Konami: Does History Suggest a Rebirth?


Ah, Konami...the video game titan that held sway over many a young gamer's childhood, including mine. The introduction started innocuously enough for many of us: a casual playthrough of Castlevania before school, a quick romp through Skate or Die with a Pop-Tart hanging out your mouth, or getting absolutely decimated by TMNT at your buddy's house during an impromptu sleepover.

Back then, Konami and their shell company Ultra Games seemed to be cranking out hit after hit for the NES at a blistering pace, even in the face of Nintendo's strict licensing rules of the time. Fast forward about 20 years: many of Konami's iconic IP's like Silent Hill and Castlevania have been moved onto pachinko machines, long-time developers Hideo Kojima and Koji Igarashi have splintered off in pursuit of their own projects, and the very mention of the name Konami in any forum or group summons apocalyptic anger as never witnessed before. Wait, what?

An Online Dumpster Fire is Born Out of Speculation

Much of the online hatred seems to originate from Kojima's admittedly painful-to-watch exit from Konami and the cancellation of Silent Hills shortly after the release of the much-lauded Playable Teaser. Even the recently announced Metal Gear Survive has received a largely negative outpouring from an incensed fanbase who feel that the series will lose its way without Kojima there to guide development. 

Granted, much of what we know about the blowout between Kojima and Konami is speculation. The removal of Kojima's name from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's marketing material as well as previous titles, his barring from accepting an award for Best Action Adventure at The Game Awards 2015, and his departure from Konami days later stand as the only concrete evidence of what transpired behind closed doors.

Ugly as it must have been, let's not forget that Japanese business culture is an entirely different beast than what we're used to here in the States. Under-performing employees are assigned to menial tasks, public shaming is common practice (even at Nintendo), and all decisions are moved up through the corporate hierarchy (many times at a snail's pace) before becoming final. As maddening as some of these may be when placed in the context of the American work culture, we have to remember that the Japanese equivalent is very different and is still going through its own evolution.

Believe me, it's easy to get mad at Konami for their treatment of employees and subsequent cancellations of developing projects helmed by soon-to-be former employees. But just because something is easy doesn't mean that it's right, and we need to remember that with over 30 years of experience, Konami is still capable of doing the very thing that made them successful in the first place: making excellent video games.

And here's why:

People Change, IP's Endure

With Konami going through a recent major restructure, it's easily understandable that any projects in development would either get dropped completely or retooled. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain landed way over-budget at $80 million, with at least 5-6 million copies needing to be sold just to break even. According to IGN, MGSV has sold over 6 million copies as of December 2015, roughly four months after release. However, considering the fact that Silent Hills was set to be a joint effort between Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro starring Norman Reedus, Konami more than likely saw the project as a loss waiting to happen and axed it before costs went through the roof. Though Kojima may be gone, much of his former team remains, and that's what many people seem to forget.

The sad truth about humanity is that we get older and our views change. Where Kojima was wanting to create a swan song to a genre that he had no prior experience in, Konami saw Hollywood-sized piles of money being set on fire. Igarashi was eager to spread his creative wings, and exited Konami in a much less extravagant fashion. Many of the other developers that we grew up with, such as Keiji Inafune and Shigeru Miyamoto, have also had their fair share of successes and transgressions, but the one thing that all four of these men have in common is that they won't live forever.

Eventually, all of the senior talent at our favorite studios will leave their respective companies behind, with their spots getting filled by new employees. Does that mean that our favorite series will die when they move on? I'd think not, unless the company in question chooses to for whatever reason. Despite initial outcry, Konami has recently announced Metal Gear Survive which if anything, shows their intention of remaining in the business that made them a household name, despite losing some long-time developers. And speaking of Metal Gear Survive...

Reusing Assets is Both Economical and Nostalgic When Done Right

Recently, a video was released displaying Konami's apparent decision to reuse assets from Metal Gear Solid V for Metal Gear Survive. Where some people may see this as negative, this practice may shed some light on how Konami was able to release multiple titles within a short period of time throughout history and perhaps, a return to their previous form after a massive restructure.

In fact, long-time Castlevania fans have seen Konami reuse assets for many years, and it hasn't stopped them from making it one of the most successful franchises in video game history. What originally started out as a horror-themed action game has evolved into a series with rich lore and unique, relatable characters. However, many of the enemies that you may come across have been used in previous titles, such as:

And Fleaman's not the only one who's been reused, either. Merman, White Dragons, and many others have been largely unchanged in their 2D iterations since Symphony of the Night, and yet, titles that have blatantly reused assets such as Harmony of Dissonance, Portrait of Ruin and Aria of Sorrow have received rave reviews. Angry users weren't blasting Konami for reusing these assets when these games were announced and eventually released, and much of that could be attributed to the nostalgia factor behind their use.

Where a casual user may see their reuse as a detriment, those who fondly remember previous titles may experience a sense of joy in seeing a familiar baddie in a new setting. In a way, it helps bring the lore of Castlevania to life and adds a continuity between the entries that wouldn't exist otherwise. Further, Konami benefits by reducing costs and meeting projected release dates that wouldn't be possible with creating new assets for every iteration.

So in the end, everybody wins: Konami is able to stay in business, and we're able to get the games we love when expected.

Konami's Not Done

Even after the Kojima debacle, Konami didn't fade away. Admittedly, their vision for the company's future seems to have shifted from mobile games to pachinko machines and back to video game development over the last 2 years. However, where some people may have seen it as needless floundering on the part of Konami, others may have saw it as a way for them to remain profitable during a major restructure. Konami didn't have the luxury of a bailout as seen with the auto or real estate industries, and had to get creative in their venture to stay above water.

While hateful hashtags and trolls abounded online, Konami kept their mouths shut and continued development for their existing IPs, such as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pro Evolution Soccer. Granted, neither one of these is a new Castlevania or Silent Hill title, but that didn't mean that Konami was done. In the spirit of the aforementioned conservative Japanese corporate culture, they didn't make any promises on what would be developed next until a decision was made. An anti-Peter Molyneux, if you will.

Even if Metal Gear Survive is not what some gamers feel it should be, it shows that Konami can still be a contender in the dog-eat-dog world of video games. In truth, it's a cutthroat industry that requires exorbitant amounts of money to run with the hopes that they'll make enough back to at least remain in business, let alone turn a profit. Yes, IPs could be sold off to other development studios, but in reality, many of them are barely keeping their heads above water as well.

In everything that's transpired over the last couple of years, Konami hasn't done anything that I would expect of a video game company trying to stay in business. Until they publicly announce that they are shutting their doors, I'll remain silently optimistic that they will become a household name for the next generation.