Shenmue 3: The Kickstarter Campaign That Broke Kickstarter, Records, And Maybe Fan Trust?


When Shenmue 3 was announced during E3, the whole world went crazy. Series creator Yu Suzuki was teasing it a day before, but no one really could have expected it given the game’s 13 year hiatus. Less than twelve hours after the Sony show, Shenmue 3 hit its $2 million funding goal. It probably would have taken even less time, but for the first hour or so, the Shenmue announcement actually took down Kickstarter altogether. By the end of Sony’s press event alone, it had already racked up a few hundred thousand dollars in donations. Yesterday, after one month of crowdfunding, the game closed at $6,333,295 of its $2 million initial goal, setting a world record for Kickstarter’s most-funded video game of all time. 

What everyone seems to be forgetting is that the original Shenmue released in 1999 for Dreamcast literally held the Guinness World Record for the most expensive game of all time (at the time) with a production budget of $70M ($99M, if you adjust for inflation).

After the campaign took off, the questions started coming in as to what the historically pricey Shenmue can truly do with 2M, and things became complicated.

In the case of Shenmue 3, it appears that the success of this Kickstarter campaign is being used to underwrite a far larger sum to get the game made. A day after the Kickstarter was launched, Sony openly stated they would be supporting the game in terms of publishing costs.

The important thing to realize is that a lot of crowdfunded games use the initial fan based investment to bankroll the actual game’s budget from private venture capitalists. For Shenmue, the main privately funded budget with Sony will be in the ballpark of $20 million, in addition to the already amassed Kickstarter sum. While studios like CD Projekt RED were able to fund games like Witcher 3 for a similar amount of money, they were entirely self-published. Shenmue 3 will receive most of its budget from a third party, likely with their own ideas on how the game should be made.

While this is not the first Kickstarter to use fan money simply to gauge interest, (Bloodstained, for example, is securing 90% of its funding from outside Kickstarter, with the Kickstarter project being used as a means to confirm there’s loads of fan interest in the game) Shenmue 3 seems particularly dicky. And it’s not just the stretch goals:


Yes, one of their stretch goals was actually a "new Kickstarter [cash] record." I'm speechless.

While the campaign runners did end up catching on to the concept of stretch goals, it took them days to scramble to come up with ideas. At first, the campaign only had a mere few mentions of what they'd do if they surpassed their funding amount.

When asked whether or not Sony should give the greenlight for Shenmue 3, Sony Director of Third Party Relations Gio Corsi had this to say:

“We said the only way this is gonna happen is if the fans speak up. We thought Kickstarter was the perfect place to do this. We set a goal of two million dollars, and if the fans come in and back it, then absolutely we’re going to make this a reality.”

Corsi said Sony’s been mulling Shenmue ever since its “build the list” initiative was started in 2013, in which the company solicited fan requests and tried to turn some of them into a reality.

“Shenmue 3 was the number one requested game on the whole building the list campaign,” said Corsi. “When that first started, right off the bat: Shenmue 3, Shenmue 3, Shenmue 3. This has been asked as long as I’ve been at PlayStation.”

Sony’s involvement is never laid out in the Shenmue 3 page on Kickstarter, nor is the promise of additional money from outside investors. All of which begs the question, if Shenmue 3 was has consistently ranked number one on Sony’s fan list for as long as the Director of Third Party Relations has been with the company, why use the people’s fandom to funnel 6M under the guise of making the game creator’s dream come true? It is also worth noting that only backers who pledged $60 or more may actually get physical copies of the game. What's more, rumor has it that the game may not be available for retail in stores when it is launched in 2017. In other words, the game will be available for download when it is released; however, physical copies of the game have yet to even be confirmed.

If there's one thing we’ve learned about backers over the years, it's that they want an idea of what they're contributing to, and where their money is going.

With Shenmue 3, there are still some doubts despite Yu Suzuki’s confirmation that all campaign proceeds are going directly to the game and not Sony.

In his recent Reddit AMA, Yu Suzuki insisted that they need roughly $10 million to have a fully realized open world. Suzuki was minimal in responding to inquiries as to what the $10M might go towards in addition to his personal ideas for the game. While several journals are heralding the Kickstarter record as one RPG creator’s dream come true, the man seemed to have little thought put into ideas for Shenmue, especially when he’s had 13 years to mull over ideas. Here are a few interesting bits from the Q&A compiled below:

kncrnr: Any possibility of a bicycle finally being added to Shenmue 3? Suzuki: There is a 60 horsepower bike in Shenmue 1. For Shenmue, 3 I was thinking about something with 1 horsepower. RyoHazuki12: Will we see Ryo’s Journal return? Would be cool to be able to flip the pages using the PS4’s touchpad. Suzuki: I would like to bring back the Journal. That is an interesting idea, I will look into it. Thank you. The_Dukkhanator: How accurately will Shenmue 3 be compared to your original vision of the game or will there be major compromises? Suzuki: There are a total of 11 chapters that make up the whole story. Over the past 14 years I originally planned for there to 4 or five games to the series. If at all possible, I would still like to realize the full story of 11 chapters. bejii: Do you have any more details to share about the stretch goals? It’s not clear to me what a “Rapport System” or “Character Perspective System” entails. Suzuki: They are new systems, so naturally they need new names. The Rapport System will govern changes in Shenhua’s actions depending on your conversations with or actions towards her. The “Character Perspective System” will highlight different characters personalities as they go through the story. MagFreakingNeto: Will players have access to both the Japanese and English voice overs for the game? Suzuki: I am thinking about that, yes. However it is not for sure. GuppyBerkley: How much game elements/features will we be missing in the game if the campaign doesn’t reach the $5 million mark? Suzuki: I will say this: if we reach the $5 mil mark, one of the things I really want to do with Shenmue 3 will become a reality. At $10 million, it will truly have the features of an open world. fluidmint: Shenmue 3 is just the start. How successful does the game need to be for us to get Shenmue 4 and so on until the saga is complete? Suzuki: If the fans are not happy with 3 there will not be a 4. So I please hope we can together make this game the best it can be. 2ndOpp: Will the game take advantage of the virtual reality goggles on PS4 and PC? Suzuki: Right now, there are no plans for a vr system compatibility, but I love the idea of using it to peer into the world of Shenmue. shenmue_500k: Will Shenmue 3 have any sort of multiplayer component? Perhaps Co-op or a versus mode? Suzuki: I am thinking about something that would resemble that.

The Shenmue 3 team has your money -- now we just wait for the finished product. As for the 28,871 who backed less than $60 and will wait potentially in vain to receive a physical copy, if the campaign was handled a bit better and was more focused, they may have upped their pledge.

The long-awaited sequel is expected to be released December 2017 for both PlayStation 4 and PC.