OPINION: Nick Cowen wonders what's next for Shenmue 3 now that the Kickstarter is over and the money’s in the bank.
If you were to have told any player interested in the Shenmue series that, finally, a long-awaited sequel would be in the pipeline just a month after E3, they’d have looked at you cock-eyed. This is understandable; fans have been waiting for a follow up to Yu Suzuki’s Kung-Fu RPG epic for around fifteen years and, unlike the lamentable Duke Nukem Forever, which took about that long to arrive, it’s not like Shenmue 3 has actually been in development all that time.
That changed at the weekend when the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter campaign wrapped up, bagging around $6.3 million (£4.1 million) from around 70,000 backers – making it the most highly funded game on the crowd-funding platform. Incidentally, that’s the second record Shenmue 3 broke on Kickstarter; when its campaign was announced at Sony’s E3 keynote last month, backers poured over $1 million into it in just two hours after it went live.
So Shenmue 3 now has its funding. It has well over the $2 million the developers initially asked for but slightly below the $10 million Suzuki says the project will need to ‘truly have the features of an open world’. Still, $6.3 million is a nice starting amount and certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
But what happens now? We still have five big questions that need to be answered about Shenmue 3.
1. Who will be developing it?
As one would expect, Yu Suzuki is helming the development as Creative Director, but he’s also taken steps to recruit personnel that worked on the original games. To that end, he’s brought Takeshi Hirai (the head programmer on the original Shenmue game) and Kenji Miyawaki (the series’ original character designer) on board.
According to the game’s Wikipedia page, voice actors Masaya Matsukaze and Corey Marshall – who provided the Japanese and English voices respectively for the game’s protagonist, Ryo – have been tapped up to provide their talents once again.
The main studio in charge of the game’s development, according to the Guardian, is neilo, the studio founded in part by Hirai. Wikipedia also says Suzuki’s studio, YS Net is involved in Shenmue 3’s development. But that's not exactly a complete answer now is it?
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2. Will $6.3 million be enough to make Shenmue 3?
It’s doubtful that the money raised on Kickstarter – while it’s more than most of us will see in our lives – will cover the entire cost of Shenmue 3’s development. Leaving aside the fact that game development costs can run into the 10s – and sometimes the 100s – of millions, $6.3 million is a paltry sum compared to the amount it cost to pump out the last Shenmue game, which was $47 million. At the time it made it one of the most expensive games ever created.
Suzuki has also said that the money raised falls short of amount it would require him and his team to create a game that ‘truly [has] the features of an open world’.
In an industry where development costs have ballooned to the point where a major new IP like Destiny can command a $500 million budget (which includes development and marketing), $6.3 million doesn’t look anywhere near big enough to create a sequel to Shenmue 3.
It’s more probable that the Kickstarter campaign was held to gauge the market’s interest.
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3. How much is Sony actually going to be involved?
Its was pretty much taken as a given that Sony would be involved in the creation of Shenmue 3 once the Kickstarter for the game was announced at its E3 Keynote. But the in the immediate aftermath, it wasn’t too clear what its involvement would be exactly.
Sony initially caught some flack once the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter went live, with some individuals accusing the PS4 platform holder of helping itself to the funds. However, co-producer Cedric Biskay took to Twitter to clear up this misconception and revealed that Sony would be helping fund the PS4 version and would also help with the game’s promotion.
“Sony will not get any money from the KS, they will help to finance the PS4 version and will also help for advertisement,” he tweeted.
Kotaku picked up a quote from Corsi stating that Sony was definitely partnered with Suzuki and his team in making Shenmue 3 a reality.
“Sony and PlayStation is definitely a partner in this game and it’s going to be run through third-party production,” he said. “ We’re going to help Ys Net (Suzuki’s Studio) get the game done, we’re going to be partners on it the whole way, and really excited to see this thing come out in a couple of years.”
It’s not clear at this stage how much funding Sony will contribute to the game’s development costs, but on the interest generated on the Kickstarter campaign alone, neither Suzuki nor Sony should have too much trouble attracting more investors.
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4. What will Shenmue 3 look like?
Given the fact that Suzuki has recruited veterans of the franchise as the core members of his development team, it’s likely that Shenmue 3 will retain a lot of the visual aesthetic of its predecessors. Suzuki is also reportedly looking at the Unreal Engine 4 for the game.
In terms of its structure, there are reports that Suzuki is looking to create a smaller world with a greater depth than Shenmue 2. Whether that means players will have more to do in terms of mini-games or side quests is unknown at this stage. It’s also unknown as to whether Shenmue 3 will be a true open world game or whether it’ll simply give players the illusion of an open world – like its predecessor did.
What we do know is that, plot-wise, Shenmue 3 is slated to be a direct continuation of the events in Shenmue 2. If you’ve never played any of the Shenmue games before, don’t worry, because thanks to the Kickstarter hitting one of its goals, Shenmue 3 will contain cinematics that show the game’s back story.
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5. When is the game coming out?
The planned release date for Shenmue 3 is December of 2017 on the PC and PS4– although Suzuki says he’s of a mind to develop it for more platforms in the future. Whether or not the developers will make that deadline remains to be seen, but if Sony’s on board with more aid than just cash injections and marketing, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Shenmue 3 could arrive in two year’s time at Christmas.