Sony's Runaway 'Shenmue 3' Kickstarter Is a Brilliant Way to Focus Group

Ensuring their gamble wasn't a gamble at all.

This year, Sony entered E3 2015 prepared for battle, and it used the strongest asset any game company could ever have games that gamers want.

And in case Sony had any doubts as to what would land well, it went ahead and asked fans to vote with their wallets.

Shortly after announcing the long-awaited The Last Guardian and the always-requested Final Fantasy VII remake, Sony invited Shenmue director Yu Suzuki onto the stage to announce Shenmue 3 through, of all things a Kickstarter initiative.

People lost their minds. With a goal of $2 million, the gamers who weren’t crying right there in attendance at the L.A Convention Center funded the hell out of it in less than thirteen hours. The project broke Kickstarter records for raising so much so quickly and even broke Kickstarter.

Gamers have been eagerly waiting for Shenmue 3 since they finished 2001’s Shenmue 2 with mouths agape. That was fourteen years ago; any brat born when Shenmue 2 came out are now high school freshmen, a full generation away.

The hard-core fans never clung to hope. Sony needed to see that dedication in action. The company has a market cap of $34.2 billion. They could fund, however irresponsibly, Shenmue 3 more than 17,000 times over. It just asked fans to remove any doubt that the game would be a gamble. If there had been a question before, it has been obliterated.

For the foreseeable future, Shenmue 3 will also be exclusive for the PlayStation 4 and PC. The last Shenmue games were on the Sega Dreamcast and original Xbox, so Sony’s statement that Shenmue was a game “PlayStation fans have been waiting for” live on the E3 stage is suspect. Did Sony buy the Shenmue IP?

They didn’t, according to its Kickstarter FAQ. Sega is allowing Suzuki and his team “the license,” but it’s not like Sega is anywhere near making their own consoles again anytime soon. With no signs for the game making its way to the Wii U or Xbox One, it’s safe to think of Shenmue as wholly a part of Team PlayStation.

Sony’s strategy for PlayStation 4 is simply games, a focus that their E3 show made clear. Games is how they’ll win — not just E3, a glorified press show, but to win Christmas. Birthdays. Black Friday. If there’s smoke there’s fire, so why not douse a burned-out property and bring it back to life?

It’s a great plan, but the challenge has to be Shenmue itself, ever a curious property. Beloved it may be, it didn’t sell well all those years ago, precisely why a third installment was so difficult to produce in the first place. Talking about Shenmue to unfamiliar parties doesn’t inspire much imagination: You play a young Japanese man, Ryo, who’s no soldier or warrior, just a kid in over his head as he seeks revenge for his father’s murder. Sounds … fun?

Still, it won a dedicated following. Getting ranked in countless “Best Game of All Time” lists might be nice, but is it profitable? As of this writing, the Kickstarter goal has raised $2.6 million. Signs point to yes.

Microsoft may have won E3 by dazzling with promises of the future. They showed off VR gaming in a mystifying demonstration, and they’ve given Xbox 360 backwards compatibility, something fans have craved.

But Sony remained committed to gaming. Their VR initiative, Project Morpheus, was talked about but quickly swept aside because they had the Final Fantasy VII remake to announce. They’ve given what fans have been long been clawing at the gates for. Maybe that’s all video game consoles just need: just games.

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