One of the main problems with Shenmue was that it was expensive to make. When the game was released in Japan in 1999 and then in November 2000 in North America, it reportedly cost Sega $70 million. In 2011, director Yu Suzuki revised the figure, saying that it only cost $47 million when development and marketing are taken into account, and some of that money ended up laying the groundwork for Shenmue II. Either way, it was expensive in a way that hurt Sega’s bottom line tremendously.
Game Informer reported that the development of Shenmue took six years, and Sega was counting on Suzuki and Shenmue to lift its console business up. With Shenmue‘s development taking that long and being that expensive, the game would have needed to be a blockbuster in order to be the savior Sega executives expected.
By 2001, Shenmue had sold 1.2 million copies, according to Microsoft. However, The Guardian claimed that every Sega Dreamcast owner would have had to buy two copies of Shenmue for the game to recoup its costs. That’s a tall order, and naturally, it wasn’t going to happen.