Oh Konami…

Ever since Pro Evolution Soccer 2 back on the PlayStation 2 I’ve been an avid supporter of the folks over at Konami when it comes to their stellar soccer series that always managed to capture the pure essence of soccer as a sport. Granted, it’s far from the glitz and glamour level that the FIFA series from EA Sports hits every year, but it really grabbed me in with it’s combination of gameplay and it’s Master League mode that set you in the role of a soccer club manager trying to take a team of amateurs and nurture them to the top of the world’s best leagues and competitions.

Almost every game in the series that came out on the PS2 was phenomenal to play and it quickly garnered a strong group of avid supporters that waited every year to pick up a new copy. When the PlayStation 3 came out though Konami’s PES team failed to keep up with EA and FIFA and the series fell on rough times. The series became more known for it’s lack of gameplay advancements and the terrible menu and music that made he game seem like it was created by people who had never seen anything modern in their entire lives.

I slowly started to move away from Pro Evo and jumped back into FIFA which had moved to the PS3 with a huge leap in gameplay and presentation levels. I was also the game of choice for our gaming sessions so Pro Evo slowly started to fade into a hazy second place for me as well as all the fond memories of late nights spent battling for goalless draws in Master League.

With the PlayStation 4 coming out two or so years ago Konami rejigged the series and managed to make it fresh and fun to play for old timers such as myself as well as players disillusioned with FIFA and looking for a more in-depth and long-lasting football gaming experience.

So all is happiness and rainbows at Konami right? Wrong. As this current gaming generation has gone on it’s become clearer and clearer that Konami sees the mobile gaming sector as its next cash cow. They can generate lots of revenue with very little development costs. There’s low risk to them and they can continue generating money in gaming without needing to pander to the more critical ‘core’ gaming community.

Each of their franchises has slowly fallen away until only the big two remained: Pro Evolution Soccer and Metal Gear Solid. With the success of EA Sports in monetizing their FIFA games by selling card packs as part of the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode Konami has slowly being moving towards a similar monetization model in PES. They’ve added their own version of the mode and started selling agents who give you a chance at winning higher ranked superstar players into your team. So with that done, PES has managed to remain alive despite selling less than FIFA.

So the elephant in the room is just how Konami was going to handle Metal Gear Solid. It’s a franchise that has come to mean a whole lot to many gamers with some of gaming’s finest moments.

Hideo Kojima, the man behind the series has always pushed the boundaries of gaming, and that meant that the latest offering, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, racked up huge development costs and with Konami not really caring too much about console gaming they slowly started trying to cut their losses. People started noticing that Kojima’s development studio had their name and logos erased from the cover of the game. There were numerous articles mentioning how draconian Konami had become towards their staff and even the Japanese press covered how they had become a ‘black’ company.

When Metal Gear Solid V did release it was greeted with almost universal acclaim from the press and gamers bought it in droves, me among them. It’s one of the best stealth games I’ve played with a control system that embarrasses competitors such as the Assassin’s creed series. But at the same time there were a few parts of the game that were incongruous with the franchise as a whole. There is an online component that sees gamers battling each other on bases they can construct, but to build your base you have to either be very patient and collect all the materials you find in the game, or you can take the easy route and pony up a few dollars to get quicker access to more defenses and weapons.

Further more, the game’s conclusion seemed particularly rushed, almost as though Konami forced Kojima to stop sooner than he wanted to. The mission structure of the game also seemed geared towards repetitive gameplay in order to generate more funds / materials for your base and the online PvP modes. Things were not looking good…

Towards the tail end of 2015 MGS V won numerous awards at The Game Show and not surprisingly, Kojima was not to be found, with host Geoff Keighley saying the following:

“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 and it’s disappointing.”

What was really amazing to see was the vitriolic reaction the audience had with loud boos and jeers showing just how fed up they had become with Konami’s treatment of it’s staff.

Konami’s response to all this? Pretty much total ambivalence. After all, they had no worries about trying to cater to the whims of a fickle gaming audience any more. They had moved on to more lucrative markets and pretty much couldn’t care at all what gamers thought of them.

Things got even more interesting when people started asking Konami whether Kojima and his team were still working as part of Konami and Konami simply stated that Kojima was ‘on holiday’. After a few weeks that line of reasoning was pretty much thrown out when it was announced that Kojima was indeed terminated and his staff were let go as well.

The silver lining on all this is that Kojima was soon snapped up by Sony and is already working on his next game. I really hope that he can team up with Norman Reedus and Guillermo del Toro to work on P.T. / Silent Hills which was a horror game that looked like it would be amazing, that is until Konami also shuttered it without even a second thought.

As a fan of Kojima, PES, and the Metal Gear franchise I’m really sad to send how these games have all been thrown away by a corporation that is more worried about its bottom line rather than being an artistic outlet in an industry that sees very little actual progress in terms of pushing the boundaries of just what games are. Hopefully Kojima will be just as unique at Sony as he was at Konami and he will bring us plenty of thought provoking games in the upcoming years, if not decades.