E3 2015 was great, but the Shenmue 3 kickstarter stunt was terrible
E3 is a peculiar thing. It can bring out the best in gaming journalists, and the worst. For some, it is an opportunity to celebrate the industry and embrace what it is about gaming that keeps them coming back. For others, it is an opportunity to tear it down, to tell us why everything cool isn’t really all that cool.
It’s an eternal debate between optimism and pessimism – so basically it’s a microcosm of all journalism these days, from politics to entertainment. There’s no specific reason for it; it is what it is.
I try to stay somewhat balanced, but when it comes to E3 I am a slobbering fanboy. Part of why I got into gaming journalism several years ago was so I could go to E3. That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a huge bonus. I’ve been to several now, and I was planning on hitting this one too – I had credentials and an inbox full of invites to events and hands-on demos. Kind of unexpectedly though, my wife and I ended up buying a house. AS much as I love E3, I love owning a house even more.
Too many things happened all at once to attend this year, especially with so much of it easily covered on video streams anyway. I’ll be there next year though, and while it sucked to miss E3 sometimes bigger things pop up.
Despite not actually being there though, E3 is amazing. I am constantly excited by it. It’s a joy to see what is on the way. Even if there needs to be healthy dose of skepticism applied to things like previews so readers get a true impression of what the game in question actually looks like, E3 is as much about information as it is analysis. It’s a celebration, and negativity can generally wait.
With that said, I can’t stop thinking about the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter announcement that took place at the Sony event on Monday night, and how much it disturbed me.
After years of aborted attempts, a Shenmue sequel may finally be happening. Series creator Yu Suzuki took the stage at Sony’s behest, and announced that he had begun a Kickstarter campaign to bring the game to life. He and his studio Ys Net sought $2 million to “save” Shenmue as he put it.
It turns out that Sony’s offer to allow Suzuki a spot at its showcase was more than just a kindness, it was a deeply cynical business move.
$2 mil seemed a little light for Shenmue, given that Suzuki confirmed that the original cost $47 million, and that was back in 1999. A worthy sequel will require much, much more, and it appears that Sony is planning on funding Shenmue. It hasn’t announced a budget, of course, but it will be well over $2 million.
“So, this [Shenmue III] has been ask for ever since I’ve been at PlayStation,” Sony’s director of third party production Gio Corsi said. “And we met with Suzuki-san at GDC last year and we started the long road to try to figure out how we were going to get this thing made. And we said the only way this is going to happen is if the fans speak up, and we thought Kickstarter was the perfect place to do this.
“So we set a goal for $2 million dollars and if the fans come in and back it, then absolutely we are going to make this a reality,” he added. “Sony and PlayStation are definitely a partner in this game.”
On one hand, it’s great that Shenmue is coming back. Fans have been clamoring for this for years. On the other, Sony is basically asking for $2 million from fans to see if it will then invest enough money to create a game it will then sell you.
The Kickstarter page is also somewhat misleading. It states “With your help, we can #SaveShenmue and rejoin Ryo and our favorite characters on this new adventure!” The campaign isn’t about saving the property, at least not directly. It’s about convincing Sony to spend its money on the game. That essentially means we are paying Sony (or more specifically, SCE) to do its job and make video games.
I see the logic behind it, but this feels like an abuse of crowdfunding.
Opinions on this will vary, but to me crowdfunding has always been a way for a project to find financial support when other means aren’t available, or at least aren’t appealing for whatever reason. It shouldn’t be the testing ground for a multibillion dollar international corporation to save a few bucks on market research.
Crowdfunding should be for projects that simply wouldn’t exist without the support of people. Sure, major properties like the Veronica Mars movie and Double Fine’s Broken Age used it to produce products that could have easily been funded by a major corporation, but they didn’t, and that made the project special. I myself ran a crowdfunding campaign for Dead Beats Panel, and I did it because I wasn’t in a position to seek corporate backing, and even if I was I didn’t want it.
There is a purity to crowdfunding. It gives the project independence. Having a company like Sony – who I still really like – use it in this manner hurts the entire process and sets a bad precedent. What happens when Sony wants to make the next God of War and is confronted with a large budget? Will it hold the property ransom and demand that fans pony up before it even considers putting its own money in? Will fans be forced to pay for a game just so they can pay for it again?
Beyond the questionable ethics of asking fans to contribute to a property Sony should have just invested in to begin with, it also used the crowdfunding campaign as a stunt, an expensive and shady marketing ploy.
Sony has a lot of very smart people using very sophisticated tools to help it determine its future moves. Sure, those prognosticators fail frequently, but it had to know there was enough interest in Shenmue for it to easily earn $2 million. The campaign actually set a world record for speed in which a video game project reached $1 million – it did it in 102 minutes. It passed the $2 mil mark in hours, and is closing in on $3.5 million at the time of this writing.
Maybe I’m overreacting. You can argue that the people that donate $30 or more are actually just pre-buying the game, which is fair, but that assumes Shenmue III will retail for that amount or more. What if it debuts for $19.99, as many digital games do? And is it worth waiting another two and a half years for the proposed December 2017 release? What if Ys Net wants to offer some cool pre-release bonuses? Will contributors get those as well, or is it just to lure in potential gamers?
The biggest question though is what if the game isn’t any good.
It’s one thing to take a chance on a Kickstarter and put down your money on a gamble, but every time I have supported a campaign, I was happy to do so because I felt like I was supporting the project and the company making it. With Shenmue III though, all I would be supporting Sony, a company that does not need my help in the least.
There are more questions too.
Will there be a remastered version of Shenmue and Shenmue II to cash in on the nostalgia and potentially win over new fans? And if so, will fans need to pay Sony first before they consider it?
Part of what I keep coming back to is the website. It would be one thing for Ys Net to just come out and say that it needs money from the public to basically bribe Sony to make the game. It doesn’t though. It says this game can’t be made without the help of fans, and with Sony backing it, that’s just not true.
I played the original Shenmue games and I liked them a bunch. I’m glad that after all these years Shenmue III is on the way, and I’m glad the loyal fans are getting a finale to a story that began in 1999. I don’t blame the fans one bit for rushing to support a project they love.
I just can’t shake the feeling we’re all being used.
Am I out of my mind? Have years of cynical journalism pushed me too far? Let me know in the comments below.