Shenmue 3 is inching closer to its official launch date, but the process has been one ugly scandal after another. For many Kickstarter backers of the long-awaited continuation of the series, the project began as a lofty dream: to finally see the conclusion to Shenmue II, first released in 2001. So what exactly has happened throughout the process?
Sudden surprise exclusivity deals, issues over refunds, premature (and ultimately broken) promises, and withholding of pre-order bonuses have all stacked up to turn many original backers away in frustration. Let’s start at the very beginning, with the first problem: the shift from Steam to Epic Games.
The first scandal started early this June, with a sudden change in platforms. During the original 2015 Kickstarter, the game listed Steam as the platform where the game would be distributed to customers. For a long while, the Steam page offered what amounts to free advertising for Shenmue 3 in anticipation of the game's release. Then, during the E3 conference, the news broke that the game would be shifting over to Epic:
"Development for Shenmue III has been moving forward using Unreal Engine and the support we have received from Epic has been excellent,” wrote the developer. “But most importantly, in looking for the most enjoyable experience on PC, it was decided together with Deep Silver after much discussion that the Epic Games Store would be the best distribution platform option."
This left backers quite upset, as Ys Net had promised them a Steam release since, well, the inception of the project. Shenmue III had unexpectedly been another casualty of Epic Games' non-stop effort to attract all kinds of developers over to their platform and away from Steam (they had even claimed Metro Exodus as another exclusive only a little while before).
A Reddit post drew sharp, intense criticism from fans, with over 500 comments from dissatisfied backers of the game.
Steam Refunds and Promised Keys
With many fans frustrated at the change from Steam to Epic, some attempted to cancel their pre-orders due to the shift. Developer Ys Net then ignited an even greater controversy for refusing by offer its backers a refund on account of the change.
In response to the controversy, Ys Net promised Kickstarter backers that they would receive keys for use on Steam, while non-backers would need to acquire the game through the Epic Games platform.
This was the start of the next debacle.
It turns out that, as one would expect, Valve has a clear policy in place that prohibits providing Steam keys for games that will not be made available on Steam at launch. This is to prevent any developers from making use of Steam’s infrastructure while providing them with no monetary compensation. Steam confirmed that there would in fact be no keys provided for Shenmue III on their platform.
Interestingly, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney felt the need to accuse Valve of foul play in refusing to send out Steam keys for the Epic exclusive.
Refunds Finally Made Possible… Paid for by Epic Games
With non-stop complaints by some Kickstarter backers to receive a refund, the decision was made to give in at the beginning of July. However, it was not Ys Net offering the cash, but Epic Games themselves. Talk about an expensive acquisition. Still, since Epic was the one to poach Shenmue III and sling accusations at Valve, it doesn't seem to be such an unreasonable outcome.
Since then, things had been quiet on all things relating to Shenmue 3; the bad public relations seemed to have been put to bed.
Pre-Order Content Debacle
Less than two weeks later, Ys Net set out to stir the pot once more. In the comments section of the original Kickstarter, user Antonio Miranda posted a reply he had received from Ys Net in regards to the season pass. However, there was some odd phrasing about pre-order content that needed clarification. Later, Ys Net stated:
“Edit @ 18:03GMT – On the pre-order content, as it seems people are unsure what the pre-order content is, it is as follows as can be found on the PlayStation store or on gamepreorders.com
Pre-order Shenmue III digitally to receive the ‘Blazing Kick’ Advanced Technique Scroll, Kenpogi Training outfit, and a Peking Power Starter Pack.”
Even though the backers had never been explicitly promised any of the pre-order content, this was basically adding insult to the injury of the exclusivity issue. The individuals who most believed in the project and contributed to the original campaign to see a sequel enter development were basically being cast aside when it came to bonus content that they, by extension, had paid to make possible in the first place.
Perhaps the decision was made because the developers realized too late that they would not be making the revenue they first thought— or, perhaps, it is pure gratuitous greed driving the decision. In any case, with no explanation offered to the Kickstarter backers, people are left to assume the worst. With problem after problem, one would be hard pressed to find many fans who still have faith in the project.
Yes, the game may be well-made in the end and satisfy the desires of old fans to conclude the trilogy— but if the Kickstarter and Reddit forums are any indication of how fans are currently responding, Ys Net may be driving away too many of its potential consumers with their behavior.
At this point, Ys Net would need to steer clear of any additional controversy and release a perfect game to recover from all the controversy. To be frank, even that might be insufficient; today’s video game market is oversaturated with options spread among mobile, PC, and console gaming, leaving no room for such disrespect towards a dedicated fan base. Whatever Ys Net does in the future, they can be sure that their customers will remember this mistreatment.
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