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It is highly unlikely that Yu Suzuki will get the rights to Shenmue back.

Submitted by kmeisthax on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 01:00 in Rants

So today the Twitter hashtag #GiveYuTheShenmueLicense started to get popular. Maybe it'll trend, and that'll probably be a good thing because I don't like it when companies ignore their own work (*coughcoughCAPCOMcoughcough*). But I also like to pour cold water on overly optimistic social marketing campaigns too, so first, a little lesson about copyright:

Copyrights, being the extremely broken, way too lengthy, and culture-privatizing force that they are, are considered business assets. Not normal assets like factory machines or investments, but the biggest asset that a company can legally own. If some statistics heard on the internet can be believed, 80% of the net worth of US companies is locked up in "intellectual property", an umbrella term for trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. A lot of game publishers will often demand ownership over relevant copyrights and trademarks when negotiating with a development firm to publish a game. Think of it this way: Whoever owns the copyright ultimately decides the fate of the game as a franchise. Publishers want those copyrights because it means that it increase their company's net worth. Think about the big publishers like EA or Activision and imagine how much less market power they would have if they allowed their development studios to own the content they worked on.

The reason behind #GiveYuTheShenmueLicense is that SEGA, by ignoring the game, is squandering their property compared to someone who would make a Shenmue 3. And that is technically true. But does it make good business sense for SEGA to surrender control over Shenmue to one of it's employees? No. Just sitting on Shenmue provides SEGA more value than giving it away to someone else who will make money with it - money that SEGA won't see. It may make sense for SEGA to sell ownership over Shenmue, but the price would be rather high, quite higher than what Yu Suzuki could finance with his relatively small studio.

Another big problem is, well... exactly who is going to pay for developing a hypothetical Shenmue 3? Shenmue held the record for largest game development budget from it's release all the way until 2008 where it was dethroned by Grand Theft Auto IV. That's a good nine years. When you factor in the vastly larger costs of modern game development, or the even larger costs of a next-gen Shenmue game, it would blow already large modern game development budgets out of the water.

Japan isn't a very good country to develop a game in anymore precisely because of these monetary issues. Japan is already small, and it has it's own language nobody else speaks, so to succeed in any foriegn territory you have to spend lots of money on good localization teams. Also, we have to dispel the myth that Japan is somehow a good place to play games either. Socially, Japanese people (as a sterotypical mass) don't view gaming as a healthy activity for adults. It is very stigmatized to be a gamer in Japan. Compare this to America, where while not everybody plays games, there are plenty of adults that grew up with them and feel perfectly confident in playing them as adults.

Japan has one segment of it's games market that is still growing, and that's social games on smartphones. You see, unlike dedicated games consoles that take up lots of space and carry social stigma, everybody in Japan has a smartphone now. And those smartphones still have games that you can play surrepticiously without making you feel like a crazy otaku loner person. Not to mention that it's much cheaper to develop a social game, or a smartphone game, or both, than a traditional console release that demands triple-A graphics and budget.

What I'm trying to get at is that Yu Suzuki already got the Shenmue license. To make a mobile social game. Called Shenmue City. Which only lasted a year. It was developed by Ys Net, Yu Suzuki's own game development studio, supervised by SEGA and published by Sunsoft. I don't think this is what fans want, anyway. What fans want is not possible for Yu Suzuki to finance with his own studio, nor is it possible for SEGA to justify given the current shifts going on in the worldwide gaming market.

That being said, I am still tweeting with the #GiveYuTheShenmueLicense even though I believe it to be inaccurate. It really should be #MakeShenmueThree. I've never played Shenmue, but I can see why people would want a third installment.

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