but relatively few people outside of the world of RPGs are at all familiar with ite, despite a couple of games for the SNES and Sega Genesis based in the same setting.

Enter Microsoft and FASA Studios. FASA was the company that created Shadowrun. Through a long and complicated process, Microsoft ended up holding the rights to turn FASA properties into computer games. The Battletech line in particular has long been a flagship title for Microsoft Games, and Crimson Skies proved at least a minor hit on the Xbox, but nothing has really been done with Shadowrun, until now.

Now Microsoft and FASA Studios have decided to use the Shadowrun name for a new game featuring squad based FPS combat. Unfortunately, that's all they've done, decided to use the name Shadowrun.

The game itself otherwise has nothing to do with the RPG for which it is named. Here's a quote from the lead dev's blog:
So what should we do? Satisfy fans of the paper and pencil game? The novels? The SNES and Genesis games? It wasn’t a long debate, really. We decided to restart the Shadowrun time line and grow the fiction over a series of games, allowing the world we loved to unfold over time.

As if somehow the RPG, novels, and previous games all represented different universes that you had to choose from. They didn't, they were all set in the same universe. The universe that they decided to discard.

So, on to my point. If they are going to discard everything associated with the name Shadowrun, then why use the name? The only people that are going to recognize the name are fans of the RPG, and fans of the RPG are going to be pissed at what's being done. They've basically generated an automatic level of ill-will that they now have to overcome through better than average game design.

At least they didn't actually waste money on the license, since it was something they owned already, but they'd still have been better off just coming up with a new name.

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