Before Grand Theft Auto III lit the world on fire in 2001, a similar type of game were already available from the year before. Sega’s Shenmue features an open world full of activities such as fighting, playing the arcade, and earning collectible figurines. Instead of the term Sandbox, “FREE” (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment) was used to describe the open- world gameplay.
At that time, Shenmue was the most expensive videogame project ever. Although it managed to sell over a million copies, it was nowhere near Grand Theft Auto III level; not to mention that Sega never made back the amount of money they invested into the project.
So why wasn’t the Shenmue series as financially successful as Grand Theft Auto? Let’s take a look at a couple of factors.
Shenmue is set in Japan while Shenmue II is set in Hong Kong. While they have some fans, these areas don’t have as much mainstream appeal as the American cities in Grand Theft Auto. This is why Jackie Chan’s English movies are set in America. Add to the fact that the events in the game take place in the 1980s. That decade was not the most popular of eras to choose from. If the setting didn’t invoke any exotic or nostalgic feelings inside you, than chances are you will feel disconnected with the game’s story and characters.
Lack of Violence
The ability to go on a killing rampage was one of the main selling points to the Grand Theft Auto series. You can’t do that in the Shenmue series. You can only fight in story situations and battle arenas. While the fighting system is deep, martial arts aren’t as appealing as blasting someone with a shotgun (at least not in gun-loving America).
You spend most of your time in Shenmue asking questions to random people. Not exactly an idea of fun. Shenmue is a story-heavy adventure game first and foremost rather than a free-roaming one. Unless you are really engrossed to the story, you will probably lose patience.
The Shenmue series went against the mighty Playstation 2 not once but twice. The first Shenmue was released on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. The next year, the Dreamcast was discontinued and Sega went into third-party development. Shenmue II was released in 2002 for the Xbox thanks to an exclusive deal between Sega and Microsoft. The new audience didn’t embrace the sequel and, as a result, sales were poor.
In addition, unlike GTA where you can use some form of cheats like gta mods ps4, Shenmue game is fully a hard work one. You really have to work your butt off just to make it to the next level or stage of the game.
Perhaps the results would have been different if the games were on the Playstation 2. The fact is that Sega lost a lot of potential customers by choosing not to put the game on the ultra-popular Playstation 2.
Thanks to these factors, the Shenmue series were discontinued after the second game. While Grand Theft Auto is seen as a cash cow, Shenmue was a financial flop.
Unfortunately, the story was never finished since the series was planned for at least three games. Despite the constant begging from fans and the financial success of Sega’s Yakuza series (which was pretty similar to the Shenmue games), Sega is showing no desire to make another Shenmue game.