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How to make Shenmue on a budget

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

When Shenmue 3 launched on Kickstarter yesterday, fans freaked out, thrilled that the game they’d wanted for more than 10 years could finally happen.

As the dust settled, though, many started to question the project’s target budget. The Kickstarter page lists a goal of $2 million, which the campaign has already passed. But Shenmue 1 and 2 were famously expensive games to make — some of the most expensive of their time. In a past interview with Polygon, director Yu Suzuki called Shenmue 1 a "company project" for Sega, meaning that his bosses essentially gave him a blank check to create something that would help make the Dreamcast stand out. During a Game Developers Conference panel in 2011, Suzuki pegged its budget in retrospect at $47 million.

Shenmue 3

So the question became, how could Suzuki make a third installment on a budget 20 times less than that of the original — or even less accounting for inflation? Not that it’s an entirely fair question, because Suzuki never said there wasn’t non-Kickstarter funding backing him up. But by declining to mention specifics about external funding, he left a lot unclear about how substantial the game will be. And by presenting the game as a proper sequel, he left questions open that he could be selling a game that may be smaller in scope than he’s leading people to believe.

All of which is to say, we don’t know. And in an interview with Polygon at E3 yesterday, Suzuki clarified some of the concerns, and left others intentionally open.

"The important thing for Shenmue 3 is to bring back those fond memories that everybody had of 1 and 2."

To start, Suzuki confirmed that his company Ys Net has lined up non-Kickstarter funding sources, but he wouldn’t say who they are or how much they are providing. Though Sony mentioned earlier in the day that it would help Ys Net with development, Suzuki wouldn’t speak to specifics of that partnership or even confirm Sony’s involvement. There’s not a lot of precedent for a team to reveal where non-Kickstarter funding comes from — Republique and Bloodstained both said they have outside funding without naming names or saying how much. Yet it feels like a bigger deal here because of the pitched scope of the game, and it leaves questions open about the the game’s scale.

To that point, Suzuki said he conceptualized the game in such a way that it’s scalable to different budgets. At the lower end of the spectrum, the game will focus more on its story, and at the upper end it will incorporate more open world elements. There will also be Kickstarter stretch goals along the way pointing to more specific features. And Suzuki said he will be bringing in various side activities and minigames similar to what players saw in Shenmue 2.

"The important thing for Shenmue 3 is to bring back those fond memories that everybody had of 1 and 2, like for example the setting of 1986 Yokosuka — bringing back those memories and the nostalgic feel," he said.


Suzuki further pointed out that he is using Unreal Engine 4 and will be making the game for PlayStation 4 and PC, so things that were expensive to make in the old days back before much of the technology had been invented aren’t as expensive any more. Making an open world game, for instance, used to be unique, and now many franchises have moved in that direction, making it easier to follow in their footsteps. Though Suzuki said that despite the evolution of open world game design since Shenmue 1 and 2 shipped, he doesn’t have any plans to alter the way Shenmue 3 will play to keep up with the times, aiming for a feel similar to the original games.

Asked if he expects the game’s final budget to be comparable to those of previous Shenmue games, Suzuki said he hopes it will be. Without knowing the amount of investment put in outside of Kickstarter, it’s hard to know how realistic that may be. But as of this writing on the Kickstarter campaign’s second day, it has almost crossed the $3 million mark, so Suzuki may be on his way.

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