Hmmm: Shadowrun Won’t Be Entirely DRM-Free After All

Oh, well this just won’t do at all. I was having a very nice day – frolicking in the bunny-infested fields and devising new ways to make game developers weep sincere, beautiful tears, as is my way – when the world decided to remind me that Shadowrun Returns exists, but it’s still not mine yet. Now I’m quite sad, and devs will have to bear the loathsome burden of their intrinsic, inescapable pain all alone. But I suppose I can’t be too pessimistic, given that I was snapped out of my willful cyberslumber by word of concrete Shadowrun Returns release details. First, the good news: it’s arriving in June, with Steam Workshop support straight out the gate. But wait, if it’s launching on Steam, what does that mean for all of Harebrained’s much-ballyhooed promises of being DRM-free? Well, it’s kinda complicated.

So yes, Steam’s going to be Shadowrun’s neo-fantastical future lair – exclusively, if you want any DLC or player-created content. You will, however, still be able to download a DRM-free version of the main game from Harebrained’s website.

“After a lot of prototyping and research, we decided that our best delivery option for OSX/Windows/Linux is to go the route that great games (like Skyrim!) have taken and embrace Steam and the Steam Workshop. Steam allows us to provide up-to-date downloads and patching along with a vibrant ecosystem for developing community-created content and file sharing.”

“We realize that for some of you, releasing on Steam isn’t your first choice but there are a lot of really great things we get from this decision that allow us to focus on the game rather than on making things like backend servers to deploy and manage shared content. From the start, we’ve had to make practical decisions like this one to ensure we get the most out of the support you’ve given us. We consider this to be the best option for everyone.”

And technically, Harebrained is fulfilling its promise of a DRM-free game – just, you know, without any promise of future support. The question, then, is whether or not this slight switcheroo is technically dishonest, especially in light of the fact that backers spent money under the assumption they’d be getting a DRM-free experience. I’m going to argue “no,” given that the original reward text read “A Digital Downloadable copy of the game, DRM free on PC, Mac, or Linux.”

That said, I still don’t feel particularly great about this turn of events. Sure, Harebrained seems to be doing it for good reasons and maybe I’m just splitting hairs (hohohohohoho and now here’s something we hope you’ll really enjoy, etc), but this strikes me as one way Kickstarter developers could – intentionally or not – mislead their backers. On the upside, this is ultimately a slight change of plans, and it’s not like Harebrained up and decided Shadowrun would be an Origin exclusive with mandatory SimCity integration and hacker holes the size of 27 Uplays.

Still though, it’s brain food well worth chewing. When we plunk down our dollars upfront, it leaves plenty of room for plans to change behind the scenes. In most cases, I don’t imagine malicious intent is involved in the slightest, but just remember: at the end of the day, you may not get exactly what you thought you signed up for.

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