It’s always heartbreaking to watch legacy companies die. It’s even worse to watch them wallow in disgrace before cutting their own throats. It appears the second scenario is now occurring with the video game developer and publisher Konami. It began quite awhile ago, though nobody noticed. Konami stopped making many games. It shifted its focus away from the video game industry and towards other profitable industries. As such, in the past three years, they’ve only brought out four games, two of which are from the Metal Gear Solid franchise (and really, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes doesn’t count). People weren’t paying attention then, but after the very public falling out between Konami and visionary director Hideo Kojima, as well as the cancellation of one of Konami’s most anticipated projects, Silent Hills, people are starting to look at the hole the former giant has been digging for itself. Today, I think it’s appropriate to look at the current events that have brought public perception of Konami down to an all time low, and see what might end up being best for the once great developer.
Konami is one of the old guard of Japanese video game companies. Along with other giants like Nintendo, Capcom, and Square-Enix, Konami has been affecting the lives of millions since after the video game crash in the 80s. Though they’ve made many games, they’ve always relied on several core franchises including Metal Gear, Castlevania, Silent Hill, Dance Dance Revolution, and Contra (though interest for this franchise has been on the decline since the 16 bit era). As you can see, Konami has been at the forefront of the action-platformer genre, the stealth genre, and the horror genre. Their games have had an impact on the industry in ways that other companies could only dream of.
Over the past decade, Konami’s presence has been waning, and they’ve been giving more and more of their key franchises to western developers, much to the dismay of Silent Hill fans. In fact, the last major bastion of Konami’s once-excellent track record was in the form of Kojima Productions, a subsidiary of Konami that was run by Hideo Kojima and developed the Metal Gear franchise. Other franchises have all but disappeared. Castlevania Lord of Shadows was a surprisingly refreshing take on the series, though a little derivative. However, since then, the quality of the franchise has been almost non-existent, culminating in Lords of Shadows 2, a game no sane gamer enjoyed. Silent Hill has also faced a steady decline, but we’ll talk more about that later. It’s hard to say whether Konami made a series of bad decisions for their video game wing that resulted in their current depressed state of affairs, or if the unprofitability of their video game wing led to absenteeism. Either way, the real sufferers are the gamers.
The crisis that’s now tearing through the industry began when Konami decided to phase Hideo Kojima out. Over a period of several weeks, all signs pointed to Kojima getting the boot, but nobody would actually confirm it. But it was always apparent, mostly by the fact that if it weren’t happening Konami would have squelched the rumour immediately. The removal of Kojima sparked outrage. Very few video game directors exist who have the same level of reverent following as Hideo Kojima, and fewer actually deserve it. This was the man that was, at that point, single-handedly keeping Konami relevant in the video game industry. He was the one helming the sure-fire blockbuster Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and he was one of the directors that was developing the widely-anticipated Silent Hills. Why would Konami decide to terminate such a key employee?
The reasons are completely obstructed by the corporate veil. Many theories have hit the internet. Likely none of them are the full truth. Some say Kojima was too instrumental, and Konami sacked him in order to move forward. A dubious theory at best. Other state that Kojima was a loose cannon, full of great, but impractical ideas. This may have some truth, but one would think there would have to be a key dispute such as giving Kojima Productions more freedom, or letting him develop a vanity project. Finally, some say Konami is stepping away from video games entirely, and Kojima doesn’t do anything else and probably commands a high salary. This makes the most sense to me, but is still highly speculative, since the only evidence that Konami is stepping away is that they’ve done so little in the industry in recent years.
The loss of Hideo Kojima rubbed people the wrong way, but it wasn’t the end of the world. After all, Kojima as a free agent is just as talented as a Kojima who is under Konami’s hire. However, a few weeks after the Kojima incident, when tempers were starting to cool down, Konami announced that Silent Hills would be cancelled. Silent Hills was announced through the award-winning, now unavailable, demo P.T. It was going to be a collaboration between Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, another fan favourite director. It was a game that excited people who haven’t been excited about a Silent Hill game for a decade. P.T. had demonstrated that Kojima understood the importance of an oppressive atmosphere when crafting a Silent Hill game, and Silent Hill fans took notice. More importantly, non-Silent Hill fans were equally blown away by the combination. It seemed like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, it’s now utterly extinct.
Game cancellations hurt. Just ask fans of the Mega Man series who were looking forward to Mega Man Legends 3 and Mega Man Universe before Capcom decided to pull a similar developer-excising stunt as Konami on the creator of the Mega Man series, Keiji Inafune. But Silent Hills hurt badly. The series had been in a slump for a very long time, despite regular releases, and this one game seemed primed to turn it all around. For non-fans, there was a dream team of talent working on the game, and P.T.’s genius was definitely brow-raising. As of the date of this article, tempers continue to flare over this cancellation, and the, likely ineffectual, petition to save the game has reached over 125,000 signatures.
Normally, at this point in the article, I’d talk about what a developer should do, but I don’t think anyone outside of the company is in a very good position to know what direction Konami is going. Accordingly, I’m going to state what I’d like to happen. Konami is out of the business, in my opinion. They’ve been running on fumes for years, and I hope they just leave. With Konami’s departure comes great opportunity for a wide range of companies. Though Konami may be checked out, its fans aren’t. Konami is sitting on a vault of IPs, games that fans would kill their own mother to have made. I know at least one person who would do absolutely despicable things to get another Suikoden game. Konami sitting on these games hurts especially bad since many of them would be economically viable in the hands of a better publisher, like Atlus, Sony, or Nintendo. Accordingly, I hope Konami sells their IPs off individually. Let an RPG maker take Suikoden; a horror developer get Silent Hill, etc. They could sell their game division off in its entirety to one of the major publishers, but I don’t think that would be as effective.
What would be the worst thing for the industry as a whole would be for Konami to continue limping along when it’s heart isn’t in the game. Metal Gear Solid 5 will be a hit, but it would be a horrible shame if Konami decided to only focus on guaranteed hits instead of making interesting games that could make their gaming sector grow. Konami should step aside. It seems to me they have no interest in the video game industry, so why should they hold back some truly great games? I’ll end this diatribe with a wish: give Castlevania to From Software; it would be a match made in heaven.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer