Crimson: Steam Pirates is the first game from Harebrained Schemes and is also the first game to come from Bungie’s indie publishing wing, Aerospace. It has over 5620 Ratings and has an average score of more than 4.5 stars, showing that people really like it . . . and it’s free to download. We talked with Jordan Weisman, founder of Harebrained Schemes, about the game and his propensity for world-building.
Talk to me about the decision to make Crimson: Steam Pirates a free game.
A lot of that was taking place on the Aerospace side. It came late in the development process and the inspiration was something that came partially out of both studios in order to give the game more exposure. The thought was to make it free-to-play and give away the first day missions in order to garner a really large initial audience — I think it’s worked well.
What do you think of the reaction from consumers so far to Crimson: Steam Pirates?
It’s been really overwhelming; the number of downloads, the number of ratings and all very positive, which is very gratifying for us.
How has the decision to release the game for free affected the launch?
I think . . . ultimately, the free-to-play model is not a deciding factor; it’s the quality of the game. It drives a higher amount of trials, but you have to have a good game. I do think it helped add some fire to fuel, however.
What are your plans for monetization moving forward?
On iPad, we’ll sell additional chapters and if we move to other platforms we may switch to another model. Discussions are underway for other platforms, but no announcements to be made.
Tell me about your partnership with Bungie and how that’s helped your company get off the ground.
We have along standing relationship with the Bungie guys all the way back to when they were in Chicago with us at FASA. After I left Bungie, I helped to do the viral campaign “I love bees” at 42 Entertainment. When they wanted to get into the mobile social space, we bounced some ideas back and forth and it’s been a great experiment for both of us. Their feedback on the game was very constructive; they helped ship the game and made sure we had a high quality piece of entertainment.
For the record, what’s the extent of your work experience?
I founded FASA and helped oversee Microsoft Game Studios after Microsoft bought us out and I later created WizKids which produced the games like Mage Knight and HeroClix.
You were the one instrumental in making sure there was a wall between the rest of Microsoft and Bungie, correct?
Yes, it was important to preserve their development ecosystem, so one of the things I fought for was keep them insulated from the rest of Microsoft’s subculture. They were still learning the difference between running a business for productivity software and entertainment software; the Xbox was still in its infancy at that point.
Because of their scale, it only makes sense for them to get involved in something if it is big. Well, what about work on your old properties, Battletech, Shadowrun, Crimson Skies and the like?
When I was at Smith & Tinker, another start-up, we had worked to license them back, but the constraints of the license made it hard to exploit. But there are some interesting developments; we might still see something in the future.
Ah yes, there was that issue with Harmony Gold suing over the Robotech similarities with Battletech.
That was a fairly small matter. The problem was the economics of licensing the game from Microsoft. It just didn’t make sense to make the game unless we owned the property because of the limitations it had.
So what you’re saying is that making a AAA game for one home console is hard to make all the numbers add up?
So is Crimson: Steam Pirates like a spiritual successor to Crimson Skies?
Crimson: Steam Pirates is connected with the sort of pulp adventure history with a story that ties into it. In that it’s related, but there’s no actual connection between the two proprieties: Crimson: Steam Pirates is a Victorian inspired adventure, whereas Crimson Skies is an alternative history for America in the 1930s.
Any tie ins or promotions you’re looking to potentially do with Crimson: Steam Pirates?
Apple liked it enough to make it game of the week! I saw in Entertainment Weekly put it on the ‘must download’ list for the print and online. In terms of other promotions, none that I’m aware of, but most of that would fall on Bungie Aerospace.
With all your varied interests as evidenced by your past projects, why do this?
I love high fantasy to science fiction and I guess one of my reoccurring loves, from Battletech to Shadowrun to Crimson Skies, is basing fiction on history. Battletech is the Roman successor states in space; that’s a bit far flung, some I just stick closer to history. It’s fun to play with the history of an era by having people like having Thomas Blood try to assassinate Queen Victoria.
The setting is pretty accurate for Crimson: Steam Pirates – England rules most of the world, the Caribbean is a hotbed of piracy; we just amp up some of the weird science. It helps make the world seem more real, even if someone isn’t a history buff themselves, because it feels like something that’s really happened.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s been a great coming out party and look forward to working with [Bungie Aerospace] more in the future and you’ll hopefully seem more great games from us down the road.
Jordan, it’s been a pleasure.
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