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An Analysis of the Toxicity in the Shenmue III Campaign

Sony Shenmue III Kickstarter

The honeymoon phase for all things E3 is beginning to wane. The luster of the shiny new trailers for Kingdom Hearts 3, Gears of War 4, Recore and the Final Fantasy 7 remake are “yesterday's news” and the tide immediately turned against the parties responsible for the absence of a few expected games and failing to provide fans with definitive release dates. Sony is bearing the brunt of this criticism.

Sony's role in allowing The Last Guardian to skip the entirety of 2015 beyond a solitary gameplay video or promising a Final Fantasy 7 remake from a company that is seemingly unreliable is not sparking complaints. The source of contention is Shenmue III's use of a Kickstarter campaign. Articles like this one cropped up and while some sought answers to a few lingering questions, the bulk served the sole purpose of blasting the campaign.

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We all should know at this point that video games are expensive to create. The Shenmue franchise, in particular, is famous for its history of spiraling costs and lengthy production time. Shenmue may have sold over a million copies, but the game still failed to cover expenses. Sony mentioned that the Kickstarter campaign's primary purpose was to “gauge interest,” but in reality the campaign served a much more defined goal: help secure financing.


Controversy for Controversy's Sake


Sony's highlight of Yu Suzuki's plea to fans for project funding definitely attributed to the misconception that Sony sought the funds, but it was made abundantly clear the destination for the Kickstarter funds. Of course, it wouldn't have been the first time a Fortune 500 company had its own intellectual property on the service for in-house funding, after all.
Poor communication with the phrases “gauge interest” and “testing ground,” which so many complaints have latched onto, has led to a colossal misunderstanding. This Kickstarter Campaign may have been featured at Sony's E3 conference, but one thing should be absolutely clear: Sony is not the one asking for the money from fans, YS Net is asking fans to help prove that this game has a place in the market. This is called providing a “proof of concept,” a common business practice when attempting to secure an outside investor for a product.

Investors need reassurance that the goods in which they are investing can turn a profit and, unfortunately, history can say a lot more than an amorphous fan base whose support may or may not materialize. The source of the outside funding may not be clear, but Sony has explicitly stated that they will be partners going forward. Sony does not own the license. Sony does not own the developer. The absence of any real Shenmue talk beyond YS Net hope to obtain the rights to the franchise from SEGA makes it reasonable to tag Sony as the third party investor who will float a bit of YS Net's bill until this project's completion in exchange for some sort of exclusivity deal, repayment and or royalty.

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The new stretch goals are also being met with a similar level of scrutiny as those who are seeking to create controversy are falsely equating the campaign to a scam. Yu Suzuki met the initial goal within the first day. The campaign received some new stretch goals as they closed in on $3 Million, including a top tier for the creation of a true open world experience.

Suzuki may know where the base funding will originate now that the initial goal has been met, but more money allows him the same benefits as any other developer on the service. He can potentially secure even more financing for scale or simply be used to run the company to help mitigate the amount needed to borrow. The vocal minority is using these goals and equating the increase in Kickstarter funds being requested as money that Sony is "saving." This would make sense... if the company intended on just handing YS Net money free and clear regardless of the amount needed. They do not. Yu Suzuki had even mentioned seeking more outside investors for the project's completion. In fact, the more money that YS Net raises in pre-production will ultimately lessen the amount needed to borrow and interest to be repaid.

One of the most common complaints about this campaign centers around Sony's financial standing and the perceived reluctance to fully finance the project. This is one area that the vocal minority should take a step back and truly survey the situation. YS Net is a relatively new studio whose output these last four years have been mobile gaming. The head of the studio could not secure funding through the license holder, a company for which he worked the last 26 years. The loan would be used for an aged franchise that, while reaching a healthy volume, failed to break even all those years ago. As a publicly traded company, would you have issued a loan to this studio? No, you wouldn't. The bulk of complaints being levied originate from a general lack of understanding for standard business practices.

How do you feel about YS Net's plea for funding? Does it coincide with the spirit of the service being used?


2 Comments

Great write-up, John. I wasn't even aware that YS Net only worked on mobile games before this, so that definitely calls into question their talent for working on a huge project like Shenmue III. Plus Suzuki and dat spotty record as far as huge budgets go...

I feel don't feel like using Kickstarter for gauging interest or creating some sort of testing ground is an appropriate use of the service. Much in the same way people bemoan prepurchasing or preodering games as something that is allowing developers to cheat consumers by dangling preoder bonuses in front of a hungry fanbase, the use of Kickstarter in this way is highly anti-consumer and this only opens the door for more to do the same. How are you going to feel if in five years third party studios don't even make games until they come to a publisher with $X million in crowdfunding dollars already in hand? Cause the success of this kickstarter is saying two things: People want Shenmue, and it's ok to do this.

 

I've never liked Kickstarter, but there was promise in the fact that certain games could see the light of day that might otherwise never would have. I don't feel like that is the majority of what is happening anymore. It still happens, sure, but the line in the sand keeps moving farther and farther away from the backer and that is not ok. Look at Red Ash... that kickstarter is only for the prologue, and it's explicitly stated that even that won't be complete until certain stretch goals are met. That could easily become the norm if it succeeds. 

 

I think it's just gnarly man, even if Sony isn't getting any of this money. It's the sheer thought that they would only approach this project if Yu could come to them with cash in hand. Calling it a proof of concept might be a way for them to cover their own asses, sure, but that money is coming out of the pockets of a fanbase desperate for this game. And let's be fair, if Sony was already talking to Yu Suzuki about this, there's very little chance they hadn't already decided to move forward with it. All those shiny Kickstarter dollars only help to put some minds at ease and generate free money for a game that would likely have been made regardless. 

 

Mark my words, Kickstarter is going to ruin the way games are made if they don't introduce some sort of policy changes (though I don't see how they could feasibly enforce them) and this is allowed to become the norm.

 

 

 

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