Remember last year when Konami's press releases announced that their focus would be shifting into the profitability of slot machine gambling? And then following the April 2015 cancellation of what would've been one of the most anticipated video games of the last decade, Silent Hills, the Japanese entertainment producer gave us instead the Silent Hill slot machine?
It's fair to say that fans were less than impressed with this move from the company that brought us massively successful and well loved game franchises like Silent Hill, Castlevania, Metal Gear, Pro Evolution Soccer and even Yu-Gi-Oh!. Courtesy of TerminalMontage on YouTube we've seen even Pyramid Head's reaction to the news, and it meshes pretty well with our feelings on the matter.
And the bad press PR train keeps running for Konami, and they have no one to blame but themselves. At last week's Los Angeles Game Awards the legendary video game designer Hideo Kojima (of the Metal Gear series) was barred from attending to accept the awards given for Best Action Game and Best Score/Soundtrack to his [Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain](tag:2683985).
Awards host Geoff Keighley explained why Kiefer Sutherland (who voices Snake in MGSV) had to accept the award in Kojima's stead:
"Mr. Kojima had every intention of being with us tonight, but unfortunately he was informed by a lawyer representing Konami just recently that he would not be allowed to travel to tonight’s awards ceremony to accept any awards. He’s still under an employment contract."
Understandably the fans present booed Konami upon hearing this, a sentiment that was echoed by Keighley himself:
"It’s disappointing and it’s inconceivable to me that an artist like Hideo would not be allowed to come here and celebrate with his peers and his fellow teammates."
The day before at Sony's PlayStation Awards in Japan a PR person for Konami accepted another award for MGSV in absence of Kojima, and everyone was a little confused. But with Keighley's clarification it all begins to make sense, and it's not doing Konami any favors with the fanbase at this juncture.
What's Going On At Konami?
This drama all comes on the tail end of a very lengthy and very confusing dialogue concerning Kojima's employment contract with Konami. Back in 2013 Kojima announced that Metal Gear Solid 5 would be his last work in the Metal Gear series, and in March of this year whispers started up that he would part ways with Konami once work on MGSV was complete and his contract ended.
Then Konami started removing Kojima's name from the Metal Gear marketing materials, a move which may be related to a certain easter egg found in the short MGSV prequel Ground Zeros as a "middle finger to Konami".
Now no one is entirely sure what's going on. Despite reports from back in October that Kojima has left the company (and the pictures circulating from his supposed leaving party) Konami themselves maintain that he's not gone, he's just on holiday.
Whilst distancing themselves from someone who is clearly no longer interested in working for the company makes sense for Konami, the way they have been going about it is less shooting themselves in the foot and more going straight for the headshot.
The Rise of Hideo Kojima
Kojima has become somewhat legendary in video game culture not just due to the work he's produced (which is indisputably brilliant if sometimes needlessly convoluted) but also the way he handles PR around himself as a public figure. He's created this barrier of opinion around himself which makes it very difficult to undermine his authority or the very "myth" of his being. Well known for "trolling" fans, his Twitter account has even inspired an internet meme: "I'm Alright".
On the basis of both this and his work came Kojima Productions, a profitable but expensive to run internal section of Konami. Despite the high turnover for recent KP games the development costs mean that they're not making the kind of high profit that Konami used to see back when dev costs were lower. This is reflected in Konami's move into the low cost / high profit slot machine industry and forays into mobile gaming, popular both in Japan and the West.
With the recent change in management and tightening of development belts Kojima has lost the kind of freedom he used to have within Konami and, understandably, decided enough was enough. Whilst his ties with Konami are gradually being broken, a man like Kojima will have next to no problems setting up a new studio elsewhere should that be the path he wishes to take now.
The Fall of Konami?
It's a damn shame that we won't see Kojima's hand in the future of either Metal Gear or Silent Hill (especially since Konami's current focus doesn't sound great for the future of either franchise) but, like film-making, video game design is a collaborative effort and holding the concept of the director as auteur is becoming gradually more outdated now.
The main issue remains whether or not Konami continues with the production of console games or if they find a new, more profitable foothold in other parts of the industry. Time will tell.
Regardless the company will chug on without Kojima, but this recent spate of bad press received in relation to the way they've handled the situation is doing a great deal of harm to the companies already flagging image in the fanbase.
But the Kojima issue is just one part of a greater problem with the way they treat their employees. A recent run down by Kotaku reports on the Game Awards scandal and the way Konami treats their dev staff, reportedly monitoring their movements both on and offline, and demoting high level staff to janitorial work for kicks.
So whilst Kojima's leaving probably isn't going to puncture a hole in the bow of Konami's profit boat, the way they've handled the situation certainly might, at least so far as the console based section of their audience are concerned.
But of course that particular section might not mean very much to the company at the moment, and given their already established legacy within the industry that's a very sad thing to see indeed.