Monday, 22 June 2015

Shenmue 3: It's not unreasonable to have questions

The disclaimer before I get started here is that I really am looking forward to this game being released. I always try to find the proper perspective. I am prone to thin slicing and throwing out hot takes from time to time. I know what I am doing and I pick my targets carefully. Yesterday, I had a piece all typed up and ready to go regarding David Thier's article about the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter and the unhinged 'fan' reaction to it. However, I am always more interested in getting it right than being right. In the past week since the announcement I had been very busy and hadn't had time to sift through all things Shenmue so I owed it to myself and any passers-by to do my due diligence.

After reading and watching everything of note and double checking to ensure I had not missed any relevant quotes, I came to essentially the same conclusion I had already formed; there are far more questions than answers when it comes to Shenmue 3, particularly in regard to how the project is being funded.

When it comes to the Kickstarter campaign I feel as though at this point, having discussed the subject at length with a few people, I am all talked out about it so I will address it in this column, perhaps once more at the end of the pledging period and then hopefully we will all be able to move past it. I'm not saying this is the matador's red flag but people are unwilling to step back and look at the whole picture here.

Adam Koralik stated in his video that Kickstarter money was crucial because that would form the whole development fund. Yu Suzuki stated over the weekend that he needed $10m to make the game he wanted. More on that in a moment, but first. People, please. If Yu Suzuki and Ys net really believe they are going to make $10m from a month long campaign for a niche title, they are as deluded as the lunatics running around claiming Joel Hruska and Ben Kuchera got paid by Microsoft and Nintendo to write hit pieces. The bullyboy attitude of these zealots is and has been damaging but for now I'll just focus on the money.

As far as figures go, people have been throwing around various numbers based on what the original games allegedly cost to make compared against modern AAA games. Chris assures me that $10m is a realistic figure though so I am happy to take his and Suzuki's word for it. That however was not the goal of the Kickstarter and herein lies a problem.

The goal of the Kickstarter was $2m. Nowhere in the announcement or the initial materials was this $10m figure brought up. Only after records were broken and the potential proven was the subject raised, some might say the goalposts moved. The argument since brought to me is that since Suzuki is not an idiot and knows that $10m in a month is a pipe dream, he was keen to set a lower achievable goal to start with. I think that's disingenuous but that's neither here not there. There are a number of directions in which I could run with this but I will try and be as concise as I can.

If the initial goal was $2m and the stretch goal of nebulous, unexplained value was $5m but the real goal was always $10m, it stands to reason that there is private undisclosed investment. In fact reading between the lines, it says as much in the FAQ.

"Shenmue will be produced using both the funds raised from the Kickstarter and through other funding sources already secured by Ys Net Inc. We are very sorry, but due to contractual obligations, details of outside investments will not be disclosed."

So when Koralik says it is important to keep donating to the Kickstarter fund, that is every bit as baseless as Joel Hruska's assertions that Sony is contributing to development. The truth of the matter is that no one really knows.

If I were to speculate and I highly encourage you not to take this as hard coded belief, while the Kickstarter fund will indeed go directly towards development, the difference in the final costs would be met by these mysterious outside investors. Therefore, the higher the public pledge, the less these third parties would be on the hook for. It's good business if you can pull it off.

So where would that leave us in terms of the fund? Is it crucial to keep contributing to ensure that somehow, some way the $10m will be met? Well again, this is where I have a problem. Who are these outside investors? How much are they investing and why does it have to all be so secret? What are the true figures involved and what percentage does Kickstarter comprise? There are so many more besides. "What does it matter?" I can hear you wailing. "We're finally getting the game! Quit being so cynical!"

Perhaps it's a philosophical issue. It matters to me because this is not a private enterprise. They are asking the public to fund their project and they are asking the public to take on the inherent risk. That works fine if you are willing to be open but the fact that these outside interests are contractually hidden does set alarm bells ringing in my head. Let me be clear. I am not accusing anyone of being deceitful. I am not impugning the honor of your faultless deity Yu Suzuki. I just want the transparency that public domain projects should warrant and I do not want people to be exploited.

In state government they do this thing where they introduce a tax, let's say it's for a new rail line. It will just be for two years and then the tax will expire. Well guess what always ends up happening? The tax never goes away. It just gets repurposed. Now it's for port restoration and forever on, you'll be paying extra because they know that they can twist your arm and guilt you into doing so. When the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter ends, I have no doubt they will find another way for the public to contribute and then another for Shenmue 4, and then there will be something else. Should you really have to?

The bottom line is that if you want to spunk away $3k on a video game then you are free to do whatever you like. I'm certainly not here trying to tell you how to spend your own money. I just think you deserve to know exactly who and what you are paying for. Right now there is not enough clarity.

I kind of got this one out as fast as I could and things can always change very quickly. If you have fresh info or want to yell at me, you can find me on Twitter or on the Forums.


  1. I would like to add that the concept of KickStarter treats us as investors with the key difference being we are not getting any ROI, (or Return On Investment,) other than the game being made, of course.

    I personally find this perfectly acceptable when you're talking about small projects that you believe in where publishers are nowhere near. I even find it alright if a small project finds a publisher thanks to their successful KickStarter campaign. But having large publishers involved from the get go is a bit of a dangerous precedent.

    The lack of transparency here has me wondering as well if we're just lifting the burden off of other investors who are, in fact, getting an ROI while we are not. Will this become a familiar scheme moving forward?

    All that stuff being said, I did pledge, am not regretting my pledge, and am very excited about Shenmue III.

    Interesting stuff to consider for sure. I would urge Yu Suzuki and his team to bring a little more transparency into the project and communicate more with us as we are now invested as more than just fans.

  2. I agree with every single word.

    This isn't how you run a kickstarter. When you want people to pledge, the basic thing is transparency and trust, wich are both missing here. Us fans know Yu Suzuki, we trust him and we're fine pledging to save Shenmue.
    The average backer doesn't care about what WE care.

    And I'm telling you this: it this KS hadn't the name "Shenmue 3" there is NO WAY I would have backed it.

    this is basically the main reason why the pledging has been slowing down so much: hardcore fans trust Yu Suzuki, the average joe doesn't.