By Terry Randolph
I know — it’s been a couple weeks since the announcement of Shenmue III’s Kickstarter and the hype around it has died down significantly. However, in order to ensure I approach this with a clear, open mind, I preferred taking my time to write this out. Obviously, it’s easy writing about a hotly discussed topic amidst the hype and media frenzy. After all, the much-beloved Shenmue series has an ardent fanbase that’s been pushing for a third installment in the franchise. Over the years there have been countless articles debating the reasons for why the franchise hasn’t continued (major reason: unprofitable franchise) to the continuous grumblings of a third game being in development. Yu Suzuki continually adding fuel to the fire over the years by either discussing his desire to continue the franchise or asking the fans to keep pressuring Sega for a new game obviously didn’t help.
Or it did, because Shenmue III is finally happening, having been announced during Sony’s E3 conference by a very ecstatic Yu Suzuki himself. Shenmue III has a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $2 million dollars to develop the game. As of this writing, the game is closing in on $4 million with 14 days left to go for funding. There’s a triumph in not only having the game actually getting made, but in the symbolism of the Kickstarter happening in the first place. Fans were able to drive the vehicle and successfully get it where they wanted it to go.
Within 9 hours of the announcement the game has already had its fair share of controversy surrounding it; themes ranging from questioning the point of a Kickstarter campaign with Sony backing the game, to wondering the point of whether or not a Kickstarter campaign would be enough if it supposedly took $70M to make the the first Shenmue. Unfortunately, “news leaks” like these always appear when anything like this happens. Here’s the two major issues discussed, and debunked:
Shenmue costing $70 million to make: Actually, Yu Suzuki has gone on to state that the game had cost $47 million to make for both Shenmue & Shenmue II as well as marketing. The $47 million also stems from the game originating as a Virtua Fighter RPG for the Sega Saturn that, upon transition onto the Dreamcast, had to build a new engine from the ground up. Add to that the work they did to create a living, open world experience (even to the point of having the weather system match with the weather of Yokosuka in 1986). The game did go on to sell 1.2 million units, being one of the few Dreamcast games to get beyond the 1 million units sold mark. Still, given the constraints of the Dreamcast at the time (in terms of consoles sold and profitability), the game wasn’t able to recoup its budget. For an in-depth look, check out Yu Suzuki’s discussion on the development of Shenmue.
Sony is Funding the game, what’s the point of a Kickstarter: On an update to the Shenmue III Kickstarter page Yu Suzuki clarified Sony’s role in the development of the game:
“Sony and Shibuya Productions have been wonderful partners because they believe in Shenmue and want to see the best for the fans and the game. Their investment in (and support of) Shenmue have helped to realize a sequel that will stand proud with its predecessors. While it is not business practice to discuss the specific details of such arrangements, I can say that with their assistance on the production and marketing end, and in Sony’s case with some publishing support as well, Ys Net is able to use more of the money we collect through Kickstarter purely for Shenmue 3’s development. It is also important to note that your funds are going strictly to Ys Net for development of Shenmue 3 – Sony and Shibuya Productions are not seeing a cent of your Kickstarter dollars.”
Sony is backing the game…to an extent. While they’re showing their support on the game through marketing and production, Shuhei Yoshida has stated “…it’s a Sega IP…So somehow Suzuki-san was able to work out with Sega to allow them to Kickstart the project”
For a more in-depth talk about Shenmue III’s development (as well as some good links) I’ll leave it to Adam Koralik to do the talking.
As a fan of the franchise, I’m more excited and worried about other factors that probably shouldn’t be stressed upon. For one, I’m really hoping Shenmue III doesn’t end up turning into something akin to the Broken Age controversy — eventually having a ballooning budget to make the game as envisioned. I’m worried that, like other Kickstarter projects, the game will not meet its 2017 release date deadline. How much of Shenmue III is actually going to be realized based on the funding amount? Could there be an HD remake of the first two games so people who haven’t played the franchise can enjoy before Shenmue III? Lastly, can Shenmue III live up to the overwhelming hype?
More importantly, we should talk about the significance the announcement of Shenmue III being a Kickstarter has. For one, it shows that fans are starting to have a louder voice in game development. Sega has gone on record saying that Shenmue I & II were not profitable, and cancelled any development of Shenmue III that had begun. Now that Shenmue III was able to have a successfully backed Kickstarter by fans, the game is finally a reality. Fans made this happen. Second, it opens the door for revisiting franchises that were once considered dead to come back to life…with enough fan demand. There are many games out there that have fan bases clamoring for another game in the franchise. (I’m looking at you Beyond Good & Evil 2.)
Second, instead of capitalizing on the fan demand, Sega opted to let Yu Suzuki continue to helm the franchise he started. Sega easily could’ve continued to say no and kept the brakes on another game being developed. Even if they wanted to continue the series eventually, they could’ve hired a new director and either made a sequel or reboot the franchise.
The fact they let Yu Suzuki continue to helm the franchise, whether a sign of respect to him or not, speaks volumes. It’s not a huge step in changing game development, but it is still a small victory. Shenmue III, here we come.