Shenmue Is The Waterworld Of Videogames (The Jimquisition)


– I’m wearing my Jagi helmet today off “Fist of the North Star” that time because wearing a wacky
costume is a substitute for having an appealing personality. Let’s see if I can wear my hat with it. No. ♪ Born different ♪ ♪ Born innocent ♪ ♪ Born perfect ♪ ♪ I’m not like you, I’m a ♪ ♪ Born lover ♪ – I see. – To be honest, I’m
just wearing the helmet ’cause I can’t be bothered to wash all the dirt and chocolate off my face. Anyway, I played that there
“Shenmue III” this week, for a bit, and before
we talk about Shenmue and its history as a
product in today’s episode, and we take that quite seriously, I’ve gotta ask about “Shenmue III”. Is that serious? Like, it’s not a joke, is it? ‘Cause I’m worried it might be a joke that only Shenmue fans
get and people like me, who play it and try and take it seriously, are not in on a goof and
so we get egg on our faces amongst all the dirt and chocolate. It’s just, like, $59.99
is a lot for what that is, that already seems like a bit of a giggle that director Yu Suzuki is having. But then I started playing it and saw how plasticky it looked, how robotic the animations appeared to be, the fuck-awful dialogue and the equally fuck-awful voice acting. After all these years, Ryo
is still a gormless prick who says, “I see,” in response to absolutely fuckin’ everything? It hasn’t progressed at all! Is it a parody? Is “Shenmue III” a parody of Shenmue and video games in general? Genuine question, is it a fuckin’ joke? – What do you want? – I’m looking for someone named Yuan. – No, I haven’t. – [Jim] Shenmue has always been a failure.
– I see. – [Jim] That’s not an opinion, friends, that’s just a grimly
objective fact of life. In this world there are niche games that have a distinct audience and tailor themselves
perfectly toward said audience with appropriate budgets
and targeted marketing. And then there are niche games that don’t appreciate
quite how niche they are and become massive fucking wastes of cash. I’m sorry to say that
Shenmue as a series inhabits the latter category.
– I see. – [Jim] “Shenmue III”, the
long-awaited continuation of Ryo Hazuki’s Dreamcast-born story is finally out on store shelves, but there’s a very good
chance you might’ve known that due to the game’s lackluster
at best marketing. It appears to have released
with about as much fanfare as a little wet fart.
(farting) There have been mixed
reviews, but outside of those not a lot of press has been generated by Ys Net’s crowdfunded sequel, certainly not what you’d expect of a game that was announced with
massive amounts of hype and shock from a stunned
E3 viewership in 2015. Despite millions of
dollars in crowdfunding, years of anticipation from fans, and plenty of headline news over time, “Shenmue III” finally released and, well, that was kind of it. It just sort of pottered it’s
way out there and that’s that. It would appear that sales
data is trending accurately with the lack of widespread interest in “Shenmue III’s” release. It was recently revealed
that the game’s performance in Japan, where one might
expect to see it most succeed, has been pretty fucking atrocious. The PS4 version did, for
example, shift 17,857 copies and had the worst opening
for a Shenmue game in terms of sales,
performing worse than even the remasters of “Shenmue
I & II” released last year. This is despite it being the best-selling PS4 game in its launch week,
which can perhaps be credited to a bit of a dry console week overall. “Shenmue III” also failed to
break into the UK top 10 charts debuting instead at a humble 17. This is not what one
would ordinarily expect of a game so anticipated and clamored for. People on Reddit and
elsewhere have been debating about the reason for this
disappointing showing. Some have speculated that it was all down to mediocre marketing efforts, others have pinned it on the revelation that “Shenmue III” was not
the narrative conclusion fans have been waiting for since 2001, instead ending on yet another
cliffhanger with no indication it won’t be another 18
years before a next chapter, still others have blamed
the controversy surrounding “Shenmue III’s” Epic
Store exclusivity deal, suggesting it soured enough
customers to tank sales. An unlikely idea. More likely is the speculation that a game with a cult following
didn’t sell very well because the vast majority
of the people who wanted it already secured their copy when they crowdfunded the thing four years ago. And here’s where that grimly
objective fact comes in. Historically, Shenmue has always been a failure.
– I see. – [Jim] In fact, one could even call it the “Waterworld” of video games. That is not a particularly
controversial statement to anyone but the game’s most blinkered fans. It certainly isn’t an untrue statement, it’s just data at the end of the day. – [Ryo] Do you know of a
place where sailors hang out? – Sailors? I see them at night. – [Jim] Look, the original
“Shenmue” is adored by its fans even today for some reason and for its time it was most definitely a groundbreaking game of
unmatched scale and ambition. Its large size, cavalcade
of distracting mini games, and innovative schedule-based gameplay turned a lotta heads in 1999, and while I think the game has always been an unforgivably ponderous time waster, it was still critically acclaimed and earned a dedicated fan base. It was also a massive fucking flop. An expensive massive fucking flop. While it earned 1.2 million sales and became the Dreamcast’s
fourth best-selling game, what is it about Shenmue
and being the fourth best? The sheer expense of its production meant whatever success it achieved could not outweigh how much
it cost Sega to produce. “Shenmue” could not have launched
at a worse time for Sega, putting a cap on years
of financial decline and failed hardware. I mean, through the lens
of hardware history, being the Dreamcast’s
fourth best-selling game isn’t all that laudable
considering its brief lifespan and lack of third-party interest. Fact was, however well
it may’ve performed, it dealt a devastating
financial blow to the company. A major problem was that Yu
Suzuki was hot shit at the time, riding high off the success of such games as “Virtua Fighter”, “Out
Run”, and “Daytona USA”. His superstar status
as an arcade moneymaker allowed him the clout to
secure a massive budget and create the masterpiece of his dreams. Unfortunately, when a developer is given the keys to the money vault, there’s a risk that more
than cash will get taken. Piss is what could get taken. As in Yu Suzuki took the fucking piss. Now, I’m all for developers making the games they want to make, but not every developer
is a business person, and even I, someone who
rails against corporations all the bloody time, even I know that you can’t just keep
spending and spending without worrying about whether
you’ll make any money back. Not all the money in the world, like these AAA publishers
are obsessed with, but you’ve got to at least not lose a ton of money on the project! When you look at what went into the game, at the time the word extravagant could be the most applicable descriptor, and not even that does justice to the, well, the extravagance of it all. The game boasted 1,200 rooms
and over 300 characters with their own unique personalities, luxuries of the time such
as real-time cutscenes and motion capture, and
English voice acting that, at Suzuki’s command,
had to be recorded in Japan rather than, you know, studios local to the localized actors. Of the game’s excesses,
localizer Jeremy Blaustein said, “Suzuki was coming off of past
successes and he was the man. “And so this was going to be the thing “and everyone wanted a piece
of that $70 million, you know? “And, of course, that’s like
the worst thing you could do, “is to start out a project saying, “‘We’ve got all this money’, “and then just keep
throwing more money at it.” While that $70 million
figure has been stated to be Shenmue’s overall development costs, Suzuki claims it was closer to 47 million. Whichever figure is more accurate, however, is a largely immaterial. Either way, “Shenmue” was, for its time, the most expensive game ever made. It stands as a testament to
hubris, the auteur’s folly, what happens when a
self-indulgent director is allowed to stuff their
whims into a project with nobody telling them no. Kind of like Hideo Kojima, except Kojima’s games tend to make money. So massive was the failure
some have even attributed it, in part, to Sega’s exit
from the hardware market. But Sega was nothing if not a stupidly short-sighted company at the time and it had already greenlit a sequel which was being partially developed alongside the original “Shenmue”. With a much of the
groundwork being laid out thanks to tandem development, “Shenmue II’s” budget was
considered far more reasonable and Sega likely hoped its
completion and subsequent release in 2001 could recuperate the
original’s significant losses. It didn’t. By 2003, “Shenmue II” was reported to have sold 100,000 copies on Dreamcast, a mere 10th of the original’s figures. In the US, Microsoft had
signed an exclusivity deal for “Shenmue II” on
Xbox, and while figures don’t seem readily available,
it sold reportedly poorly due to a combination of the
Xbox’s high price at the time, poor marketing, and a
lack of Western interest in the game overall. It didn’t help that the Xbox version was criticized for being a bad port and wasn’t considered a
visually impressive game among the system’s other
high-profile titles. Basically, Shenmue’s a flop, an unapologetic money vacuum of a flopper that, despite this, Yu
Suzuki’s grand vision for the Shenmue series
has barely scaled back. The first Shenmue was at one point going to contain 16
chapters worth of story, but its final state only
covered one of them. That story has become 11 chapters intended to have been realized over the
course of four or five games. Unfortunately, “Shenmue III”
entered a development hell from which it couldn’t escape
over the 10-year period following “Shenmue II’s” release up to Yu Suzuki’s
departure from Sega in 2011 to focus on his own studio Ys Net. Between these two events, “Shenmue Online” was announced in 2004 and was seemingly pretty troubled, too. Originally a joint
project between Sega Japan and JC Entertainment, JC
withdrew from development roughly a year after announcement, taking 50% of the “Shenmue
Online” rights with it. Despite this, Yu Suzuki promised
the game would be released and that the project was
well on its way to completion while hitting all its goals. As of 2019, “Shenmue Online”
has not been released. It’s worth noting that before “Shenmue III’s” eventual announcement, Ys Net has not exactly
been a prolific developer. In 2010, while Suzuki was still with Sega, Ys Net developed “Shenmue
City”, a game for mobile and PC that ultimately never made it to PC. “Shenmue City” was intended to capitalize on the enormous success of
the casual game “Mafia Wars”, with Suzuki reasoning
that if they could emulate “Mafia Wars'” traction,
that could be leveraged to make another large-scale Shenmue game. Yeah, “Shenmue City” was
launched in December 2010 and shut down in December 2011. (farting) In the time since, Ys
Net has mostly focused on small-scale mobile
games and Suzuki’s role as a director has been
far from earth-shattering. So far, he’s directed “Virtua
Fighter: Cool Champ” in 2011, “Bullet Pirates” in 2013, and “Virtua Fighter: Fever Combo” in 2014, all for mobile platforms. If you’re wondering exactly why “Shenmue III” looks so
dated, plays so archaically, and generally doesn’t
appear to have taken lessons from any gameplay advancements
in the almost two decades since “Shenmue II’s” release, well, the reason might be that Yu Suzuki literally hasn’t learned
anything from modern games due to a complete lack of experience. In terms of larger-scale
games for PC and console, Suzuki is are literally picking
up right where he left off. Nonetheless, this didn’t
deter him from taking stage during Sony’s E3 2015 press conference with impressive amounts of gall to ask, during a major platform holder’s show and already with its financial backing, for some of that sweet crowdfunding cash. And boy, oh boy, did Suzuki get it! Soon after announcement,
“Shenmue III” became the fastest Kickstarter
project to reach $1 million, doing so within one hour and 44 minutes. By the time the Kickstarter
campaign wrapped up it had accrued 69,000 backers, nice, to the tune of $6.3 million. Ys Net, however, did not stop there, pursuing further public backing with PayPal donations for even more cash. Ys Net, however, did
not stop there either, moving onto Chinese
crowdfunding platform Alipay to make more cash on top of the more cash on top of the cash. By September of 2018,
“Shenmue III” had reached a final crowdfunded figure of $7,179,510 contributed by 81,087 people. On top of that, however, “Shenmue III” was drawing in money from
a number of companies. As previously noted, Sony itself was lending financial
support to its development alongside Monaco-based
entertainment company Shibuya Productions, Sega was also reportedly helping out, too. In 2017, the game had acquired
a publisher in Deep Silver, lending even more additional
support for its development. However, the most controversial
source of additional funding was, by far, Epic Games. Most of you are well aware
of the shitstorm by now. The Epic Games Store
has been a major source of resentment for many PC users and Epic’s practice of using its fortune to secure exclusive details for its store and starve the market so
competitors like Steam and GOG miss out on new releases
has come under fire, often on this show for
being a shining example of how a ca-triple-apitalism
gives those with the most money total liberty to kill their competition without being truly competitive. How free this market is! A ton of studios regularly come under fire for taking an exclusivity deal, sometimes deservedly, sometimes not, and Ys Net was broadly
torn into by the community for broken promises such as explicitly-pledged
Steam codes for backers. The controversy is well documented, but what’s most pertinent
from this discussion is the lucrativity of the Epic deal. In addition to a better revenue split, Epic will throw a ton of money
at you for that exclusivity. Basically, on top of
millions in crowdfunding, on top of support from Sony, on top of support from
Shibuya Productions, on top of support from Sega, on top of support from Deep Silver, Ys Net was taking yet more
money for “Shenmue III”. – I see.
– And the end result was a game that appears
to have learned nothing in the 18 years since
its predecessor came out, with visuals to match. Meanwhile, Yu Suzuki’s
ambition has not abated. As each infusion of new cash came in, his plans only got bigger. One of the game’s first delays was a push back to a late 2018 release, and when that happened, Suzuki
said that new technologies allowed him to, “Make the game bigger “and more beautiful than
initially expected.” When Deep Silver came
aboard, Suzuki said he could, “Make the game with a larger scale “featuring open-world elements.” (gentle music)
(cows mooing) Nevermind “Shenmue III” having
learned nothing as a game, it would appear Yu Suzuki
has not learned anything as a budget-constrained developer either. This has been a problem with a
lotta crowdfunded developers. They are not business people,
so as they make more money their ambitions get
bigger, they lose sight of what they can actually
realistically do. “Shenmue” sold 1.2
million on the Dreamcast for it’s 1999 Japan release
and 2000 Western release. That is not unimpressive. In fact, for the time, it’s damn good and would, by reasonable
metrics, have been a success had Suzuki’s project not gotten so bloated and indulgent and decadent. However, for all its innovation,
for all it’s broken ground, for all its inspiration for future games, it did not retain a large fan base. It had a dedicated fan
base but not a large one. “Shenmue II” couldn’t come close to matching its predecessor’s sales, suggesting that perhaps all that opulent, self-satisfying,
critically-acclaimed game design and associated disrespect
of the player’s time due to what can diplomatically
be called developer wank, has done little to curry lasting
favor with initial buyers. I mean, how many people would
realistically play a game where you spend hours waiting
around for shops to open before the story can progress and love that enough to ask for more? About a 10th of them, apparently. Shenmue as a series has asked
for all this cash and simply hasn’t produced an audience
big enough to justify it, refusing to scale back
in the face of reality. Almost impressive, were it not so deluded. In any case, the audience
for Shenmue is not big and hasn’t appeared to
have grown one iota. Shenmue hasn’t been big since the original and as the years passed its name has only slipped further into obscurity, and a failed mobile game and
unfinished MMO didn’t help. The remastered releases of 2018
probably didn’t help either, showing just how dated the whole thing is, especially when you consider
that filling Shenmue’s void all this time has been the Yakuza series, a series that does everything Shenmue did but better and more successfully. Yakuza is better in every goddamn way and going back to
Shenmue in the wake of it only exposes how ancient and
creaking and obsolete it is. Yet “Shenmue III” didn’t
take any cues from Yakuza, it took its cues from “Shenmue”. Great for Shenmue’s fan base,
and Shenmue’s fan base only, Shenmue’s zealous but
ultimately tiny fan base. If anything, it’s almost impressive that the Shenmue series still
has the rabid fan base it has, but we all have to be honest here, Shenmue is a money vacuum. It sucks up vast amounts
of money and as it does so, the ambitions of its
director only explodes and get more wild and
the end result is a game that not all that many
really give a fuck about. I understand there are those that do, I understand that Yu Suzuki
has this massive vision of a great long winding story, but given Shenmue history as a game, maybe Suzuki should just
write a fuckin’ book. – [Ryo] I’m trying to locate some sailors. – [Jim] None of this is
to say that “Shenmue III” will definitely turn out to be a disaster, maybe it will break
the “Waterworld” curse, or at least break even. Maybe, thanks to crowdfunding, it truly doesn’t need
many sales to succeed. In an ideal scenario, that’s
exactly how it should work. You make a niche game, it’s crowdfunded by the niche audience, it’s supply and demand
working in its purest form. But the amount of extra
financial involvement definitely complicates the whole thing and we’ll have to wait for
history to show whether or not “Shenmue III” has continued
the series tradition of dragging coin into a black hole. I will say that, given
the series dogged past and never certain future, it
was narratively irresponsible to not give the game a conclusive payoff. Though, in a way, you have to admire that level of confidence,
bordering on arrogance. Yu Suzuki is certain that his
masterpiece will be complete and it’s hard to fault him that. Also, none of this video
is rooted in bitterness that Shenmue fans got a third installment of their terrible game series and I never even got a
second “Gitaroo Man”. Not in the fuckin’ slightest. – I see. – Hi, do you know of a place
where sailors hang out? Ha ha ha, that is a
reference to “Shenmue”, that is good, isn’t it? Anyway, I don’t begrudge Yu
Suzuki for following his dream, and despite the fact that he
keeps asking for so much money, and he’s very good at
spending other people’s money, I don’t think he’s a grifter! I don’t think there’s
anything shady there, I just think he is very adept at spending other people’s money, and it is very easy to
have big dreams and ideas when it is another bank
account that’s open to you. But we do all have to appreciate the fact that despite Shenmue being
one of the most requested game returns of all time,
being one of the fastest Kickstarter projects to
reach a million dollars, despite the records it broke
and the ground it broke, most people just don’t give a shit! And while I’ve been snarky
and sarcastic about it, I understand. I appreciate it, I empathize, I sympathize with it, I identify with it because, despite how brilliant I am, despite how groundbreaking I am, despite how successfully
crowdfunded this show is, no one really gives a shit! (somber piano music) Thank God for me.

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