The cold hard truth about the Konami company is going to be impossible to find if we keep drifting off course like this. Our train of thought as the general public has long since left the tracks, and spiraled toward this great unknown abyss of confusion. There’s cultural differences between the East and West, but none of us seem to properly grasp what is up and what is down about Konami’s situation.
Let’s set the record straight, just so we’re all on the same page.
The point of no return happened on December 3rd, 2015. Geoff Keighley gave news to the world that would end up being the shotgun fired into Konami’s public face.
It all happened within the span of a minute.
Let’s back it up a bit. As you can see in this longer version of that segment from The Game Awards show – Kiefer Sutherland came up onto the stage to accept the award on Kojima’s behalf (presented to him by Mark Hamil and Star Citizen‘s Chris Roberts). Kiefer’s impromptu acceptance speech was brief, thanking the gaming community for their devotion and passion. Apparently to a degree that rivaled those in television.
Then Keighley dropped the news.
“Thank you very much Kiefer for accepting that award. And as you noticed Hideo Kojima is not here with us tonight and I want to tell you a little bit about that. 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 award ceremony to accept any awards. He’s still under an employment contract. 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. Such an incredible game is Metal Gear Solid V. But that’s the situation we’re in, and Hideo is in Tokyo right now watching the show. So we want you to know, Hideo, that we’re thinking of you, and we miss you. We hope to see you at The Game Awards 2016.”
Keighley and friends put together a surprise for him. Stefanie Joosten got on stage and performed Quiet’s theme from the Metal Gear Solid 5 soundtrack.
It sounded beautiful and sad. I didn’t understand the phrase “sing your heart out” until that night. Whereas Geoff Keighley hid his emotions behind a careful mask, Joosten spoke to the world on his behalf and gave us all a peek into the underlying grief Kojima was going through.
If you don’t know who Geoff Keighley is, or what The Game Awards are – it’s an annual shindig put on by Keighley in order to celebrate the products and achievements of the gaming industry for that past year. It took him a few years to nail down the proper tone and presentation style for this event, but by now Geoff had found his footing.
But what’s the point of a party if one of your closest friends can’t show up? It came as a surprise to everyone that night. Keighley didn’t plan that speech.
“Thank you very much,” Kojima tweeted that night.
There are things in life that command your attention. Events bursting into view with complete surprise.
That night was the night that Konami lost people’s favor. Watching this over again reignites the emotional rawness I had. I was mad. The rest of the gaming community was furious.
There was no going back for Konami at this point.
June 14th 2017. Japanese media outlet Nikkei releases “The Konami Exodus,” reigniting the public’s interest in the feud between Konami and Kojima. This two–page article reveals to the world what had unfolded between these two sides.
Kojima was sent a letter from Konami accusing him of “discrediting the company,” after he told people at the Tokyo Game Show’s Sony Interactive Entertainment event Metal Gear Survive had “nothing to do with him.” Konami wasn’t amused with Hideo’s remark and may be using the incident to stall payments they owe Kojima (calling it a breach of contract).
Elsewhere, one of the Kojima Productions executives tried to apply the company for health insurance at ITS Kenpo. The application wasn’t accepted. When the executive asked Kenpo as to why that was, they replied that the chairman screens all applications before the board reviews them. Apparently, ITS Kenpo could not show this application to the chairman. According to Nikkei this arrangement in priority to the chairman breaks away from what is the standard.
That ITS Kenpo chairman is Kimihiko Higashio. Who is also a director at Konami.
The second half of the article goes into further detail about the hurdles former Konami employees face after departing from the company. Speaking to an anonymous staffing agency employee, we learn that gaming companies are notified if someone is an “ex-Kon” because Konami files complaints to those who take former employees under their wing. In at least one case a major gaming company went as far as warning their staff against hiring an ex-Kon. In another, an ex-Kon decided to work at a construction company just for the purpose of getting Konami to lose interest in pursuing them if they ever chose to work in gaming again.
“One ex-Kon described his surprise at learning that Konami had instructed an employee at a television company not to deal with its former employees,” the Nikkei article says.
While it doesn’t specify which television company in particular it is, if we assume the same sort of arrangement was made as in the case of ITS Kenpo, we can narrow down the possibilities on the Board.
Konami Director Akira Gemma is a Limited Outside Director at TV Asahi Holdings Corporation, according to the 2017 Konami shareholder memo.
The threatening and overbearing sphere of company influence bears down on former Konami employees. They’re put in a position where they can’t use the company name (and thus experience gained there), in order to get a job.
As the Nikkei article says, Kojima isn’t the only high-level employee who left. Naoki Maeda (composer for Dance Dance Revolution and Bemani), Akari Uchida (producer for LovePlus), Minoboshi Taro (illustrator for LovePlus), and Shinichi Hanamoto (who helped Konami acquire the Yu-Gi-Oh license) all cut ties with Konami.
With all of this Konami controversy becoming public, it’s high time we take a serious look into exactly what went wrong here.
Kagemasa Kozuki, Yoshinobu Nakama, and Tatsuo Miyasako together made the company name. Ain’t that neat? They currently use that shade of red in their logo to demonstrate “quality” and “class” according to a page on their website talking about it.
“Konami doesn’t care about video games anymore and they’re shifting their focus to gambling and Pachinko!!!!,” you might say.
That could be true. But we need to take a step back and understand what exactly Konami is rather than what you think it should be.
Konami currently has 4 key principal businesses.
- Digital Entertainment: “Production, manufacture and sale of digital content and related products including mobile games, card games and computer & video games, etc.”
- Health & Fitness: “Operation of health and fitness clubs, and production, manufacture, and sale of health and fitness-related goods.”
- Gaming & Systems: “Production, manufacture, sale and service of gaming machines and casino management systems.”
- Amusement: “Production, manufacture and sale of arcade games and amusement machines.” This section was referred to as Pachislot & Pachinko Machines for a span of several years.
It was worth bringing all of that up given the common misconceptions people in the West have about Konami’s business model.
Konami lays out their corporate history on their website. It may seem overwhelming but we can break this timeline down into the important stuff.
1969. The same year Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Kagemasa Kozuki started Konami. With 1 million yen in capital, they were making amusement machines for arcades by the start of the 1970s. Towards the end, they had 40 million yen and began exporting their goods to the U.S. In October/November 1982 they expanded into PC gaming and established Konami of America in the United States. At the end of 1983 they had 300 million yen in capital and added MSX gaming to their business operations. By May 1984 Konami had their United Kingdom office set up, by the end of that year they were setting up an office in Germany while starting their expansion into NES gaming. By 1988 they were on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Osaka Securities Exchange. September 1992 was when Konami expanded into pachislot & pachinko machines. Offices were popping up in Kobe, Kanagawa, and Hong Kong. By November 1996, Konami Corporation of America was set up, and Konami Australia Pty Ltd was established in the land down under. In 1997, Konami’s capital was at 11,892 million yen. They also began entry into Australian gaming machines market, in addition to being listed on Singapore’s stock exchange. By the turn of the millennium, Konami entered the card game business and got listed on London’s Stock Exchange.
2000. Konami enters the gaming machine market. February 2001, Konami acquires a health & fitness company and officially enters that neck of the market. They start to get into online services by March 2002 (e-AMUSEMENT) and by that September they got added into the New York Stock Exchange. June 2005 had Konami building a production facility in Las Vegas for their gambling machines. Finally, March 2006 was when Konami completed their company metamorphosis. Konami Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd. took care of digital entertainment, while Konami Corporation became the holding company overseeing the whole operation.
One of the men in charge of Konami’s casino empire in North America is Steve Sutherland. In an interview with Las Vegas review journal, he says Konami’s video game roots gave their gambling games a certain kind of appeal.
“We’re looking at the library of Konami Digital Entertainment because they have certain titles – amusement concepts and games and intellectual property — we will look to bring to this market in the future and turn those into gambling devices.”
It started out back in 1997 with a small Las Vegas office. Konami’s takeover began on the West Coast and went through Canada before finally striking down the American Midwest. New Jersey. Chicago. Their current headquarters at Las Vegas Hughes Airport Center cost the company $65 million, but the investment paid off. The extra office space (500,000 square feet) lets 500 employees work in ease. Apparently their top 5 gambling games are: China Shores, Dragon’s Law, China Mystery, Lotus Land and Rapid Revolver: Northern Treasure. But they’ve started using Konami video games like Frogger for skill-based casino gaming. Dungeons & Dragons slot machines have popped up as well.
Something must be going right, seeing as Konami is getting awards and honors regularly for their work in the sector.
A big part of Konami’s casino business is the selling and distribution of their Konami Casino Management System, which they started back in 1998. KCMS v3.20 was in place by 2012 according to Konami’s website, in place within at least 70 different casino locations. This technology is capable of tracking not just the table games and slots, but also patron activities. v3.20 even had the capability of sending messages to players or groups (when a reservation was ready, or a bus was scheduled to leave, etc).
At some point after 2012, Konami introduced SYNKROS. A leap forward from their standard KCMS, it made several advances in player marketing and tracking. According to the introduction video on their front page, SYNKROS is engineered to tailor itself specifically to individual player psychology. To keep them in the casino as long as possible. By delivering data in real-time, the system is able to react to situations as they’re happening on the floor. Their toolkit aims to help casinos maximize management efficiency and profitability. Of course, there’s a phone app for it as well. So managers can keep watch while mobile. At a glance you can see what people are playing, and how well games are performing at particular locations.
SYNKROS seems to be successful, as it was implemented in: Rhythm City Casino (Davenport, IA), Turning Stone Resort Casino (Verona, NY), Canyon Casino (Black Hawk, Colorado), Pearl River Resort (Choctaw, Mississippi), Shoshone Rose Casino (Lander, Wyoming), Barona Resort & Casino (Lakeside, California), Yellow Brick Road Casino (Chittenango, New York), Desert Diamond Casino (West Valley, Arizona), Jerry’s Nugget Casino (Las Vegas, Nevada), Pahrump Nugget Hotel & Casino, Gold Town Casino, Lakeside Casino & RV Park (Pahrump, Nevada), Tahoe Biltmore Lodge & Casino (Crystal Bay, Nevada), and Emerald Island Casino (Henderson, Nevada), to name a few spots where Konami’s system shows up.
The Gaming & Systems and Amusement branches of the company both refer to Konami’s casino business and gambling-related ventures. In May 2014, Reuters reported Konami was eyeballing an investment for casinos in Japan as the country’s lawmakers considered passing legislation to pave the way for a potential $40 billion casino resort market.
That confusing similarity is entirely intentional and should be explained (people also mix up “gaming”/gambling to mean video games). Pachislots & Pachinko were pretty much a thing because it served as a gambling workaround. You don’t win money from pachinko, rather you win tokens and prizes that can be exchange for cash elsewhere. A September 2014 article from The Economist talks about this divide. With over 12,000 pachinko parlors in Japan and over $175 billion dollars in revenue, it was serious business.
Between their 2014 and 2015 Fiscal Year, pachinko brought in enough cash to make a difference for their total revenue stream.
In December 2016 Konami got their wish. Japan finally legalized casinos and laid down a foundation to get companies started on making their “entertainment resorts” a reality. Still ahead, another bill on how these things are going to be implemented needs to be decided on.
According to an April 2017 piece from Bloomberg, it seems as though Konami is willing to share the wisdom they learned from their dealings in Las Vegas. Executive director Satoshi Sakamoto said the gambling industry in Japan needs a good reputation if it wants to be an attraction that lasts long term. It would serve to Konami’s benefit that way, as their North American gambling licenses wouldn’t get taken away if they got involved in Japan. Nevada regulation mandates gambling company executives undergo a background check of their finances every two years. North America isn’t the only place where Konami operates, they also have licenses for: Australia, Europe (Croatia, Sweden, Germany,), South Africa, and Singapore. Even Peru has a touch of Konami going on. Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The company is making agreements and deals everywhere.
These “entertainment resorts” would prove a financial boon for Konami in other areas of their business too, seeing as the company has a division dedicated to health and fitness clubs.
If you don’t know what a gym is, I’ll walk you through what they’re like. I had a membership at my local rec center growing up, so I got to see one of these mysterious places up close for a few years. After paying an arm and a leg for membership and getting a laminated pass with your face on it, you get access to a bunch of rooms with various kinds of fitness equipment in it (and one room with two pretty awesome vending machines where you can sit around all day if you want). If you don’t want to risk embarrassment entering these metal contraptions in pursuit of getting fit, most gyms have a swimming pool and a running track so you can sweat yourself to death or drown. Your choice.
This sector of business took a hard hit from the US economic crisis of the late 2000s. But nonetheless, Konami persisted. The Konami shareholder notes tell about the company’s interests in targeting the elderly among Japan’s population.
Konami’s main interest in the Health & Fitness sector was the acquisition of fitness clubs. From their facilities, the company is able to furnish it with their technology and sell health products to people. They sell things like the AEROWALKER 2200 treadmill, some sort of jelly called PROTEIN PRO, and EXCERISEWATER ZERO (which is basically just water). Members of these fitness clubs can use the e-XAX health management service to record their exercise history on Konami’s website. Want to learn how to golf? Konami Sports Clubs have the equipment and space to teach you how to do that. In the past decade the company has increased their focus on classes and service programs to their customer base, so they can guide people’s fitness and nutrition on top of providing the means to reaching those health goals.
Like the gambling gaming division of Konami, the company sought to integrate their video games into fitness related outlets wherever possible. Dance Dance Revolution got a classroom edition in January 2014 for use in the UK school system, to help students and youngsters actually get interested in exercise.
It’s worth noting that the Health sector does better than Konami’s gambling branches do, according to the latest company earnings release.
In December 2015 a transgender business manager sued Konami Sports Club because they were forced to use the men’s facilities before having reassignment surgery. This person asked to use the changing room not for men and was denied the ability to do so by the club’s manager. In turn, they argued that kind of accommodation could only happen once this person had their gender status legally changed in the family register. Further reading about the background and progress of the case was made available in a recent June 2017 report from Buzzfeed Japan.
But on a lighter note?
In the London 2012 Olympics, Konami had some representation on the men’s gymnastics team for Japan. They had three employees of Konami Sports & Life Co., Ltd. compete, and gymnast Kohei Uchimura came out on top winning gold. In fact, one of Konami’s board members, Kaori Yamaguchi, is also an Executive Board Member for the Japanese Olympic Committee. It’s a savvy business move, and Konami years later reported a profit from their Health and Fitness segment as a result of their for participation with swimming and gymnastics in the Rio 2016 game.
Konami’s head bosses are the Board of Directors. A list of them (as of March 31, 2017) according to the latest Shareholder Report:
This article provides a little bit of a background as to how a Japanese business board works. In the past, Japanese companies companies focused on the stakeholder elements of their company. Further developing their employee base and partners as they aimed to succeed in the particular market they were involved in. But more recently the Japanese Corporate Governance Code of June 2015 changed the game, as it set standards and rules that companies were “encouraged” to abide by. A major element of this code involves a company’s directors board. Not only were a wide-range of skill backgrounds and experience key, but also having a diverse board that properly reflects the size of a company should be taken into account.
So to review. Konami has been in the arcade game business since 1973. They naturally evolved to the computer and video game console from there. By 1997, Konami made their way into gaming (gambling) machines. The focus on health and fitness was the latest addition they added, arriving in 2001.
Konami Video Games
You would think Konami understood the foundation of their company. The video games they produced helped them crawl out of the primordial ooze of obscurity and become a dominating business force. An immense library of titles under their belt, with the potential for the future magnifying that extensiveness to a powerful degree.
So what happened? How could they fuck up so badly? Simply put, Konami got too damn big. That’s evident in their attempts to restructure the company, as this goliath of a business they’ve become stumbles around and tries to regain balance.
But let’s look closer.
Back in the 1980s Konami’s presence in gaming had titles such as Gyruss (’83), Track & Field (’83), Rush’n Attack (’85), and Quarth (’89). By the 1990s they were releasing things like Mission: Impossible (’90), The Simpsons Arcade Game (’91), Operation C (’91), Sunset Riders (’91), The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (’91), X-Men: The Arcade Game (’92), Lethal Enforcers (’92), Bucky O’Hare (’92), Batman Returns (’92), Rocket Knight Adventures (’93), Animaniacs (’94), Policenauts (’94), Road Fighter (’95), Silent Scope (’99), and Soul of the Samurai (’99). This is what Konami had going on top of their heavy hitter series. While it wasn’t the backbone of their video game catalog – chances are you’ve heard of at least one of these before.
But of course what we’ve come to associate Konami as a company with the most when it comes to their video game products had their beginnings during the 80s and 90s. Gradius (’85), Castlevania (’86), Metal Gear (’87), Contra (’87), Suikoden (’96), Beatmania (’97), Dance Dance Revolution (’98) and Silent Hill (’99). The top-shelf stuff that you’ve definitely heard of.
That’s all before the turn of the century. So what about the 2000s? Post 2000, the collection of titles became focusing on their key hitters. The Yu-Gi-Oh series was strong for the company. They were big into trading card games. They had some one-offs like Birds of Steel and NeverDead. Zone of the Enders was going strong for a while.
But even the top-shelf stuff began to die off as Konami lost interest.
Suikoden was Konami’s big RPG. In fact, when news broke in August 2011 that the company disbanded the development team behind those games, it was said that they lost their “RPG know-how” (the Frontier Gate title for PSP they made after that never really took off). 2012’s Beyond the Labyrinth for the 3DS seemed good but it never came state-side. Their last effort at a title was 2012’s Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki for PSP. Flop. Pachinko machine Suikoden came a few months later. Making the last proper entry into the series be Suikoden V in 2006.
In Konami’s defense – they tried to innovate in the video game department at one point. In early April 2009, Konami announced Six Days in Fallujah. Intended to depict the war in Iraq with a realistic lens, this game was going to put gamers in the shoes of US soldiers fighting terrorist occupation. The project had the backing and consulting guidance of over 30 U.S. Marines. It was going to push the envelope, and have players making hard decisions in the heat of the moment. Is someone a civilian? Or are they an insurgent in waiting? Certainly there was nothing quite like Six Days in Fallujah at the time of its announcement.
But the title was cut short.
On April 27th 2009, Konami announced they weren’t going to move forward with the project after criticism from the public.
“After seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail, we decided several days ago not to sell it,” a PR rep told Asahi Shimbun.
It looked like Contra was going to get a reboot after an E3 2011 trailer, but that project ended up getting tossed. Contra Mobile appeared in March 2016, but don’t hold your breath because it was only released in China. Even if it ever did come to the United States, you’d have to contend with a micro-transaction mess as well.
This loss of potential doesn’t just hit the long-standing franchises at Konami either, even the simple stuff like LovePlus went through something similar. Konami lost Akari Uchida (senior producer) and Mino Taro (character designer) within a month of each other back in 2015.
(translation by siliconera)
“I have nothing but the deepest feelings for the titles I’ve worked on,” tweeted Mino Taro. “In the midst of working in rough conditions as a video game creator, there was a lot I thought about, but I’ve come to my decision after thinking about the last opportunity of being able to do things I wasn’t able to with Konami.”
But there’s more to it than that.
We don’t even need to look at Konami’s treatment of their own IPs to understand the big picture. The way the company interacted and dealt with another company by the name of Hudson Soft acts as a microcosm of what Konami is capable of. Back in the 1980s and 90s Hudson Soft and Konami were like brother and sister. But then there was a fork in the road. Whereas one grew up, the other began to decline into poor health.
Hudson Soft’s bank Hokkaido Takushoku was dissolved in November 1997, which led the gaming company to turn to the stock market by December 2000. Konami began building up their investments in the company. By April 2005 they purchased 3 million Hudson Soft shares, making it into a Konami subsidiary and buying the company a few more years of life. In January 2011, Konami did a complete takeover of Hudson. It was widely believed that the company would try and make an effort to fully utilize Hudson’s various licenses. Nope. In April 2011 Konami liquidated Hudson Soft’s company shares. An entire treasure trove of video game IPs tossed away without a second thought. Adventure Island, Bonk, and Bloody Roar were some of Hudson’s greatest hits. Lest we forget Mario Party 1 – 8 were all made by Hudson Soft. According to this blog post from a Hudson employee there were numerous plans in place to keep their work going. In January 2012 Konami decided to formally absorb Hudson altogether, making it official by March of that year. But many of their franchises were abandoned by Konami as hard as Hudson Soft’s buildings were. A survivor of the slaughter was Bomberman, who emerged from the ashes as a Nintendo Switch launch title in the form of Super Bomberman R. Momotaro Dentetsu would get a 3DS game too (Momotaro Dentetsu 2017: Tachiagare Nippon!!).
But the tensions at the time were high.
“Konami hasn’t gotten in touch with me at all. This is how they’ve tossed me aside for a while now. I’m announcing here that Momotaro Dentetsu is officially done. Ishikawa at Konami squelched everything,” said Akira Sakuma (creator of Momotaro Dentetsu) in June 2015. Konami would respond to his tweet on their site a few days later.
A September 2015 Eurogamer article was sort-of right and sort-of wrong when they said Konami was ceasing triple-A production on all video games except Pro Evolution Soccer. It’s a bad sign when talent like technology director Julien Merceron leaves the company, and it didn’t bode well for the future of the Metal Gear franchise.
The overall impression would get so believable that it needed to be cleared up with a statement from Konami President Hayakawa:
“Konami will continue to embrace the challenge of creating entertainment content via different platforms. Not only mobile platforms, but for home consoles, arcade units, and cards, to meet the changing needs of the times.”
Despite the fact that Konami would go on to produce Metal Gear Survive, what it looked like was the company had given up hope on AAA titles (also there was Super Bomberman R if you count that as AAA).
Save for Pro Evolution Soccer. Konami has that going for them. It was great at first, face a period of decline after the company got too complacent, and they bounced back once they implemented their Fox Engine into the underlying foundation of the series. If you wanted a good soccer video game? You got a great soccer video game going on here (ignoring the mistakes made with PC ports sometimes). The only downside to the hyper-realism was contending with the occasional lawsuit for using someone’s likeness. For ages the fan-base would compare it with FIFA titles, measuring the length of each game’s johnson in order to see which had the best in particular for that year.
And PES league players? Konami takes good care of them.
Konami has that going for them.
Then there’s the mobile market.
Back in 2008 and 2009, Konami shipped out iOS versions of their classics. Dance Dance Revolution, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, and even Frogger got their chance to debut on touch screens. By May 2012, Konami’s Dragon Collection and Sengoku Collection social network games helped keep the company’s profitability in pristine shape. The only business booming more than Konami was Zynga. This success was all in spite of the scrutiny from authorities that the associated companies involved (DeNA and Gree) had received for game mechanics. In September 2013, Konami released the Star Wars: Force Collection card game for iOS and Android. Players collect 230 different cards and battle against others to level up. Somewhere in the mix after this came PES Club Manager, allowing people who enjoyed Pro Evolution Soccer games to further their experience with a companion app. Konami made a strange move in September 2015 by removing a large swath of their 2008-2011 iOS games in one go, simply because they didn’t want to update them for the new OS versions.
At the end of the day, the money was rolling in.
Konami’s profits jumped 70% in a nine month period ending December 31st 2016, compared to their 2015 rate. Mobile games like JIKKYOU POWERFUL SOCCER with 5 million downloads and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links bringing 25 million certainly helped.
I figured it would be helpful to ask someone who was in the trenches for themselves at one of Konami’s studios working on projects like this.
My source says they felt the directors were overworked in the office, and it seemed like the expectations were set too high for what could possibly be reached. “Konami saw huge potential in the western mobile gaming market but did not have an adequate strategy or understanding to engage it,” they told me.
Going free-to-play was a mandate from headquarters, as it seemed to be the most profitable. Their gameplay models had to be tailored to that. My source said it was easy to get burned out in the stressful environment and dealing with bad management. But they counted their blessings with the benefits they got in return with healthcare/vacation.
The game my source worked on was a big deal for their whole office, and they recall staying late to playtest it over and over. A lot of pressure. A lot of missed deadlines. Red tape and corporate interference caused anxiety. My source believes nobody in the company is ultimately “malicious” per say. The bosses wanted their studios to succeed. But the producers never really explained to the rest of the staff what the end goals were when it came to sales. My source had the impression they had to be on par with the top licensed franchises, clearing millions of dollars.
My source says it was strange how Konami seemed to shoot out 4 to 5 mobile games at a time with no recognizable IP, instead of leveraging this portfolio of franchises to their maximum potential.
But what their titans? What about the cornerstones that built Konami’s empire? Let us look at their fates. Watch the video game series gods of old fall into decay.
Back in 1986, Konami created a MSX game called Vampire Killer. This would serve the foundation for the overall Castlevania series, with each new title adding different elements as the years went by. The Castlevania series centers around the Belmont family of vampire hunters facing off against Dracula. Getting resurrected every 100 years or so, the Belmont family is tasked with killing him off. Armed with a powerful and mystical whip called Vampire Killer, this otherworldly weapon is imbued with the necessary might needed to bring the blood-sucker down. Castlevania for the NES made complex levels, Super Castlevania IV added the badass whip, and games like Symphony of the Night added a Metroid-style layer of gameplay to push the series up a level.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night released in 1997 was highly regarded as one of the best in the series. Great soundtrack, riveting combat style, and overall gameplay and story depth helped set the game apart as one of the better ones. In January 2005 Konami decided to introduce Castlevania to the DS system. The game managed to excel beyond the company’s original expectations. On top of that, the sequel Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin raised the bar even further in 2006, getting showered in awards and good reviews.
The man at the helm was someone named Koji Igarashi. “Iga” is credited as the mastermind behind much of the charm in Symphony of the Night. Known for creating something called “Metroidvania,” throughout Koji’s development career he managed to keep things interesting for the series. Earning his skill through years of work and experience. He brought Ayami Kojima on board and got Michiru Yamane’s music in where it needed to go. The end product of Symphony was something with coherence and fun, and that was possible because Iga oversaw development. On the other hand, people’s criticism towards Iga’s work comes down to being he never really improved upon 2003’s Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. There was signs of hope in 2008’s Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia for the DS but that didn’t demonstrate growth as a developer to some folks.
But I digress.
Where it matters (in the case of the argument this piece is trying to make) is Koji’s steady hand guiding the release of Castlevania titles helped give the series a sense of individuality that made it stand out in Konami’s roster.
But what happens when you hand a series to someone else?
On August 20th 2008, the next generation of the series was starting to emerge as a new Castlevania was announced. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was developed by Kojima Productions and MercurySteam. Overall it was intended to serve as a reboot of some kind.
It would certainly be a new chapter.
Elsewhere, by November 2008 Castlevania Judgement came around. A departure for the series by being a fighting game for the Wii. According to this interview, Iga’s interest in that was based around using the Wii’s motion controller to its full potential. The public reception to it was less-than-stellar.
In March 2009 there was an interview at videogamer.com with David Cox. It’s cleared up that Kojima’s role was essentially Cox reporting to him. In return Hideo gave story and technical advice, trying not to be too overbearing so the team at MercurySteam could freely move forward how they wanted. The purpose of it was a motivator for the team to strive for better quality.
Their reaction when Hideo comes to visit the studio:
Yeah we’re shitting ourselves! You got to make sure that the quality of what you deliver is very very high. You’re constantly saying to yourself, is that really good enough? Is that really going to be good enough? It’s funny, because sometimes you think, no, he’s not going to like that and he loves it, and then other times you think, check this out, it’s amazing, and he’ll go, hmm don’t know. It’s shit. So it’s swings and roundabouts. I think there’s a cultural thing there as well, with the Japanese company, western development, there are cultural things. He had a thing about Gabriel’s face. You know I don’t like Gabriel’s face. What’s wrong with his face? You know I can’t really put my finger on it.
The intent of the game was re-envisioning what directions the Castlevania universe could go in.
It wouldn’t be until June 2010 when we’d see more concrete details in a 3–page–interview on gamestm.co.uk. This time it gets into the nitty-gritty of what things were like from Konami’s perspective of the development process.
The three different regions of Konami (America, Japan, and Europe) were invited to propose a new Castlevania game that’d be more appealing to a wide audience. Konami intended to the series a powerhouse again. Showing it off at E3 2008 as simply Lords of Shadow, the title ended up making its way to the prototype stage and presented to the Konami board in Japan. When Kojima offered his help to the team at Mercury Steam, it was the point that Lords of Shadow became a solidified Castlevania sort of affair.
“The way it works inside Konami is that each studio is an independent entity, almost competing against each other. And getting projects greenlit at Konami is, let me tell you, really tough,” David Cox said.
Mercury Steam was able to get their foot in the door based on their stellar presentation from the outset. Coming out of a rough experience making Jericho, Mercury Steam was given the opportunity to prove themselves with this Castlevania game. At the time, Cox believed Konami was looking towards their western branches of the business to pull their weight more. He acknowledged there was a divide between the way Japan did things compared to the west, with the former focusing on particulars and polishing that while the latter one focusing on overall planning and getting things done.
There was a part 2 to the interview, this one being a whopping 5–pages–long read. Cox notes that Symphony of the Night was a huge departure for the series back in the day. With Lords of Shadow they wanted to balance their Castlevania references carefully to make sure they weren’t beholden solely to that. Cox believed the previous attempts at 3D games had failed because they tried staying too close to the 2D roots of the series. He didn’t feel this was a “make or break” moment for Castlevania, but rather a new direction. David Cox expressed the team’s commitment about making Castlevania mainstream again, and said Konami was always respectful to their franchise.
Releasing on October 5th of that year, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow managed to ship one million copies by the end of November 2010.
“Castlevania has truly reinvented itself with its move to next gen platforms and we’re extremely pleased at the positive response we’ve seen toward Castlevania: Lords of Shadow globally, mainly due to the dedicated fans who have supported the series for so long,” said Shinji Hirano, President of Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. “The remarkable sales achieved in such a short time are a true testament of the work and dedication that went into this project, and we’re very grateful to have partnered with such fine talent in the rebirth of one of Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.’s most successful franchises.”
So all’s well that ends well? Not quite.
David Cox marked the 25th anniversary of the series by proclaiming Castlevania would never die.
By the beginning of June 2012 Lords of Shadow 2 would be revealed. Cox would express some regrets with how Lords of Shadow DLC worked out.
“The problem was that the game’s success caught everyone by surprise. It caught senior management by surprise and they wanted us to do DLC,” Dave Cox told Gameranx. “We never planned to do DLC, so we ended up doing DLC after the fact and in hindsight that was a mistake. It was rushed. We had to rush it to market.”
Igarashi was still at Konami but he wasn’t involved in the creation of Lords of Shadow, according to a June 2013 interview with Destructoid.
At the end of February 2014, it became clear Lords of Shadow 2 ended up being a complete garbage pile on the game creation side according to an anonymous developer’s forum post (the reviews for the title itself were mixed). Laying most of the blame on Enric Álvarez, this anonymous developer says the success of the first Lords of Shadow game caused Enric’s ego to explode. Every idea in the design department went through him and often ended up sabotaged or distorted far beyond the original concepts. This clash was especially evident between Enric and art director José Luis Vaello, to the point where he decided it was just better to leave than put up with that. Communication with staff was abymisal to the extent that the team learned about game features from the press rather than having it told to them by the studio head. The game was delayed by six months because department heads couldn’t come to an agreement on production deadlines. Overall morale was low, and the lack of encouragement from management for a job well done made other opportunities out there have more appeal. Mercury Steam’s engine wasn’t only outdated, but any requests by other programmers to update the system were rejected. This imbalance of skill turned the tables, making the studio a place where newcomer employees tended to understand things better than the company founders. Spanish website FSGamer was able to confirm much of what was said.
Enric says in a Eurogamer interview that the leakage of a 4/10 score from EDGE magazine had an impact, saying the press was blind this time around. Pointing to the first game’s Metacritic divide between critics and the community as a further example of it. It’s believed that MercurySteam was able to get the Castlevania franchise from Konami based on the limited budget the developers could work within. There was also a sense of stuff that didn’t seem to belong in the Castlevania universe was present in the game, with a few believing it was added in at Konami’s request.
“Is sad see people giving credit to the lies and insults from an enraged ex-worker. What a world we live in..,” Enric tweeted.
In the days that followed these reports, another Mercury Steam anonymous developer said a “witch hunt” resulted from the initial leaks.
On March 18th 2014, Koji Igarashi did an interview with Kotaku. The day before, he had announced he was leaving Konami, making the timing a perfect occasion.
“I was at Konami for 24 years. Twenty two of those years, I made core video games. For two of them, I made social games,” he told Brian Ashcraft.
This quote alone could imply that Koji was forced into social, but that’s not the case. He actually requested that kind of a transfer and considered it a learning opportunity. Igarashi says social gaming was profitable for Konami and the way the industry seemed to be headed in the years that followed. What caused Koji to reconsider his career choice was the messages he got from his fans. Tugging at his heart strings, he realized what he was known for was the standard style of video game content.
Iga admits the Lords of Shadow games didn’t turn out well. It was a downer to him that he wasn’t in charge of development when it came to these Castlevania projects.
Koji Igarashi would end up making Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
Dave Cox left the company in August 2014, after 17 years at Konami.
Castlevania ended up becoming a pachinko machine by August 2015. Here’s the official website for it. In May 2017, a teaser for an upcoming Netflix series surfaced. There are reports that the series might make a comeback on Switch, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Dance Dance Revolution
Naoki Maeda is a music composer that graduated Osaka University of Arts on a music degree. An odd and eccentric gentleman (Here’s a list of his dozens of aliases) that helped create the Dance Dance Revolution series at Konami. DDR is a rhythm game that involves a dance-pad accessory that players step on with careful timing, to essentially dance to music numbers guided by directional button prompts on a TV screen.
Maeda’s early work at Konami started in 1995 with Twin Bee Yahho! and then Salamander 2 in 1996. From 1998 onwards, he ended up spending 15 years creating music for their Bemani division. It started when Yoshihiko Ota recruited him for his Dance Dance Revolution project in 1998. Following the success of that, he became a lead sound producer for the series. Maeda’s fame skyrocketed along with the games as DDR’s popularity grew. If you want to get a sense of Naoki’s style, his Red Zone song is a prominent example often pointed to.
His band TЁЯRA was Konami’s personal J-POP/Rock group that had music made for BEMANI titles (Beatmania IIDX/Dance Dance Revolution/DrumMania/GuitarFreaks/Pop’n Music). On the side, Maeda served as a producer for another J-POP group named BeForU. Here’s their debut song alongside the release of Dance Dance Revolution 5th Mix in 2001.
Describing what the Dance Dance Revolution is like seems like a daunting challenge. But someone by the name of Aaron Chmielowiec was able to provide that with the release of a 230-page book talking about it. He came to Japan in Fall 1998 and was captivated by the first Dance Dance Revolution game when it came out. Ever since then, he’d become affiliated with DDR groups in the area who followed the series phenomenon as it made its way into arcades across Japan.
The community had some elitism issues as members of it who had contacts at Konami were able to set up test location events for upcoming iterations of DDR, at the same arcades they had worked at. Events like would end up causing leaks to happen, with videos and song step charts making their way onto the net.
Basically we get a sense of Konami’s product development and how involved the company and Naoki were in the process.
Unlike the Max 2 test location, the DDR Extreme test location was under strict security when it finally did appear. I happened to be in line that day from the early morning and witnessed firsthand a part – time staffer blocking the screen and jumping in front of players trying to block them from taking down notes, recording media and otherwise recording information on the game . Additionally, there were threats from the arcade staff to confiscate cameras. Of course, song lists and various media were sneaked out which of course enraged this part – time staffer, but fortunately this was the peak of this inter – group rivalry “we – control – the – information” nonsense and the environment for sharing information and media improve d from this point , with old rivals even becoming friends in the end. (Though in a sense, perhaps they always were) Of course, this same media was leaked overseas, despite the anger of some in the local DDR community that were not happy with that for whatever reason , including the possibility of a backlash from Konami to the effect of no more future public test location versions. One non – related event surprised the Konami reps (and Naoki himself) at the test location , however . One of the Konami staff sitting at the back was jotting down what songs people were playing and their letter grade result . There were a few AAAs performed on the test location machine and it seemed to shock the Konami staff, including an AAA on Love Shine ( Expert ) on the first play through of the song ever. Later on the Konami DDR Extreme test location blog , this same representative commented , “We need to be very careful not to cater our step chart s and difficulty to players like that”.
Konami was (and still is) highly protective of the legal rights to their IP. In May 2005 they took Roxor Games to court over their DDR clone game In The Groove. It uses an open source DDR simulator software called StepMania, and set out to be a harder version of the Dance Dance Revolution experience. Replacing points with percentages, using 3 to 4 arrows at the same time, and including mines that exploded if the player stepped on them were some of the unique aspects to In The Groove that helped establish the game as having a separate identity.
To play this game, people would replace DDR‘s circuit board with the one provided in these kits Roxor Games sold. RedOctane was pulled into Konami’s lawsuit by August 2005 because Roxor had arranged a full release of In The Groove as a proper video game for the PlayStation 2 (releasing one month after the initial May filing). Mad Catz ended up getting tossed in as well because they released their own clone MC Groovz Dance Craze for the Nintendo GameCube. Beyond the usual infringement of DDR as a game concept and allegations of unfair competition, Konami alleged that the replacement process Roxor Games initally used (switching circuit boards), was infringing because it wrongly piggy-backed off of DDR as a product in a direct way. Konami ended up winning the intellectual property rights to In the Groove by October 2006.
Konami would go to court again in July 2008, filing a lawsuit against the people at Harmonix who made Rock Band for patent infringement. They cited Konami’s 2002 and 2003 patents for simulated musical instruments, “musical-rhythm matching games,” and a music-game system as the grounds for their litigation.
According to this June 2009 interview, Konami was in the midst of rebooting Dance Dance Revolution as a series. It’s explained in the piece that they were reverting to the original name after titling DDR sequels things like “5th and 6th Mix,” and Naoki said this decision was made based on the fact the series had been going on for a decade at that point. It felt like a solid opportunity to hit the refresh button.
When Microsoft’s Kinect (known back in 2009 as Project Natal) started making waves, Naoki expressed his interest in using the device for dancing related video games. Naoki’s interest wasn’t as unusual as it might sound on it’s own. DDR‘s Wii version integrated support for the balance board accessory, DDR for Playstation 3 was going to use the Playstation Move, and overall Konami was actively experimenting with the available video game innovations out there at the time to see what worked.
We’d be introduced to DanceMasters for the Kinect in 2010, after Naoki introduced it on stage and demonstrated it live at Konami’s E3 2010 press conference. There’s an interview with him at E3 2011 where he talks about the future of DDR and other Bemani franchises. Since he can barely speak English we have no idea what he’s saying, but you can tell Naoki was optimistic about moving forward.
As you can see in this demonstration video, DanceMasters takes the mechanics of Dance Dance Revolution up a notch by including a player’s entire body. Instead of stepping on a dance-pad to respond to button prompts, DanceMasters uses the Kinect to capture the player’s body movements as they imitate whatever poses the game tells them to do.
It wasn’t the only title on the block. Harmonix had their own competing Kinect dance game Dance Central release on the same day (November 4th 2010). Dance Central would have sequel titles release after their game scored positive reviews with critics, while Dance Evolution got a lukewarm response that would only get an port to arcades by March 2012.
Naoki left Konami at some point in or before June 2012 (another member of the E3 2010 Press Conference presentation, Tak Fujii, would end up leaving a few years later). Maeda made vague statements on Twitter alluding to some big change in his career, which would eventually be revealed as a transfer to CAPCOM. His project there was the CROSSxBEATS rhythm game for iOS which he announced on September 4th 2013.
The long standing rumor was that Konami decided to move all pictures of him from BEMANI games then on, but I wasn’t able to find anything to back up that claim. That isn’t to say Konami’s music branch didn’t have their share of controversies, though. They most certainly did.
A music game named Def Jam Rapstar would be part of multiple lawsuits. In March 2012, the EMI record label accused Terminal Reality and 4mm Games didn’t properly acquire the rights to songs by artists like DMX, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne. They wanted $8 million in damages. In May 2012, City National Bank would accuse Konami and Autumn Games of lying to secure a loan, saying the company told the bank sales projections would reach a “baseless and unrealistic” 2.5 million units. They wanted $9 million in damages.
The songs Dynamite Rave and End Of the Century in Dance Dance Revolution 3rd Mix ended up being redone in DDR X because of licensing issues, and Konami didn’t recommission the latter while having the former redone.
If you wanted to understand what caused the decline of Bemani games in the West, the answer is E-Amuse. The later releases of titles like Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania were built with the E-Amuse network in their foundation. Without a connection to this, the game locks people out. In Japan, the E-Amuse network is what interlinks these arcade games together. It’s what makes the leaderboards and push updates, as well as setting rivals and acquire unlocks that are accessed via a card for player profiles. E-Amuse was initially only available in Southeast Asia, and it never expanded to international countries and territories for a long time. Arcades in the West were still able to import these cabinets at first when E-Amuse was in their early stages. When it got too entangled, a team known as Programmed World formed to fill in the E-Amuse gaps and support the international Bemani communities. On March 9th 2015 they got hit with a cease and desist. Programmed World was a valiant effort to try and maintain interest and community spirit for Bemani games, as the E-Amuse system had no interest by arcades in the West (which is why Konami didn’t formally expand services there).
But these games still have hope. In July 2016 Dance Dance Revolution A managed to score a North American release. This means e-Amusement network support. It’s currently available at select Dave & Busters arcades across the country (determined by what performed well during a test period). A separate arcade chain, Round1, is the only other place with Bemani titles at their various locations in the USA.
The first four Silent Hill games are really the core of the franchise and the only ones that actually mattered at all. Developed by a mysterious development team at Konami called Team Silent, they created a series of horror games that take the protagonists on a journey through the ominous fictional town of Silent Hill. Well, except for the fourth game that takes place somewhere different, but you get the point. The town served as an anchor that was capable of being a foundation for it’s own grander story, beyond the scope of the adventures of the characters throughout each entry. These games certainly earned their praise as being something that helped define the horror genre. What the delivered was atmosphere, and the video game industry at-large would see the success of that dynamic and try to build on that later on.
I talked to one of the testers for Silent Hill 2 to get a sense of what it was like back then, helping to build the game.
So, when I started I was hired on as a temp worker, but through Konami itself. That’s not how anyone I know does it now (or maybe even did it then). They always go through temp agencies. The test team was a dozen or so people. All college-aged. There were a few hard working testers, and some that would only show up half the time, or only write up one bug a month. And the test team and test room was cut off from the rest of the company. We only ever interfaced with our leads and the QA manager.
One day one of the testers saw Mark Hamill walking down the hall and pulled him into the test room. The test room is major off limits to people who don’t have access (it has all the games we’re working on in it). But I think they let it slide because it was Mark freakin’ Hamill. The dude is super nice too. Chatted with all the testers, shook our hands. It was great.
There was a breakroom at the end of the hall, but none of the testers were allowed in it (it was on the Production side). We could step outside the building, though, for a smoke, and then would be able to chat with some of the other employees who would step out of the break room. One day someone opened the door to the break room, and a couple of docs waddled out (there’s a lot of water fowl in the area). The testers should their heads and complained that the ducks got breakroom access and we didn’t.
So, I was working on the US localization of Silent Hill 2. The localizer would come into the test room and chat with us sometimes. He was friends with some of the testers. I made his day one time because one of the puzzles was in hexadecimal, and his degree was actually in physics, so he got to use it to help us with that puzzle.
Eventually, way, way later, things started to relax a little. I remember as a lead I was able to go into the production side and chat with developers. Also the Customer Service people, who were all ex-testers, too. At one point, I want to say it was after I left, they started testing PC games, and the PC testers were all in cubes over in the production side.
We were talking about SH2 one time and he mentioned that the artists had flown over, and he had shown them around Burlingame for them to get reference photos for the town of Silent Hill. The streets really do look like Burlingame, except for the fog. He had said that while he was showing them around, he stopped by his apartment to pick something up. When they made the game and we started testing it, when James goes into his apartment building, that’s the localizer’s apartment’s lobby. He shook his head when he saw it. I told him “Well, I know what I’m dressing up as for Halloween!”
Something I had heard about, that I imagine you’d be able to actually figure out, is that in Silent Hill 2, one of the characters is a little girl, and she shows up a couple times, but doesn’t have her own story. Apparently in the Japanese version she does have a story, and it ties all of the other stories in SH2 together, but they had to cut it for the US version. (I mean, if the two version are that different, it has to be known and documented by now.)
The department went on after that. They started working on the PC ports of Silent Hill 2 and others. What was it, 6-months or a year later they shut down the internal studio, fired everyone– except for QA. (and localization). Then eventually they closed that office down, and I think moved down to LA. (Then way later, as you know, Konami would eventually stop making video games.)
After that, the series went downhill. Silent Hill: Origins in 2007 was the first time people began to see things going stale. 2008’s Silent Hill: Homecoming didn’t even get a Japan release. By 2012’s Silent Hill: Downpour, the series had a hit a point of mediocrity in the public eye.
But there’s a story worth telling within this fall from grace. The tale of Guy Cihi, who played James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2.
Guy Cihi was likely typecasted for his ability to express himself like a normal everyday sort of dude. He reportedly got the job because that’s what the directors had envisioned James Sunderland as sounding like. A perfect fit.
In October 2010, Cihi says he was contacted by Konami. They were “discussing issues related to SH2’s continuing popularity,” which Guy assumed was going to end up being for a Silent Hill 2 re-release or work for a Silent Hill 2 movie involving his James Sunderland character.
He did an interview with The Gaming Liberty a few days later.
Guy gives his background story. Born in New York and has a background in Industrial Design. This line of work caused Cihi to find himself interacting with clients in Japan. After his business partner died of cancer, he ended up cashing out and going into venture capital and incubation work. The point is, Guy ended up living in Japan. He got the role totally on accident. While Guy was setting up his business in Japan, he took his daughter to audition for a role in a Playstation game. While Cihi was waiting around in the break room, he began reading one of the nearby scripts sitting around. At one point, Jeremy Blaustein walked by the area and Guy asked if he could for James Sunderland’s part for the hell of it. His daughter’s audition didn’t end up anywhere, but that’s how Guy Cihi got the part. When recording lines for James, Guy was able to draw on the emotions of his recent divorce in order to become genuinely sad sounding on queue. Doing voiceovers acted as a catharsis. Cihi says there was 4 days of voice-acting but about 4 months of motion capture work.
Guy’s happy-go-lucky sort of approach to this disappears after The Gaming Liberty asks him about Japanese writers and developers making a story with English characters.
I don’t have a very positive opinion about the ‘suits’ at Konami. I mean, they blacked out my face in the making of video because they wanted to avoid paying residual compensation for my performance?!? What’s with that…?? They should have taken the high road. Another bothersome thing is that they didn’t credit the assistant director Jeremy Blaustein for the tremendous job he did supporting the actors on stage and re-editing the script. Don’t get me wrong, we all enjoyed working together on the stage with the creative team from Konami. The creative guys did an amazing job researching and writing an incredibly complex story full of intricate historical references. Their tragic SH2 love story has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time. The fact remains however that the script was put into vernacular English by JB, and I think he deserves more credit for his work.
In a follow-up later on in the piece, Guy says he had no idea Konami released a “Making Of” video. The “suits” at the company never told him the game was a hit either. “Cutting people off seems like a regular thing for them. I hope that someday Konami management learns how to do right by the people who contribute so much to making their products,” Cihi stated.
The documentary video in question blurs Cihi’s face by the 11:22 mark. Start a few seconds before that and you can see the actual blurring effect “activate” itself.
In June 2011 more of the situation unraveled on Guy’s Facebook.
When asked about reprising James for the Silent Hill HD Collection, Cihi responded by saying Konami “won’t” ask him to do it again because of alleged residuals owed for re-using mocap and voice recordings. Guy said he had a leg to stand on no matter what because even if they redid his voicework they’d still have to include his mocap movements no matter what. Cihi further clarified he only granted reproduction rights for the initial release of Silent Hill 2, and not for further reuses (think along the lines of Playstation 2’s “Greatest Hits” re-release gimmick).
In August 2011 there was a controversy over voice tracks being replaced in Silent Hill 2 HD. Troy Baker did an interview on the 23rd for The Gaming Liberty breaking down his perspective. Baker says Konami first brought up the idea of a Silent Hill HD face-lift back in 2010, but for the longest time the process seemed stuck in the discussion phase. But out of seemingly nowhere he was approached about the team’s initiative to give the game a “fresh face” and do something different. One of the problems with that was voicework was limited to the original animations and motion capture performances. Troy tells us his role was taking over for Guy Cihi as James Sunderland, which he says was an interesting feat in itself to pull off.
Specifically to Guy Cihi, you know, outside of Silent Hill 2, I honestly don’t know of anything else he’s done. I’m sure that if Silent Hill was my big game and I did it ten years ago and I saw how successful it was, I would want more money too. Actually, I don’t know if I would be that way because id just be happy that I was a part of a successful franchise. The thing that I have learned, especially with the Japanese companies, is that you never ever speak out. You never bash your employers. You never bash the people who gave you a huge leg up no matter what they’ve done or what you feel that they’ve done. But the fact that he’s talking about residuals being in videogames shows you just how out of the loop he is because residuals don’t happen.
Baker defends Konami’s side of the feud, saying the company had made no fault against Cihi. Troy says Konami wanted him back but Guy was adamant to try and negotiate new agreement terms, which led the company to ultimately turn him down.
On August 29th 2011 Guy Cihi would take to Facebook to respond to Troy’s characterization of events. Guy says neither himself nor any of the voice actors involved in Silent Hill 2 ever recieved written agreements for their work. All Cihi had was the verbal agreement they came down to during negoiations with Konami. He was under the impression he’d recieve a written contract but that never came to pass. Guy says the verbal agreement covered Silent Hill 2‘s release on Playstation 2. Nothing else was discussed beyond that. Citing laws within the state of California, the agreement (and circumstrances there-in) between Konami and Cihi gives Guy retention of all rights for reproduction and re-use of his vocal/mocap performances. Cihi expressed confidence about being in the right, citing the extrenous efforts Konami were going through to replace his voice-acting for the Silent Hill HD Collection. Guy says that nobody at Konami tried to contact him and straighten things out in the way Baker described. The only person to ever get in touch was Director of Licensing Michael Ranja.
This is what Michael said to Guy on October 6th of the previous year (’10):
“Per the voice acting done for the videogame Silent Hill 2 (your role as James Sunderland), I understand that in the past it was agreed that Konami would purchase and own all rights to the voice acting. As we don’t have paperwork for this, would it be possible for you to fill out the attachment and email or fax back to me?”
The second message from Ranja sent on the 22nd of that month assured Guy he would see what he could do in regards to arranging some sort of settlement agreement.
Guy Cihi says his qualms with Konami weren’t about money, but rather the way people were treated working on the production side. Citing the reuse of his material without a written agreeement as a reason and his contributions/face being erased from a “Making Of” video as another. After expressing gratitude for the chance to play James Sunderland in the first place, Guy Cihi relinquishes reuse rights for his vocal and motion capture work. He stated he didn’t want to be a barrier between Konami’s efforts to give the public a chance to play Silent Hill 2 in HD.
At the end of September, Guy Cihi would reveal more about what happened (in a Facebook reply) during Silent Hill 2‘s production. The original comment was by someone who applauded Jeremy Blaustein for making the negoitations between Konami and the orignal Silent Hill 2 voice actors possible. Guy didn’t take too kindly to that, calling it “false and misleading.” Cihi says Jeremy Blaustein was an opportunist and his behavior back in the days of production helped create the mess that was going on. According to Cihi – Jeremy came into the picture after he had gotten in touch with Konami. Back in the day, Blaustein had apparently attacked the quality of the original Silent Hill 2 voice actors. On set, everyone tended to ignore whatever direction Jeremy gave. On the days that Blaustein didn’t show up, everyone got more work done. Guy Cihi says Jeremy Blaustein was in charge of the casting agency who booked the Silent Hill 2 voice actors, and thus directly responsible for Konami’s neglegance in getting written agreements signed.
This would end up being only one of the potential sources of problems with Silent Hill HD Collection‘s development.
On November 22nd 2011, Konami’s Tomm Hulett made an announcement about the voice acting for Silent Hill HD Collection on the official Facebook page. Silent Hill 2 in this collection would allow players to pick the original voiceover work (like that done by Guy Cihi), or the remastered performances (Troy Baker’s take). However “due to factors both technical and logistical,” the remastered voices were the only possible choice for Silent Hill 3 in this HD collection. But Guy Cihi was able to tell us more about what happened behind the scenes here. In a Facebook post he tells us about the sit-down that happened within that past week between himself/David Schaufele/Monica Horgan (original voice actors) and Tomm/Devin Shatsky from Konami. At the time the HD Collection was slated for January 2012 launch and all the major actors for Silent Hill 2 were willing to sign releases (there was one holdout from a minor role that Konami eventually decided to work around). The reason that Silent Hill 3 didn’t have the original voiceovers like Silent Hill 2 was because Konami couldn’t find Heather Morris in time to sign a rights release.
You can read more about Tomm Hulett’s perspective here. But the basic question is was Silent Hill HD Collection any good?
IGN gave it a 9 for the Playstation 3 version. The reactions between the old and new voices was a mixed bag. It was a mess on release. Both games had slowdowns and sync issues when it came to sounds. Framerates were atrocious. Konami would rush out a patch for the PS3 version, but overall it didn’t do much to fix any problems. The Xbox 360 version didn’t suffer from many of the same issues PS3’s did. It was debatable whether or not the HD Collection was worth it over the originals, which means the overall goal in the first place for making this wasn’t achieved. Masahiro Ito (art director for Original Silent Hill 2 and 3) was highly disappointed with the HD Collection‘s release. He believed people new to the series would see this collection and think both of the games weren’t very good at all originally.
They mucked up the fog as well in the remake, ruining the claustrophobic atmosphere that the player was intended to feel during the experience in the first place.
In May 2012 a VG247 article explains that Tomm Hulett and the team were working with incomplete versions of the game because Konami lost the finalized orignal source code for Silent Hill 2 and 3. What this means is that there wasn’t just porting related bugs, but also glitches and issues that the original team dealt with during development and took care of previously. Things were further complicated as the devs doing the remake had to replace textures and sounds, bringing in a variety of technical hiccups of their own during that process.
Konami had set out to release 3 Silent Hill games in March 2012, but their plan ended up a failure. Silent Hill HD Collection got delayed two weeks from Marhc 6th as to not have to face-off against the release of Mass Effect 3. But when it did come out it was a buggy mess that left gamers frustrated. Neither the Collection, or Silent Hill Downpour had much presence on PSN or Xbox Live. The negativity given towards these titles made Konami push back Book of Memories to a Spring 2012 release.
A pattern that emerged is Konami handed out their Silent Hill series IP to outside third-party developers. A habit that was previously seen in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow section discussed previously. Vatra Games made Silent Hill: Downpour, WayForward Technologies made Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the Vita, and the Silent Hill: HD Collection was made by Hijinx Studios. Konami had previously done this to Silent Hill back in 2008 with Double Helix Games who made Silent Hill: Homecoming.
In August 2015 Konami announced they were turning Silent Hill into a pachinko machine. Here’s the official website for it.
This game doesn’t exactly fit within the confines of the Silent Hill series. It never came to exist as it was envisioned in the first place, anyway. All the world got was a taste of it through the sweet and delicious P.T. demo.
It began back in September 2012, revealed during a Eurogamer interview. The President of Konami asked Hideo Kojima to make the next Silent Hill game.
Kojima also spoke about potentially getting involved with the Silent Hill series – a subject he expressed interest in via Twitter earlier this year.
“In the past I’ve mentioned Silent Hill in interviews, and as a result of that the president of Konami rung me up and said he’d like me to make the next Silent Hill,” Kojima revealed today.”
Honestly, I’m kind of a scaredy-cat when it comes to horror movies, so I’m not confident I can do it. At the same time, there’s a certain type of horror that only people who are scared of can create, so maybe it’s something I can do.
“That said, I think Silent Hill has a certain atmosphere. I think it has to continue, and I’d love to help it continue, and if I can help by supervising or lending the technology of the Fox Engine, then I’d love to participate in that respect.”
Back then it was mentioned seemingly in passing. Nobody thought anything would’ve come of it.
Sony revealed Kojima’s game at Gamescom 2014 as something called P.T., launching the interactive teaser on PSN. They were vague in their introduction, only saying that the game’s demo from this “new studio” (7780s Studio) was exclusively live at the time of the reveal.
P.T. as a game takes the player through an endless loop of a spooky house. The long and narrow corridors of this place seemed life-like in their appearance, making for a great and haunted atmosphere. The house had a bathroom, a foyer that allowed you to look into the upstairs section, and a basement. Entering the door of the basement took you back to the start of the house. Players would go through this loop over and over in order to see what would change. This small segment of house was filled with clues in every nook and cranny. A radio perched by the front door gave you some sense of backstory as well, delivered by the staticy voice of an announcer.
On August 12 SoapyWarpig was able to beat P.T. (playable teaser) and unlocked the hidden trailer for Silent Hills at the end. The short clip revealed Guillermo del Toro was involved with the project, with Norman Reedus taking on the role of the protagonist.
Some people were able to figure it out before hand based on the fact that there was no Sony logo attached to the P.T. trailer, only a fake developer. Another similarity was the options menu being alike to the one found in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
People’s spirits about the series were at a low before this. But Silent Hills brought optimism to an all-time high. At the time of the game’s initial unveiling, it looked like Silent Hills would be out by 2016.
So what happened to Silent Hills? For that, we’re going to need to see what unfolded with Metal Gear.
The golden gem of Konami’s intellectual properties. The brainchild of Hideo Kojima, he took Metal Gear from its modest beginnings in 1987 all the way to the top over the course of nearly two decades of entries into the series.
Chronologically speaking, Metal Gear Solid 3 is the first game (in regards to timeline). Going under the name of Naked Snake, someone named Big Boss fights in the Cold War. By the time of Peace Walker, he’s running around South America to stop nuclear warheads from being transported. Ground Zeroes takes place directly after that. Big Boss gets in a helicopter accident that causes him to end up in a coma for nine years. The Phantom Pain takes place after that, with the Big Boss forming the Diamond Dogs military group to fight back against the XOF organization that caused his coma. But that Big Boss was actually a body double, with the real Big Boss going on to create Outer Haven.
The first (released) Metal Gear game switches protagonists, taking us under the role of Solid Snake. Big Boss sends him to investigate Outer Haven to find someone named Gray Fox and learn more about the Metal Gear weapon. Big Boss didn’t expect Snake to survive his mission, and reveals he was the leader of Outer Haven the whole time. Snake kills Big Boss, but it turns out to be that body double from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. In Metal Gear 2 he manages to kill the actual Big Boss. Metal Gear Solid reveals Solid Snake is really a clone of Big Boss, along with Liquid. Liquid takes control of the FOXHOUND group and they take over a nuclear weapons facility to try and get possession of the dead body of Big Boss. Solid Snake kills everyone except Revolver Ocelot. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the US President is another Big Boss clone, Solidus Snake. He’s trying to wipe out The Patriots group that’s guiding history. Solidius ends up in charge of a facility that has an Arsenal Gear fortress that’s able to filter information accessed via the internet. At the end of this game, Revolver Ocelot gets possessed by nanomachines that are controlled by Liquid Snake. Finally, in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, an old Solid Snake stops Liquid Ocelot from taking over the Patriots by destroying their A.I. systems.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was also a thing. But as you can see by this tweet, Konami gave as much thought and time to it as I did writing this sentence.
So why did people love it? People loved the story for being both complex and yet not taking itself too seriously. It was a defining foundation title for the stealth genre of video games. Overall it will remain memorable in the coming years as something that helped push video games to the next level when it comes to an artistic medium.
It brought in a lot of money for Konami. Metal Gear Solid 4 alone brought in 3 million units of sales on the first day of release alone. 4.5 million sales by February 2009. The company went as far as deciding when to launch The Phantom Pain based on how Ground Zeroes did in terms of performance.
But controversy was inevitable. It started small at first.
Back in May 2008, Konami reps allegedly told people in the gaming press not to mention some details in their Metal Gear Solid 4 reviews. Aspects like the size of the game’s installation and how long the cutscenes are were apparently prohibited.
Kojima had a history of saying he was done making the Metal Gear series all the way since Metal Gear Solid 3. In retrospect? That sort of a fuss seems like one small drop in the tidal wave of heat Konami would find themselves in later on.
To get some context for what went down behind the scenes, I talked to someone who worked of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain:
This is completely boring as well, but, just from in insider’s perspective. When MGSV:TPP was originally sent in for testing around November/December 2014, the idea AFAIK, was that there were supposed to be 2-3 rounds of testing before the title was released.
I think this was about the same time that Konami was restructuring their company and trying to push Kojima out.
The game was supposed to go back for regression, i.e. to check if all the fixes had been made, but never did. So it basically had one round of localization testing, and a very intense one at that.
However, the game itself was completely unplayable in January 2015 and testing was rescheduled to April 2015. There ended up being basically 24 hours of testing a day, at least five days a week, for a solid month to go through everything.
Since MGSV was released in September 2015 and the release build has to be successfully submitted around 6-8 weeks beforehand, that would mean that Kojima was allegedly isolated from his dev team around last January or February 2015. Which also overlaps with the restructuring.
Geoff Keighley claims that Kojima was isolated from the rest of the devs for the last six months of development. The catch here is how you define development.
Based on having worked on the project, I do know that the mission that was cut from the game – which was made available on a Blu-Ray disc that came with the special collector’s edition – was apparently still being planned/worked on to an extent as late as January 2015 since I’ve seen text files dating from that time period where the lines from the cut mission were still included.
March 19th 2015. People began to notice that Hideo Kojima’s development team’s branding was being removed from official Konami websites (see this before n’ after) and social media. It was very confusing as some tweets from official accounts still included Kojima’s name on their marketing.
“As we have already announced, we are shifting our production structure to a headquarters-controlled system, in order to establish a steadfast operating base capable of responding to the rapid market changes that surround our digital entertainment business. Konami Digital Entertainment (including Mr. Kojima), will continue to develop and support Metal Gear products. Please look forward to future announcements,” Konami told IGN.
It appeared that was the case, according to a news release quietly published back on the 3rd of that month. This proposed organizational re-structuring that was going into effect had caused Konami’s higher ups (content officers, senior producers, etc.) at their Digital Entertainment branch to be assigned manager roles for newly designated divisions. 3 different divisions for Production and 1 each for Production Management, Sales, Public Relations/Promotion, and Intellectual Property.
Given these sweeping changes it came as a surprise to many that Kojima was nowhere to be seen in these new plans. As you can see here back in July 2014, Hideo was an Executive Content Officer at Konami. People’s concerns were amplified as Kojima’s studio had been renamed from Kojima Productions to Konami Los Angeles.
It’s been suggested by many that Hideo left a message on that March 16th day, subtly suggesting to everyone that changes were happening behind the scenes.
“Konami Digital Entertainment, including Mr. Kojima, will continue to develop and support Metal Gear products. Please look forward to future announcements,” the company told videogamer.com.
That same day, an anonymous source spoke to Gamespot about what was really happening behind Konami closed doors. Kojima Productions and Konami had “power struggles” which led the publisher to reduce Hideo’s team to contractor status (confirmed a few days later) instead of full-time employees. A byproduct of that was a clamping down on communications (internet, emails, phone calls) and limitations on opportunities for making appearances to help promote Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. This arrangement would last until the team’s contract was to expire by the end of December that year.
After nearly 30 years at the company, Kojima’s journey would hit a tumultuous final chapter.
The next day on March 20th, Konami would obfuscate the situation further by posting a job listing for a development team to make a new Metal Gear game. Even folks who firmly refused to believe the news from the previous day would have to see this act as a not-so-subtle hint from the company.
A joint statement from both Kojima and Konami came later that day.
The latest title in the METAL GEAR series,“METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN” (below, “MGSV: TPP”), will be released as planned starting on Tuesday, September 1st, 2015 in North America, Latin America, and Europe, followed by Japan and Asia on Wednesday, September 2nd. Hideo Kojima will remain involved throughout.
Hideo Kojima stated, “I want to reassure fans that I am 100% involved and will continue working on METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN; I’m determined to make it the greatest game I’ve directed to date. Don’t miss it!”
In addition, KONAMI will continue to develop and distribute top-quality content in the METAL GEAR series following “MGSV: TPP.” We greatly anticipate and deeply appreciate your ongoing support for METAL GEAR.
So Konami’s route was basically saying “YES. Kojima is still working on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. But also YES, Konami is continuing the Metal Gear series after that game is released.”
People still had concerns, but the direct approach was helpful in assuaging the immediate doubts. The week after that saw Kojima Station announce they wouldn’t be broadcasting as usual due to “various circumstances.”
By the beginning of April 2015, Kojima’s name would be added back (after it was removed) to Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection on the website page. They did NOT do that for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain however. Whatever confusion happened there was never formally addressed by Konami. Similar thing happened on Konami’s page for Zone of the Enders HD Collection. Kojima’s name was removed and then it came back.
At the end of March, Kojima’s logo was removed from the Silent Hills website. Konami gave the same “restructuring” line of reasoning as they had done before.
On April 9th we’d get some more coming out of the Twitter woodwork.
“Yes don’t throw away the Kojima teams work over the last 5 years because upper management fired a genius,” voice actress Donna Burke said. She did the voice of iDroid Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and sung “Sins of the Father” for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. When asked to specify that claim as a confirmation that Kojima was fired, “yes but it’s been out in the media for weeks..but it’s true,” Burke tweeted.
(The office pictures used in this section came from Metal Gear Informer.)
Donna Burke would partially retract this statement on April 11th after Konami called her “categorically incorrect.” She’d make it clear that Kojima was indeed still working on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain at that present time. “Konami is correct in that Kojima has not actually been fired,” she said.
But by the end of that April we’d get a four-day notice from Konami on the 25th, stating that they were removing the P.T. demo from the Playstation store on the 29th of that month. Any lingering hopes were extinguished that night when Guillermo del Toro flat-out said Silent Hills was “not gonna happen” in response to a question asked at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Alas, the project’s death was swift. On April 27th, the final word came down. “Konami is committed to new Silent Hill titles, however the embryonic ‘Silent Hills’ project developed with Guillermo del Toro and featuring the likeness of Norman Reedus will not be continued,” the company told the press.
Also on the 27th, Konami formally announced something they had done a few days prior. Delist themselves from the New York Stock Exchange.
As said in the release:
KONAMI CORPORATION (the “Company”) hereby announces that the voluntary delisting of its American Depositary Shares (“ADSs”) from the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) became effective prior to the opening of trading on April 24, 2015 (Eastern Time in the U.S.) as scheduled, following the filing, on April 13, 2015, of a Form 25 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) for delisting from the NYSE and deregistration with the SEC as announced on April 1, 2015. In addition, the Company has filed a Form 15F with the SEC on April 24, 2015 to terminate its reporting obligations under the U.S. Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”).
Some folks bought the given reason that it was all part of the company’s restructuring. Others thought in more particular terms, looking to the growth of Konami’s Pachinko business as an indicator of which way the wind was blowing.
May 14th 2015. The changes to Konami’s business are further explained in a 5 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) page interview on Nikkei. Konami’s Representative Director at the time Hideki Hayakawa goes more in-depth about the company’s perspective and strategy moving forward. His main job was mobile gaming.
Hideki explains that Konami had started to include online modes in some of their titles. In the process of building up your players or clubs in these games, the pricing model has ways of charging you money despite being a free-to-download upon entry. Hayakawa tells us that “mobile first” doesn’t necessarily mean “mobile only” when it comes to the company’s strategy. They interpret the company’s in-depth portfolio of IP at their disposal as something that needs to be considered based on what the consumer’s specific interests are. As it applies to innovation, Hayakawa expressed his confidence at how Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain were innovating in their respective areas and platforms. While the company has an awareness of the presence in overseas markets, Japan is their home turf. Hideki notes that cultural differences in other markets has somewhat of an impact on how they develop mobile gaming titles.
“Creative power,” “polishing power,” and “power to deliver” are the three areas of production that Hayakawa says the company is focusing on. The point of their restructuring was intended to increase flexibility in responding to the means of consumers. By separating management and production, Konami believes they are hitting that goal.
By the end of May, we’d get another statement from Konami trying to clear up the situation that unfolded. “We are aware that the conjecture surrounding our recent changes has prompted a great deal of anxiety, for which we apologise,” they told IGN. Konami put a further emphasis on the fact that were still going to give Metal Gear and Silent Hill the attention they deserved, as they further pushed their mobile gaming business.
July 10th 2015. The Japanese voice actor for Solid Snake reveals that Kojima Productions was essentially dissolved.
We’d see Kojima was starting to look towards the future on July 24th.
“I love working with Kojima-san. We are still in touch. We are still friends and working into doing something together, but that’s not going to be [Silent Hills],” Guillermo Del Toro told IGN in an interview.
We’d get to hear how far along Silent Hills was before Konami shut it down.
“We were in the planning stages, and it’s a shame it’s not going to happen,” del Toro said. “We were talking about really pushing the boundaries of the new consoles, and making the game really mess with your head. One of the great moments in Metal Gear [Solid] was Psycho Mantis. The idea that a game can actually interact with you, and stuff like that.”
The Japanese media outlet known as Nikkei came out with a report on August 3rd 2015 that further stoked the Konami controversy. A translated version of the article (both pages) is available here and here.
The report has a statement from an employee who cited the shift in Konami’s business model being linked to the success of the Dragon Collection smartphone game. While it only took tens of millions of yen to make, it brought in hundreds of millions of yen into the company’s profits.
When looking at the 2011 Konami shareholder notes, we can further verify the board of directors was impressed with the title’s success.
“In games for SNS, DRAGON COLLECTION, for which online distribution was launched on GREE in September 2010, saw membership top 2 million players. DRAGON COLLECTION has also remained the top-ranking GREE title for 23 straight weeks and received the Best Overall Application Award at GREE Platform Awards 2010. In these ways, this game has won strong customer support from many quarters and sales are expanding steadily.”
Later on in the notes, there’s remarks about what the Directors will do in regards to games with social networking services (SNS). They thought online experiences where players could get involved on a global scale was going to be the next big thing. Konami’s board says the plan was to increase their focus on that where it seemed possible and applicable to do so.
So yes. That Nikkei article’s Konami employee remark is entirely accurate.
The overall sentiment at the time was allegedly that Konami was going to shift more of their attention to casino games as a result. While that might be true, it’s not necessarily the entire big picture. Referring back to the 2011 shareholder notes, over on page 10 we can see the board of directors very bluntly lay their intentions out.
They were recovering from the global economic decline that had taken place in the years prior – causing Konami to adapt their company structure. From their central HQ holding company with four separate segments, the Directors thought they could better manage the different needs of every market with this approach.
One of the article highlights is the 10 billion yen development cost for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Elsewhere this aspect is expanded upon. According to Gamerant, the composer for games 1-3 of the Metal Gear Solid series, Rika Muranaka, did an interview with The Codec Podcast. Responding to what she believed to be the reason for Kojima’s rift with Konami, she states it was a combination of Kojima’s salary along with the amount of delays that Hideo would have before finishing. A portion of the costs was dedicated to upgrading the Fox Engine so it could accomplish what Kojima had envisioned for Metal Gear here. Again this is only a rumor.
Right after that, in a throwaway sentence, it briefly states Kojima is being “incarcerated” in his own office.
This type of employee treatment isn’t out of place for Japan’s workplace standards. In a piece by the New York Times, readers come to know the saga of a Sony employee named Shusaku Tani. After being staffed at one of their plants (that made cassettes and video tapes) for 32 years, Tani refused to take an early retirement offer from his employer. Japanese labor laws enable workers more freedom in that respect.
The response from management was to exile Shusaku to the “chasing-out room” where he and 40 other employees like him spend their days. Within this small space, Tani browses the internet and reads newpapers or books. That’s it. At the conclusion of the work day he reports on his activities, and heads home. While Sony objects to criticisms by saying employees are given career advice and options, the overall dynamic is put on display fairly succinctly.
Yes. The part about Kojima being confined to his Konami office for the span of the workday is feisable.
Konami’s distancing of themselves from Kojima is further mentioned elsewhere in the article. Hideo’s department from which he developed the Metal Gear franchise from had been renamed Production Department 8. A small detail that can be backed up elsewhere. In July 2015, it came to the public’s attention that Hideo Kojima’s name was removed from Metal Gear Solid V‘s box art.
But a significant portion of the August 2015 Nikkei article is dedicated to employee relations with management. They were in a very sordid state according to the piece. Like an Orwellian Big Brother, cameras are stationed in the office hallways to watch over employees as they move from location to location throughout the day. When it was time for lunch, breaks were closely monitored with time cards. If you came back from your lunch break late, your name would allegedly be announced for the whole company to hear. Nikkei says in one instance where an employee announced on Facebook that he was leaving his Konami job, it was monitored. Anyone in the company who liked the post had their job post reshuffled.
Nikkei alleges Konami employees aren’t allowed to have their own email addresses. This is true, and the company still uses this practice as recent as a few months ago, according to this Linkedin job posting.
This practice had gone on for years, if the Konami employee email address shared by Guy Cihi back in 2010 was a legitimate one.
An often overlooked section of the Nikkei Konami article is a section about Momotaro Electric Railway, a video game made by Hudson Soft (and thus in Konami’s possession after their corporate takeover). Akira Sakuma public tweeted about the lack of communication from Konami in regards to revenue sharing agreements, so he assumed Railway was officially terminated. That outburst caused Konami to address the matter in a statement response, assuring the public that talks were still ongoing. Sakuma ended up making a deal with Nintendo at some point after.
I discussed that earlier, but it’s worth mentioning it again as it shows how Konami handles creative talent in their business. Stop overlooking it, folks.
It’s worth it if we take the time to summarize some of the interactions that YouTubers have had with Konami in the past. Three different cases had shown up by this point, all of them having some sort of run-in with the company.
- Jim Sterling (2012): Blacklisted. But thank god for him, as he was one of the first to call out the Konami situation as it was. Back in March 2012 (but uploaded later in September of that year to the Escapist YouTube), Jim Sterling aired his grievances with Konami’s overall strategy as a games publisher. He starts off by pointing to Konami’s 2010 E3 conference as one of the first signs of trouble. It was chock-full of either PR people who were disconnected from the products themselves, or Japanese people who couldn’t speak English fluently. Sterling then goes over Konami’s failure to properly strategize their product releases. Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection‘s release went up against Call of Duty which is an overall hindrance to Konami when it comes to get the public’s interest in sales. On top of that, those who were actually interested in buying the collection would have trouble finding it. The availability in stores was extremely limited. On top of *all that*, Jim points out the timing of the HD Collection’s release makes a separate release of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D for the 3DS feel redundant. Elsewhere, Sterling tells us that Konami was releasing three Silent Hill games in one month. Silent Hill Downpour, Silent Hill HD Collection, and Silent Hill Book of Memories were going to be released within a week of one another during a “Month of Madness” event. Jim says Silent Hill HD Collection seems like a very easy thing to make (just requiring modern touch-ups and upgrades), but Konami managed to screw it up regardless. Whoever developed the game for Konami to publish? Released a product full of audio and visual bugs that necessitated a day-one patch to be pushed out. The game’s art director Masahiro Ito expressed his shock at this. Book of Memories ended up getting delayed to a “Spring” date in the future, which Konami made happen with little to no notice of the public after heavily pushing their “Month of Madness” campaign. A separate game released during this Month of Madness was Blades of Time. According to Sterling, Konami had not marketed the game at all. Going as far as giving a week’s notice as to Blades of Time‘s released date. Producer Tak Fujii couldn’t obtain a copy of his own game when he visited the United States that week. All in all, Jim Sterling poses the question of why Konami was in the video game publishing business at all? He goes on to say he had an interview set up for a certain unnamed Konami game. Telling us of his intent to help get details about it out to the public, Sterling says he did all the legwork in advance to make this interview happen. All he needed was a response from Konami PR to acknowledge it.
- Angry Joe: At E3, Angry Joe did an interview with Konami’s Community Manager about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. As he explains in a separate vlog piece, when arriving to do the interview Angry Joe was pulled aside by PR staff and told he wasn’t permitted to ask particular questions. They stated to Joe they had no further comments on the Kojima situation. Joe says his intentions in the first place were to get answers about microtransactions and the future of Metal Gear with regards to Kojima’s involvement in the franchise moving forward. He tried to balance that along with his responsibilities to his subscribers to get answers, but Joe ended up getting reprimanded by Konami anyway because he mentioned Kojima’s name at all.
- SuperBunnyHop: His original video released on April 27th 2015 got taken down by Konami. It summarized the events I had previously mentioned about what was coming out about Kojima’s employment at Konami at the time. SuperBunnyHop pressed the company PR for answers but was stonewalled. The big names attached to the Silent Hills project were a dead-end as well, with their publicists being unable to give SuperBunnyHop a straight answer. Sources familiar with the situation were able to come forward anonymously and contextualize the feud between Kojima and Konami executives (see below). YouTube’s copyright claim system at the time err’ed significantly in the favor of claimants over video uploaders. His follow-up video on May 14th goes over this explaining that the DMCA takedown only lasted a few hours over the course of May 11th, before it was reversed by YouTube. According to the emails presented, this was done by YouTube themselves. “We are very concerned that your copyright notification may not be valid for some or all of the videos identified in your notification,” said YouTube’s message to Konami. What solidified this takedown as being legitimately from Konami and not from an imposter is the copyright notification being signed by a Japanese lawyer that was a higher-up at Konami. The alleged infringed content was Metal Gear Rising footage SuperBunnyHop included at a part in the video that was discussing the game’s position among the Kojima controversy going on at the company. “Almost everything in the video would likely be considered fair use from a copyright perspective,” said a lawyer interviewed by Polygon. SuperBunnyHop said Konami never reached out to him personally, nor did they deny their involvement (or address the matter) to the public. The occasion is seen as noteworthy because it’s one of the first times that YouTube’s team has intervened directly in one of these high-profile takedown situations.
- Jim Sterling (2015): It makes more sense to separate Jim Sterling’s Konami run-ins this way, as that three year span of time between his initial video and these two follow-up ones had a lot of things happen. In this first one at the end of April 2015, he says he saw the opportunity to bring up the topic of Konami again after the initial public fallout between Konami and Kojima + Silent Hills happening in the prior weeks. After getting the viewer up to speed on Konami’s failures as a publisher he mentioned in 2012, Jim reveals the interview he had set up for back in the day was in regards to the PS Vita version of Silent Hill: Book of Memories. WayForward wanted the piece out, but Konami never gave the dev and Sterling a thumbs-up to publish it. This communication blackout is the sort of thing that spurred Jim to make his 2012 Konami video in the first place. After that video went up, Sterling was informed that Konami had blacklisted him. The piece made its way to Konami’s corporate offices in Japan and into the eyes of the higher ups. At this point a US PR rep for Konami told Sterling straight-up that his Book of Memories interview wouldn’t be permitted. Later on, Destructoid managed to book Jim an E3 appointment with Konami to get a hands-on experience with one of their games. He was herded off to the side by PR reps who told Sterling they would not be able to cover them. Jim says he had to get Book of Memories director to sneak him in later to get him a chance to play it. Sterling would end up publishing his interview anyway. This war with Konami he waged ended up getting all of Destructoid blacklisted by the company. The only way Jim was able to have these things communicated to him was: Konami told a US PR rep who would then tell Destructoid’s EIC, who would then relay things to Sterling. At the end of this first video, Sterling expresses his apathy towards Konami’s fate. He forecasted they had no future as a video game publisher, and would at the most manage to get by with selling Panchiko machines and other products. A second video would arrive in August 2015 after the Nikkei article about Konami working conditions hit the public. His prediction about Panchiko would prove true in a sense, as Silent Hill‘s series license would be used as a foundation for one. Sterling reveals he was able to acquire information going into further detail about what was going on behind the scenes at Konami, via employees who had first hand knowledge. Jim’s sources said the Nikkei report was sensationalized. The notion that Konami monitors lunchbreaks and crosses the line of employee paranoia didn’t match-up with their own experiences. Many facets of the report regarding workplace practices were not specific to Konami and apparently commonplace in the industry. But then the video takes a turn towards intrigue. According to Sterling’s sources, there are aspects of work that caused “mental, physical, and emotional damage” to employees. This is pointed at as a factor for Tak Fujii, Koji Igarashi, Akira Yamaoka, and possibly Hideo Kojima leaving. The allegations are that Konami has a company approval system that serves little to no point and complicates development more than it helps. It’s essentially mandatory to go through it in order to get approval for anything that costs money (workplace items/supplies for public events) and it can take up to 2 weeks before that request is responded to. “Structure that actively discourages communication between departments,” is mentioned. Referring to the isolation of divisions and not having them talk to each other. “Company-wide initiatives change every year,” talks about not just the shift in direction the Board of Directors decides to take things in, but the expectation of compliance from Konami’s employees to jump on that whim. “No sense of history/legacy” refers to the self-explanatory direction of the company where once-beloved franchises were being turned into Pachinko machines. “Denies impact/importance of key creative employees and their contributions,” in laymans terms means Konami doesn’t attribute successful business ventures to the development teams and key employees that made that happen. Sterling points out the similarity of what was happening to Kojima was similar to the treatment of Akira Yamaoka for Silent Hill and Koji Igarashi for Castlevania.
Sterling brings up Konami quite often in Jimquisition videos, apparently. Feel free to listen to them all for yourselves if you’d like.
The main bit of new information that SuperBunnyHop brought forward in his original piece was made available in a photo for easy reading.
At the end of his August 2015 Konami video, Sterling tells us the story of a hypothetical Konami employee that was newly hired. At your first day on the job you might not have a computer because it wasn’t approved yet. If and when you get one, you won’t have an email address yet. This means you’re forced to create a hotmail account to send professional emails from. Even if you get access to these two things, you still need to get access to the approval system. His point is the hypothetical new employee will have wasted two weeks waiting to get the necessary access and supplies they need to get started. After all that, it still takes time to learn how to do your job. The work environment mentality is apathetic to your situation because the focus is “you better do the job you’re getting paid to do.”
Keep that in mind.
On September 1st 2015, Konami let Kojima have one final send-off video to commemorate the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
“I don’t think anyone is capable of planning a series that spans 28 years. I always felt that every chapter I made would be the last, and nothing would follow,” Kojima said.
Various figures involved with the Metal Gear project give their final thoughts to Hideo about what it was like working on the games. The emotional sentiment is amplified with the instrumental soundtrack softly playing in the background. It climaxes at the very end when Kojima goes to the home of a fan of one of his games. This fan had cancer and was going through chemotherapy, so he used video games as a means of escaping the limitations his own body placed on him.
Kojima says his source of energy is the enthusiasm from the public and his fans.
Don’t get Konami wrong here, they knew how to hype up the release of their game despite the Kojima controversy. “Basically, it is the most engrossing and stunning game of the year,” Konami marketing executive Jon Edwards told MCVUK.
He hones in on the amount of open world scope on display in this sandbox. Not just about the amount of opportunities and missions on offer, but in the various methods at a player’s disposal to accomplish them.
“It is a very key title for us and will have a huge retail presence,” Edwards explains. “We have cinema ads, blanket editorial coverage, a series of online take-overs, and outdoor ads all over the country. We have worked with Sony to produce the MGSV-themed PS4 – which is a stunning piece of kit – and we will be everywhere around launch. I do not exaggerate when I say MGSV is probably the best game of the year. Our push will remind people of that.”
People already knew.
According to the New Yorker, Kojima’s last day at Konami ended up being October 9th 2015. A source who attended the “departure ceremony” (party) said the going-away occasion took place at Kojima Productions, giving a chance for folks to say their goodbyes. Konami higher-ups Sadaaki Kaneyoshi (C.E.O.) and Hideki Hayakawa (President) did not show up but most of Kojima’s work buddies and acquaintances were able to swing by.
On October 20th 2015, a day after the New Yorker piece came out, Konami’s response was that Kojima was simply on vacation. It came via a Tokyo Sports article that Kotaku translated.
“Currently, Kojima and the development team are finished developing Metal Gear Solid V and are taking a long time off from work,” they said. When asked about the party, ““We’re not sure what kind of thing this was.”
The author of the New Yorker piece would call Konami’s bluff and tweet out a photo of the farewell party they claimed to not understand.
On November 3rd 3D Realms co-founder George Broussard tweeted out that Konami was going to shut down the LA studio where Kojima Productions was. He cited 35 jobs being lost, but Eurogamer’s estimate was 20.
The following day, Polygon acquired an official statement from the company as to what was up.
“Konami has made the decision to close its Los Angeles Studio, effective immediately, due to the product development resources being restructured into a more centralized unit,” Konami said. “This facility contributed to the recent Metal Gear Solid games. Konami will continue its operations to support all Metal Gear Solid titles, including the recently launched Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and Metal Gear Online. Metal Gear Online is still scheduled to release for PC Steam in January 2016.”
On December 15th 2015 Sony announced their partnership with Kojima’s new studio. News had gotten out in advance thanks to a Nikkei report, so I guess the executives thought it’d be better to just come out to the public with it sooner rather than later.
“My employment contract with Konami has been terminated as of Dec 15th, so today marks a new start for me. I’m committed to be involved in creative activities for as long as I live. Look forward to what’s coming,” Kojima tweeted.
By June 2016 Konami would end up pachinkoing Metal Gear. Here’s the official website for it.
Konami would still keep the Metal Gear series alive of course. A July 2016 report showed that the Metal Gear franchise sold 49 million copies. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. They promised to continue the series after Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and they were going to follow through on that.
Metal Gear Survive was the answer. In the interim between Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, a group of soldiers are teleported to an alternate dimension. This world is filled with crystal creatures that resemble zombies. The aim of the game is to get the soldiers back home and survive in this hostile universe.
Some people are willing to give the game a shot. Others are more skeptical, claiming it doesn’t fit with the style and theme the Metal Gear series had created.
But it also serves as the answer to the question about Konami. All the company wants to do is survive. They’re at a comfortable place financially, so all they need to do is maintain that position as a business and they think they’ll do fine.
The only way we can move the public dialogue about Konami forward is by properly understanding where the problems originated from in the first place. The Board of Directors. At the end of the day, Konami’s directors at the top of the corporate ladder bear the burden of responsibility when it comes to how the company is managed.
A January 2008 essay by Ryo Kambayashi talks about Japan’s workplace dismissal regulations. While he requests nobody quotes from it without his permission, the relevancy of the information within is too important to this discussion to simply pass up.
Japanese labor laws are proficient at covering minimum standards when it comes to employment. But when it involves the changing or termination of a job, that’s much more of a grey area. The closest thing Japan has is called the Doctrine of Abusive Dismissal. The overall economic impact of this Doctrine is still left to be decided and understood.
Going over Article 627 of the Japanese Civil Code:
(1) If the parties have not specified the term of employment, either party may request to terminate at any time. In such cases, employment shall terminate on the expiration of two weeks from the day of the request to terminate.
(2) If remuneration is specified with reference to a period, the request to terminate may be made with respect to the following period of time onward; provided, however, that the request to terminate must be made in the first half of the current period.
(3) If remuneration is specified with reference to a period of six months or more, the request to terminate under the preceding paragraph must be made three months before the termination.
Basically employers only need to give a degree of time to your notice.
In a worker’s defense is Article 19 of the April 1947 Labor Standards Act which protects termination of employees during a period of illness, injury or maternity leave, and up to 30 days after the fact. Article 7 of the 1949 Labor Union Act protects workers from being discharged from their job on the basis of being involved with labor unions in any capacity. Article 6 of the June 1972 Act on Securing, Etc. of Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employment protects against changes in job and employment status on the basis of sex.
The court system made The Doctrine of Abusive Dismissal as a means of providing some sort of explanation as to why workers are dismissed from from the workplace. When the worker is the one who leaves a job, it’s referred to as “Normal Dismissal.” The other category, “Economic Dismissal,” happens in cases like no-fault layoffs.
Even if an employee is the cause of their own termination, employers are still subject to “objective reasonable and socially appropriate” conditions on top of that.
- The employer must reasonably explain the necessity of reducing the number of workers to court: was it done with regard to the immediate needs of the business?
- The dismissal has to be a last resort: did you already try voluntary retirement? did you already stop recruiting new people? did you try transferring people to different positions?
- Proper selection of discharged persons: this means firing someone shouldn’t be done in an arbitrary fashion.
- Procedure of dismissal should be reasonable: can you explain the reasoning to employees/trade unions and justify why someone was laid off?
Article 18-2 was added in the 2004 revision of the Labor Standards Act, to include the Doctrine of Abusive Dismissal, stating:
A dismissal shall, where the dismissal lacks objectively reasonable grounds and is not considered to be appropriate in general societal terms, be treated as a misuse of that right and invalid.
Again. While I’m not going to quote directly from this essay at the request of the author, they’ve elaborated on these points and cite Japanese court cases to further flesh out that aspect of their legal system.
Alright. So what does it all mean?
Letting an employee go from a company is meant as a final solution, and intended to be difficult on purpose. Shuffling an employee around in the company is okay, but if it’s done to make people quit that’s not seen as legal either. Even your company’s money intake is highly diminishing (and regardless of that certain employee possibly being responsible), the Japanese court demands employees be given a chance to get training or opportunity of some kind. If not, the termination of an employee could be declared an invalid one.
Early on in writing this, I asked my Twitter followers to tell me what they thought of Konami. This was the kind of distinction that was made.
There’s an apparent difference on some level between a company’s success, and the perception of how the company got there.
In June 2009 it came out that 36-year-old Yoko Sekiguchi was suing Konami Digital Entertainment. Her job at the company was license acquisition for video games like Winning Eleven, which often required Yoko to travel overseas. After returning from maternity leave she was reshuffled to a job that kept her in Japan solely, and Sekiguchi says she had a ¥200,000 cut to her salary as a result of that. The lawsuit sought ¥33 million in damages as well as restoration of Sekiguchi’s job at the company prior to this incident. Sekiguchi’s lawyers said Konami representatives told them it wasn’t a demotion, simply a change done out of concern for Sekiguchi’s health and for the sake of the child.
“Being forced to lessen your career to raise a child is sexual discrimination,” stated Yoko at the time.
This battle ran all the way through December 2011. According to Asahi, Yoko won as settlement of ¥950,000.
In July 2013 a former Konami employee did an interview with Asahi News about his experiences there, and the depression that resulted. Back in 2010 this employee had worked in game development, but he was shipped off to the Career Development Center, who told him that he would have to work at the pachislot factory while he looked for a new job within the company. If he wanted a job outside the company he would get a 3-month contract agreement that wouldn’t be renewed upon expiration. The employee took the pachinko factory job, in which he was tasked with breaking old machines down with an electric screwdriver. During this time period he couldn’t find another job at Konami, and it threw him into a depression for almost two years, where he stayed confined inside his home.
Next, I want to point out some things mentioned in the yearly Konami shareholder memos. By analyzing the differences from year to year, we can reveal some of the mindset behind the Board of Directors.
- 2009-2010: The compliance committee serves as a control system to keep the duties of the directors in check. But as a later section states, it also serves to make the behaviors of employees known in an effort to commitment to compliance of the overall corporate philosophy. You can tell this system was put into place by 2010 because they switch to a present tense (from “will proceed with” to “is proceeding”). It mentions a system of internal communications is in place to report ethical issues and other matters, so the Board of Corporate Auditors can hear from employees directly. They began to focus on the business segments at this point. Large-Scale acquisition section was essentially reworked during these two years.
- 2010-2011: The first point of interest is the “Sources of corporate value” section, which the memo outlines as a means of showing what Konami is doing as a company in their different departments. They made their company into a holding company with different segments so they can quickly respond to whatever demands a consumer has. Again, the company refines what they mean in terms of Large-scale acquisitions as a game plan.
- 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015: Lots of small rewording. In the 2012 memo there’s a special mention of consolidating dividend payout ratio to over 30%. But otherwise it’s stuff like: “Code of conduct and guidelines for behavior” becoming “conduct charter and code of business and ethics,” “Board of Corporate Auditors” becoming “Audit & Supervisory Board,” rephrasing corporate goals to include shareholders…. it’s all nit-picky.
- 2015-2016: This was the year where the Kojima controversy happened. It reflects in the drastic revisions made to this section of the shareholder notes. It mentions the Konami Group Code of Business and Ethics, and firmly states management communicates these guidelines to all the employees and officers in Konami’s group. The Compliance Committee is in place to make sure this system is effective, and the company has an internal notification system to “prevent improper incidents from occurring.” It even mentions that Konami watches out that employees don’t get involved with “anti-social forces and organizations,” mentioning their willingness to get the authorities involved where necessary. Control regulations are in place to make sure company subsidiaries check in on a regular basis with the company. “Konami Group Risk Management Regulations” are in place to avoid damages to the company, and identify/address risks whenever they may appear. It’s intended to make sure operations go smoothly, and they try to make that happen through this internal control system. An Audit & Supervisory Board Member can demand employees be assigned an assistant who doesn’t report to the Directors at all, while only taking orders from the Audit & Supervisory Board. The memo outlines standards needing to be establishment for situations in which officers and employees need to report to the Audit & Supervisory Board anything that could affect Konami’s operation and overall performance. They say these reports are held as confidential, and that the “informer” would never be subjected to unusual treatment for snitching. Later on the memo reiterates and outlines the system. Company code and guidelines are readily available for all employees to read corporate philosophy (Konami Group Code of Business and Ethics, the Konami Group Officers and Employees Conduct Guidelines). The Company’s Compliance Committee exists to make sure everything is under control, and the internal notification system makes this happen.
- 2016-2017: If you thought the wild ride stopped in the previous set, you’d be in for a surprise. They gutted most, if not all, of the “Basic Policy on Control of the Company” section.
If you skipped reading all that, just know that Konami has always been worried about takeovers and other company risks, to a higher degree.
That leads us to the Konami Group Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, which is worth a look-over for yourselves. Chapter I is general rules that state this code applies to all officers and employees of Konami, that any questions should be directed to the compliance committee, and anyone who thinks the code is being violated should report to the Compliance Committee about it. Chapter II is all about complying with related laws in a country. Respecting the diversity of other countries, not stealing other people’s ideas, not using Konami secrets as a means of profiting, not engaging in conflicts of interest against Konami, not taking business opportunities that haven’t been offered to Konami directly, dealing with suppliers in good faith, “shutting off relationships with antisocial forces,” maintaining order in the workplace, protecting confidential information/assets/property, disclosing information to government entities where required by law, and lastly concentrating on work during business hours. Chapter III is all about employee output. It says employees need to efficiently work together, study business trends, try to be cost-effective, and keep safety in mind. Chapter IV is about employee relations with the public. It demands being prompt and accurate to the media, maintain a healthy working environment, be involved in company activities, and keep a positive relationship with the community.
This last part needs to be quoted verbatim, so there’s no miscommunication. It reiterates what was said in Chapter I.
APPENDIX: OPERATION PROCEDURES OF “KONAMI GROUP CODE OF BUSINESS CONDUCT AND ETHICS”
Chapter I—Procedure regarding This Code
1.1 Contact for Reporting Violations of This Code
Any Personnel who becomes aware of any actual, possible or suspected conducts violating this Code shall report to his or her supervisor or the internal report office as separately specified.
Chapter II—Punishment to Violations against This Code
2.1 Punishment to Violations against This Code
Violations of this Code will be punished as set forth in the employment regulations and in other internal regulations.
Suspected. As in – if an employee even has a hunch of misconduct they need to report it to their superiors.
Remember what Sterling said earlier? I can back that up.
Several of my sources went in detail about the approval system of the company. There was one with regards to lower level stuff that just went to the producers/directors in the office. But higher level stuff needed to go through Japan’s office for approval, sometimes even various external offices. One of the barriers in dealing with that was language. Asking questions in English meant needing to go through a translator and having them relay the message along. This leads into the second barrier of time. If you had a limit of 5 days, you had to work with the approval system in budgeting that.
When it came to the office Intranet, this separate VPN-like connection went through Japan servers. The company has private databases for file storage and sharing, but these locations were limited in space. To get something approved: it involved connecting a laptop to Japan, signing in Lotus Notes, adding your file to a digital repository – and praying to GOD it didn’t overload the system because of the file size – and getting approval. They had to use Outlook for external emails and Lotus Notes for internal stuff. Passwords and emails were a hassle because they’d get changed every certain number of days, it was commonplace for employees to get locked out because of that.
Company policy was enforced based on the severity of infractions. They had security badges, but one of my sources says things weren’t as strict as some of the Nikkei stories have stated they were. Aspects that the public might find duanting are actually standard practice when it comes to corporate policies.
A source stated that they had heard of employees utilizing the strict codes of conduct as a means of sabotaging others. In one instance they recalled hearing about a team where artists reported a manager to HR over improperly sharing artwork externally, and they were fired.
Employees had to be very careful about what they did on company computers. Internet traffic was closely monitored and usage of any external drives was blocked. No work could leave the office. There was a hyperfocus on dealing with risks in the workplace. But sometimes it felt “cartoonish,” according to one source. They say when they got laid off Konami locked them out of their computers.
Yoichi Wada of Square Enix (president and representative director) put it best. He made this remark after Kojima’s The Game Awards incident in 2015:
Simply as someone who knows Mr Kojima, I want to say, how can they be this cruel! But, here are my thoughts from the point of view of a business manager.No matter how you look at it, this can only be negative for the business.
Perhaps withdrawing substantially from home video games is the management policy, but it makes no sense to make the world your enemy on purpose, is there, now?
Typically, this sort of thing happens when the manager is absent. Perhaps there is no leader to design and watch over the details of the enterprise as a whole. In other words the lack of aim behind this is itself the problem, that’s my impression. All the decisions get dumped on the office. The office may deal with it disinterestedly. However, if you can’t see when what you feel from your own station is out of sync with the world, then the results will be unfortunate.
Is it any surprise that employees followed Kojima’s footsteps from Konami and into the arms of his new studio? Producers, designers, artists, and even a former president of Konami all took a leap of faith and joined Kojima’s side.
“One day I hope we may earn you back and surprise you,” said a Konami rep on Reddit last year. They knew damage to the community was done.
Yet Konami ain’t hurting either. Their mobile games are doing well. Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links is now either approaching or exceeded the 40 million download mark. Overall profits are solid according to them, due in large part to their restructuring.
But something is clearly wrong here with Konami.
Yes. There are cultural and political differences between the East and West. But that doesn’t give anyone anywhere the permission to cross lines and go against what is right on a human level. You would be blind if you thought the anger expressed in the audience that night at The Game Awards 2015 was unjustified. You can’t exactly turn your back on the video game community’s sentiment of animosity and overall sense of abandonment when it comes to how the feel Konami has acted toward them.
We need to look at this differently, though. The problems with Konami and Kojima weren’t an exclusive case, not by a long shot. What happened between these two parties has echoed deep across the company’s past. Maybe Konami abandoned their own history because of the path of scorched earth they laid out getting to where they are today.
But we gotta make something clear. Konami is a company full of decent people. The employees are just as human as you and I are, filled with hopeful ambitions to deliver on something spectacular. Given the resources provided to them. Given the shackles of an overtly tedious approval system of red tape that’s in place. Given the constant change in company initiative and direction.
That’s only the fault of the Board of Directors.
Sure, Hideo Kojima might’ve changed over the years. But that doesn’t matter. We know that Konami changed, and it was through their misguided parting with Kojima they created the public relations disaster they’re in.
They only have themselves to blame.
At The Game Awards 2016, Geoff Keighley made amends to the events from last year. Hideo Kojima got an award for being an industry icon.
Konami was changing their direction as a company and that future didn’t have Kojima in it. But Kojima being seen as a shining example to video game development symbolically means what everyone has been saying here.
It does look like Konami doesn’t care about video games anymore. Konami’s condition is they’re destroying their own sense of self, for the sake of their own future as a business.