Shrapnel is a new Web3 game that could turn into a massive blockbuster based on the firepower of the experienced development team. The project is in development and, judging by the recently released trailer, the gameplay looks to be simply amazing.
Neon, an independent game studio based in Seattle, WA, is the developer of Shrapnel. The company has raised a significant war chest of investment capital. Last year, Griffin Gaming Partners, led a $10.5 million round for the company. Since then, the company has successfully raised even more capital through a variety of investment sources. Currently, the Neon development team is focused on continuing to build the world’s first blockchain-enabled First Person Shooter (FPS) game.
In the world of SHRAPNEL, a massive asteroid called 38 Sigma has collided with the moon, causing lunar meteorites to bombard a 500-kilometer-wide band around the Earth. The area, which becomes known as the Sacrifice Zone (The Zone), is left uninhabitable and walled off from the rest of the world.
Players join what are called Mercenary Extraction Forces and battle in high-stake extraction-style multistage events, where you either come out alive with loot or potentially lose what you go in with. The rules are simple. Survive.
Other aspects of the game include a variety of operator classes to choose from, each with its own skill sets, and the ability to strategically combine and craft different pieces of gear.
Web3 Blockchain Technology
With Blockchain technology, gamers can be the actual owners of Shrapnel in-game assets thanks to smart contracts. This new dynamic starkly contrasts with that of traditional games, where developers own — and control the fate of — all assets.
Colin Foran – Head of Game, Shrapnel
During the recent Esports Business Summit 2022 event in Las Vegas, Gamelevate had a chance to speak with Emmy-award-winning Colin Foran, Head of Game for Shrapnel. Here is an edited version of our conversation:
When did you get everything started for this company?
Originally, Neon Media was the name of the company that we had with the intention of doing first and third-party publishing. That still exists but the goal for the founders was always to create a first-party studio builder.
When we got funded towards the end of 2021, it became all hands on deck. Neon Media does still exist. However, right now the subsidiary, Neon Machine which makes Shrapnel, is what we’re staffing for.
Can you tell us more about your team and the development of the game?
The way we’re doing it now is everybody in the studio is a AAA “Greybeard”. In other words, the team has been through this type of development process many times before. This a chance for all of us to take our combined experience and create a truly amazing game.
Right now, we are in the middle of the very important, but very unsexy work that has gone into it so far. This is to just highly modularize the game. We’re not in a situation where we’re doing a playtest and we make a change and then we’ll kick off a build tomorrow. We’re at a point where we finish a playtest session, tweak a variable, and jump right back in.
The plumbing is there and that allows that work to run ahead with the game designers while the art department is creating all their assets. They all dovetail together concurrently rather than serializing the process. In other words, no one is waiting on anyone else and we’re all working together.
This type of process is very much the goal of our studio. We’re trying to make a big, complicated thing in hard mode with over 60 people. Therefore, we had to ask ourselves how are we going to do that. A large part of that is cutting out the unnecessary parts that companies with legacy titles have.
You spoke a little bit about the depth of your bench. Can you provide us with some more details about your background and the team’s background?
Sure. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I came up through Microsoft during Xbox, Xbox 1, and a little bit of game streaming. This was for quite a number of years. Afterward, I was pulled over to HBO with the intention of setting up a game streaming division. AT&T came in and acquired HBO. scuttled a lot of the good work that was happening there. In the aftermath, we all realized that, in an industry of very smart people, that group was truly something special.
So, we spun out in January 2020 during the pandemic. The pandemic caused some more complications, but we thought that this project was a bullseye. Now, it’s going to take us a certain amount of time to make this content, to make the relationships, to join the consortiums, and to get the technology right.
I personally believe that, when we land properly, the game will dovetail with the normalization of a lot of this technology. For example, we are not going to be the ones to convince you to use crypto payments. Amazon and Walmart are going to do that and it’s going to be second nature by then.
In the studio, we feel that Blockchain should be like the TCP/IP infrastructure of the Internet. For example, your grandmother doesn’t need to know what TCP/IP is to go on Amazon and buy her snacks. Similarly, we’re not going to hit you overhead the head and say we are the Web3 game. It’s more like, this is a fun, competitive, FPS game. By the way, if you want to do this thing with blockchain we will help you. Maybe that will only entail 5% of the people who play the game. But this aspect of the game is made available and that’s the whole point.
And that percentage of players who partake in the blockchain part could grow over time?
Is your team now all based out of the same location?
Yes, our whole team is based in Seattle. We’ve been there just shy of seven years so there’s a lot of connective tissues that we have there.
At the time of the acquisition, AT&T had incurred something like $80 Billion in debt and they decided to shed some assets. They told us that we were doing the right things and our prototype was very, very cool. But at that point in time, they needed to tighten up their belts due to the debt and acquisition costs.
The rest of our team came from some of the major gaming titles out there. When I look at our design team now they are top-tier game development companies. They come from developers such as Infinity Ward, BioShock, Activision’s Call of Duty, Halo, and more. I feel that our bench is just formidable.
How did you get them to join your team from those great companies?
it’s very difficult to hire top talent right now. But what we tell them is that you can make another Call of Duty which will be a little bit like the last Call of Duty and a little bit like the next Call of Duty.
Alternatively, you could rip it all out and you can try to do something new. If it succeeds or fails, it will be because of the work we did not just because of industry churn. We have the opportunity not to get chewed up in that machine right now. We can all try to do it the best way we think it should get done.
You spoke about the difference between your team and companies that have “legacy” titles. Could you elaborate on that?
For me, I call it the 40-pound backpack of legacy. Let’s say you have an existing game such as Halo. So, Halo 5 has got to look like Halo 4 because it came from Halo 3. I come from those types of environments and they calcify over time and they become a little bit rigid. We do not have that with Shrapnel.
Anecdotally, I’ve been in situations where a level designer will say, “Hey, art department, we want to be this to be big”. However, the art director says “We have to be smaller”. I’ve been in meetings where somebody would jump up, slam the door, and walk out. It’s like OK, this is going to become a two-and-a-half-month problem.
Whereas, in our situation now, we can just say “help me understand what it is you are trying to do and tell me what am I not understanding”. For example, you ask things like ‘Is our foliage too heavy or are our lines-of-sight not working”. Then that becomes a quick half-hour conversation that saves us months and a million dollars for the company.
It looks like you are moving forward quickly. How do communicate your progress with fans and members of the public?
We all come from a world where we announced a game and disappeared for seven years. Then, suddenly, the game comes out. With this game, what we’ve been finding is that our thesis for communication is standing up. The idea that, for example, we thought we were going to have vehicles in the game for this release. However, we couldn’t get the AI pathfinding to work with the user-generated content (UGC) so we diverted resources to that. Then we explain to our community that this is the reason why the studio made the decision it made. The outpouring of warmth and support from the community, in what is traditionally a hyper-toxic space, has been really great.
People like knowing how movies and games get made and they want to be a part of it. So, we’ve been rethinking how we want to approach that. We’re not just dumping a blog post on people and saying “hey, you’re a part of it now.” It’s really about bringing people in.
For example, having public Discord Stages conversations with me and the game designers. Another example is Twitter Spaces conversations with the CEO and one of the Art Directors. That sort of thing gets people invested in the game. Then they start to care about it a little bit more each time.
How do you plan on moving forward with the Web3 aspects of Shrapnel?
We’ve got an obvious summit to climb when it comes to socializing the Web3 side of the game. We had to get comfortable with the Web3 transparency. The way to do that is to not hit people over the head with it. You can’t call them stupid if they don’t get it – which unfortunately some other game developers have done.
It’s giving them something they care about that they want to take to the finish line. That’s doubly so if it’s something they made or something they have invested their time into. It’s just about giving people something fun and interesting to do.
On the blockchain part of the game, it sounds like you are taking the right approach. You are saying this part of the game is available to you, but you don’t have to participate there if you don’t want to. You can still just play and enjoy the game?
Yes, that’s exactly right. For example, oftentimes, UX comes in at the last minute of game production. However, we’ve actually made UX as central to the product as anything else we’re doing. It’s as important as the game itself. So, with UX, we take people on a little journey.
Let’s say you get to the game and you’re at level zero recruit. Then we say, “Hey do you want to try some UGC?” The answer might be, “No, no I’m here to just play the game.” Then we say, “Ok, no problem. Let me just show you how easy it is to do that and make some for free.” So, they try the UGC aspect and make a sticker. Then a month goes by and we say “Hey, do you want to try to make a level?”.
Later on, they say ‘No, no I just play the game and make stickers.” Then again, we say no problem, let me show you how easy it is”. Another month goes by. We say “Hey, do you want to put that up on the marketplace? You can still just continue playing with your friends. But if you want to sell your sticker, the marketplace can let you do that too.” Again, they may say, “No, no I’m just a player that makes stickers and levels.”
By that point it’s somebody with three months in your ecosystem. Now it’s not that this is important because we’re telling you it’s important. It’s important because you have invested three months into it.
For me, we just need to breadcrumb it out so that it’s super self-evident. It’s finding out that your friend is generating $40 per month because people really love his exploding barrels and foliage packs. Then you think to yourself, “Maybe I should try that too.”
Going back a bit, you spoke about funding for the company and the game development. How did that process go as it seems to be a significant pivotal point for Neon?
The fundamental investment capital raising strategy was sneakers on the pavement. There were days when we were talking to 12 Venture Capitalists.
Were the VCs based primarily in the San Francisco Bay area?
The VCs we spoke to were all over. In our case, they were global. What we were looking for were not only capital providers but true partners. So, we started talking to more game-centric VCs. The ones we selected really needed to understand the gaming space and be able to do things to help the business.
Ultimately, the major financiers were Griffin Gaming Group and Polychain. There are plenty of other partners that I could name and they are all listed on the website. There are not a lot of people that want to take the risk of being the lead investor. However, after Griffin committed to us, everyone else jumped in and we were oversubscribed. VCs are chatty among their peer group. When someone gets a good company, they tell some of their buddies and other folks start jumping in.
There seem to be a lot of VCs on board now. How do you manage the relationships and are they all active with Neon?
Everybody has a different playbook. Talking to Griffin may be different than talking to another VC firm because they have different house styles. The old Web2 guys haven’t really gone anywhere either.
That’s an interesting thing that’s missing from the greater cultural conversation. Just because you don’t hear a certain VC company talking about Web3, doesn’t mean that they haven’t been investigating for several years. There is an unassailable direction that the industry is going in and no one is blind to it. We’re just trying to position ourselves to be ready for those conversations.
Now that you are funded and in development, is any part of the game available for the public to play now? What can people do right now?
We’re looking at our first playable in the first quarter of next year. Until then, your best bet is to get into our Discord channel or follow us on our Twitter feed. We’re very, very active there releasing loads of information.
So, what can a member of the public see right now about Shrapnel?
We have trailers and game capture sessions. Some of the skeptics said, “it’s not real, it’s pre-rendered, it’s fake.” The next week we were able to put out a release showing us actually playing at that exact level with all the bells and whistles.
So, you were playing internally – it was the internal team?
Yes, and that’s going to be us going forward. Something like a trailer will go out and then we will release footage of us going through those playtests. Every time we’ve pushed that a little further, people have lost their minds and they absolutely love it.
Finally, when the first public playable releases early next year, people won’t be excited just because it’s a new game. They will be excited because it’s something they’ve watched and contributed to first-hand via our social channels.
What are your upcoming plans for Shrapnel?
We have a lot of things coming online during the first quarter of 2023. We won’t be ready to release for public gameplay. However, what we’re aiming for, around March 2023, is for the game to be “behind closed doors” playable. Then, shortly thereafter, there will be some window periods where we will be doing some limited releases.