Crowdfunding and Shenmue 3: Where We Are and What It Means

A couple years back I wrote an article about how Crowdfunding was increasingly a route for independent developers to use to jump start and create their passion products. I asked the question as to when we would see bigger developers and franchises turn towards crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe to revive beloved franchises that didn’t receive the financial response they needed to secure sequels. Well, that’s happened. The dream is real, and Shenmue 3 is now something that will be made.

qO727H4I could gush on for hours on why I am excited about Shenmue 3, but I won’t. The game’s announcement, however, has some historical importance I believe should be discussed. The game represents a shift in the gaming industry that may change how certain developers gain funds and support for titles. Yu Suzuki tentatively “announced” Shenmue 3 at the Sony E3 conference to gauge support for the game. Obviously support and interest was  there, as the 2 million goal was reached in less than 10 hours.  Once reached, backers (specifically Sony) agreed to contribute support to the game to ensure its development. Not only was it the fastest funded video game project yet, it looks like it may be the highest funded one when it concludes.

Why does this matter to sociology? With games like Shenmue 3, Yooka-Laylee, and the Mighty Number 9, developers have options to create games that may not otherwise  be made. Not only that, but with fans being a major force in backing the game the game really becomes by the fans for the fans. Yu Suzuki has stated that he will involve fans in numerous ways  during the development, including even potentially having major donors be characters or voices inside the game. This form of development creates a unique exchange between developer and fans and links the two more prominently than ever before. In doing so, this relationship between fans and developers creates a community around the game that may lead to a strengthening in development and experience. This community and exchange between developers and fans is a sociologically interesting one because it dramatically changes how we view and interact with the game’s we play.  Games and gaming developers are no longer entities that exist outside of the reach of gamers; we are all now apart of the process.Obviously we’re at the start of this process, but the prospects are quite exciting.

Beyond development, Shenmue 3 proves that a niche crowd in gaming, one that is vocal and proactive enough, can make their desires reality. That’s an important shift in gaming, one that can inspire other passion projects or long awaited sequels to see the light of day.

So, let’s start out on this new journey of an era in which no game’s development is out of the question.



Why Aren’t More Developers Taking Advantage of Crowdfunding?

In recent years the indie video game industry has been revolutionized by the popularization of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Since their popularization, numerous video games have been fully funded through the contribution of fans and gamers. However it hasn’t just been indie developers who have utilized kickstarter and crowdfunding sites, big names in the industry have begun to use these methods to fund their current or future projects. Major examples include Keiji Inafune’s MegaMan-esque F You to Capcom “The Mighty No. 9” and  Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s awesome looking “Broken Age“.

Surplus Crowdfunding Paid for Jack Black and Elijah Wood!

 With such names as Inafune and Schafer jumping on the crowdfunding train to fund their highly anticipated games that otherwise might not see funding, it makes one wonder why other developers haven’t used the method to fund niche or cult classic sequels.

It could be because the results of bigger developers using crowdfunding to fund their projects have yet to show conclusive evidence that the games A) turn out well and B) serve profitable to the company. This is in part due to the fact that Doublefine is amongst the first big development studios to use Kickstarter to fund their project, and Broken Age’s success has yet to be seen.

Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 isn’t MegaMan. He swears!

However, there are numerous big name games out there that would be perfect for the crowdfunding route that it’s a wonder why they haven’t already been put up on Kickstarter already.  I’m not suggesting big studios like Microsoft or Activision use Kickstarter to fund the next Call of Duty game, but studios using crowdfunding to develop cult classic requested games that would otherwise not see funding is seemingly the perfect route. One specific example that comes to mind is Shenmue 3.

When the original Shenmue was released for the Sega Dreamcast it was the most expensive game ever to be developed. The game had a remarkable $70 million development budget, meaning that to turn a profit for Sega every Dreamcast owner had to have bought the game twice. Needless to say, the game had disappointing sales due to Dreamcast’s own poor sales despite being rated one of the Dreamcast’s best games and one of the consoles 4 best selling games. The game secured a sequel, if only because both games were developed side by side, but creator Yu Suzuki had planned the game’s story to go on for several titles. The development of the series ended with 2, only to leave fans with questions and an unresolved storyline. For over a decade (’s been that long) fans have been calling for a third title only to have to continue to wait.  Shenmue is amongst the greatest examples of a title that would be perfect for crowdfunding, as the support and fandom is there.  Creator Yu Suzuki has acknowledged that Kickstarter would be perfect for the title, but nothing has been announced as of yet. This could be due to Sega not wanting to relinquish the rights, the enormous amount that it would cost to make an acceptable sequel, or any number of reasons. However, there is still hope for Shenmue fans; at this 2014’s Game Developer’s Conference Yu Suzuki is holding a Postmortem discussion on the franchise with Mark Cerny, Game designer and lead architect behind the PS4, translating and leading the discussion for fans. While fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for an announcement of 3, it is great to know that the franchise is still on the mind on developers and its creator.

Who knows if we’ll see bigger developers turn to Kickstarter to fund their games, and many may argue that they perhaps they shouldn’t. Regardless, Crowdfunding is a important shift in the video game industry, one that proves particularly interesting for those interested in the social aspect behind video games.  This shift towards crowdfunding means that video games no longer have to be only a consumer good. With fans getting involved and even funding the backing for these games they become a  much greater part  in the development of their favorite titles. Funded by the people, for the people…..That sounds lame.

What titles or developers would you like to see have the crowdfunding treatment? If you have an opinion please feel free to drop a line in the comment section.

Check out the GDC page for the Postmortem Disussion