Sony gave a significant portion of its E3 press conference to the announcement that Shenmue 3 is going into production ... as long as fans were OK with providing $2 million via Kickstarter.
The campaign was funded in a number of hours, and Shenmue 3 will likely become one of, if not the, most funded games in Kickstarter's history. It's clear the fans are behind the project, and Sony is happy to bring the final product to the PlayStation 4 upon completion; the company is even contributing to the development of the game.
Which is part of my problem with this project: The fans are being asked to "fund" the game, but we have no clue what the actual budget of the game will be, nor where the funds will ultimately come from.
More questions than answers
We're being asked to jumpstart a project whose scope we don't really know, with business considerations we're being told won't be discussed. This is different from Kickstarters like Bloodstained obfuscating the true cost of the game a bit; that campaign was upfront and transparent about other sources of funding and the budget of the game.
Shenmue 3 is much more of a mystery, and the people behind it don't want that to change that any time soon.
"For right now, all I can tell you is that YS Net has been looking at other sources of funding and we're preparing other sources of funding, so for the Shenmue 3 project it will be what we can source from outside plus the Kickstarter," Yu Suzuki told Polygon when asked about the budget. "But for right now that's all we can say."
We asked how dependent the project is on these outside sources of funds, and were again shut down.
"I really can't get into that, but there are other sources of funding that will be put together with the Kickstarter. ... I can't get into specifics, but for right now I just want to keep the comment that yes, I have funding sources outside Kickstarter that I collected through my company YS Net, and that will combine with the Kickstarter for this project."
"So I'm asking for everybody's help to help make this game"
When we asked whether Sony was providing any funding for the project, we were told that no further questions would be answered on this topic.
Suzuki did say he hopes the budget will be similar to past Shenmue games. During a 2011 Game Developers Conference presentation, he said the original Shenmue cost $47 million to make. If the budgets are similar, and if the Kickstarter had "only" raised the $2 million asking price, that would leave $45 million unaccounted for.
The team makes a lot of good arguments about the changes in game development; by using Unreal Engine 4 and the much-improved middleware of the modern industry, the cost and time of production should be decreased dramatically. But not enough to turn a $47 million game into a $2 million game.
It's not an issue that the team is seeking outside funding; there have been many Kickstarters that combined the money raised through the service with internal and external funding to create great products.
If this is what it takes to get Shenmue 3 made, so be it; I'd rather live in a world where Shenmue 3 has a chance of being released than it being a dead project. But by not mentioning these details at all while asking fans for literally millions of dollars for a project with so much secrecy in terms of budget and funding? The whole thing begins to look a bit shaky.
We have no idea of the true cost and investment partners behind this project. Shenmue 3 is already hilariously over its goal, although we don't know how close the project is to getting the money needed to finish the project, nor will they comment on how closely Sony is involved. This is an emotional appeal to "save Shenmue" by backing the campaign for millions of dollars, but the follow-up to concerns about where the money is coming from is 'stop asking questions.'
"At $2 million, it was going to be a story-oriented game, but still fun to play and [something] that people would be satisfied with. But within this 24 hours, we're already over the goal, and so we're going to head into the stretch goals," Suzuki told Polygon.
"And you know, we believe that as we go along, I believe it's going to be a very interesting game. But as an open-world game, the more we collect, the more we get funded, the better the game will be. So I'm asking for everybody's help to help make this game so we can make it the best it can be," he continued.
If you don't give, it won't be as good. Just don't ask who else is writing a check.