Remember how cool Konami used to be? Home of franchises like Silent Hill, Castlevania, and of course the celebrated Metal Gear series. Father of the “Konami code.” By far one of the most celebrated development companies in the industry, now seemingly degraded into a company whose most recent rise to notability is almost completely negative. If you go through the timeline of Konami in 2015 you are met with a sinking feeling in your throat, like watching a childhood friend kick your dog and insult your sister. It likely has been building for a while, but it seemed to truly begin when beloved creator Hideo Kojima announced he’d be leaving the company, around the same time it was announced that Silent Hills was cancelled.
Most recently though they’ve come under fire for the near totalitarian way they’ve handled the review of their new Metal Gear Solid V (A Hideo Kojima Game). To their credit, a game as desired as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is bound to have people working to leak spoilers and information about it. However the protocols taken to avoid that in this situation are so extreme and still raise a lot of ethical concerns. One Forbes writer recounted that he was invited to the “review event” though declined, stating he didn’t accept paid travel to such events and having to pay out of pocket would not be justified. Only a select few individuals were given copies of the game to review (the standard for most new games). Instead most were invited to this event where they would play the game in eight hour shifts over the course of one business week. That is it. A writer from GamesRadar gave a more personal explanation, having attended the event himself. The playthrough was so rushed that even having mostly positive thoughts on the game, the GamesRadar writer refused to give it a score. Others have scored it, often very high, and received the rightful criticism that can you really score a game as enormous as Metal Gear Solid V based on such a short time frame?
Now look, most likely Metal Gear Solid V is a game worth of the coveted 10/10. It is a Hideo Kojima game after all. This isn’t about the merits of Metal Gear Solid V who even those critical of Konami’s practices have admitted is a marvel. Even for all the dislike of Konami right now, people are still excited for this game, rightfully. This is about Konami’s continued downward spiral into infamy. No matter how anticipated Metal Gear Solid V is, review practices like these are at best sketchy. Along with the travel, food and drink were also provided by Konami and the experience was less that of someone playing a video game, and more that of a celebrity. This isn’t an insinuation anyone was explicitly bribed, but those types of things can influence how you experience the game.
What are games? They’re escapes. If you’re already on vacation, being waited on hand and foot, what are you escaping? How much of that 10/10 is still the game, and how much is just because you’re in a good mood because of the all-expenses paid time you get to spend playing one of the most anticipated video games of the year? And, more than that, how insulting is it to the Metal Gear series, and Hideo Kojima, that Konami felt they had to pamper their reviewers who played the game? Yes, it’s out of the way to expect them to come to these events but this could far more easily be resolved than offering a bunch of free stuff to reviewers.
A short quip on reviewing cycles: that process needs some serious reform. It’s very hard to get a game reviewed by embargo dates. Occasionally developers give you more than enough time, but often you are given only a couple of days to get a good handle on the game. However, that is within the comfort of your own home and on your own time. You are not required to leave to a hotel and given specific shifts to play the game in. Essentially we treat game reviews the same way we do movie reviews—isn’t THAT surprising?—but as usual it cannot be emphasized enough that games and movies are not the same. This is more a subtopic to my main point, which is that Konami is the source of all evil and possibly the coming of the anti-Christ. But if you are a developer, consider that if you want your game reviewed fairly and honestly, you might give those who review it more time to appreciate your creation.
Back to Konami. It’s become abundantly clear that this isn’t just a matter of incompetence or laziness. Unlike other companies who become infamous for their lack of consumer support or general attitude toward their customers, Konami’s actions seem far more sinister. When Ubisoft or EA does something terrible, it seems to come from just being out of touch with their consumer base more than anything. Obviously there is a modicum of greed there too, but with Konami, it’s different.
Konami’s issue exists at the top level of the company—to the uninformed they seem to be doing fine because their customer service is still okay, their games are still being released consistently, and of course, they’re getting good reviews. What makes Konami different from the marketing inept companies that litter the industry is they are very good at hiding and downplaying the bad stuff. This makes it infinitely harder to properly judge just how far Konami has fallen. Granted, Konami is far from the first company to have their souls perpetually blackened and shriveled and fall into the practice of treating their creative teams like lesser beings. They do seem to have the most persistent pattern as of recently though, and of course the most infamous instance.
Konami is a company that has proven that while they will happily use their successful franchises to continue raking in a considerable sum of money, they will not respect the very people who made that game successful. Their paranoia knows no bounds. And they’re slowly abandoning the audience that made them what they are in favor of gambling and smartphone apps. Oh don’t worry, they’ll still keep all those titles you know and love. They’ll just slap them on pachinko machines and tell you to live with it. I’d make a comparison to Scrooge McDuck, but Konami has significantly less fun than Scrooge.
And now, “review boot camps.” Gaming media has already come under a great deal of fire recently because of accusations of corruption and a general distrust of those who represent gaming in the field of journalism. Actions such as these serve as a reminder that this isn’t specific to the indie market. It may seem daunting to hold a company as enormous as Konami accountable, especially when past actions indicate they are only a few steps short of making their competitors “disappear,” but someone somewhere has to. It is infinitely harder to do that with Konami because they essentially hold franchises hostage, tempting their creative team and audience to step over the line so they can kill yet another meaningful project while laughing maniacally.
A director at EA said Hideo Kojima and Konami should stay on good terms, but I can rather understand why that would be hard after your name is stripped from a series you have dedicated much of your life too. Hideo Kojima was very right to walk away, whether he was fired or quit. While for obvious reasons the “why” has not been explained, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to determine that it was not on anything resembling “good terms.” If you were to apply that imagination you could imagine that Konami attempted to make Silent Hills a brainwashing tactic to control Japanese teenagers and persuade them to buy mobile games complete with a contract that signs their soul over to Ragnarok in exchange for the privilege of seeing a picture of Solid Snake between advertisements for casinos.
Am I saying you shouldn’t buy Metal Gear Solid V because of this? No. That would be dumb, not to mention impossible, because I doubt anything is going to keep people from playing that game if they have the slightest interest in it. And again, I have little doubt it is an excellent game. Here’s what I propose instead. The greatest disrespect to Konami right now would not be to refuse buying these franchises. That would simply send the message that gamers are disposable. The message should be a reminder of where gamer loyalty lies. So make sure in every article, every review, every mention, there is a stirring reminder that Metal Gear Solid V is a Hideo Kojima game. A game that belongs to the creators and fans. Make it known that Konami must respect their franchises, not simply use those who create them and try and pull the blanket over the eyes of their customers, not as a matter of money—because Konami has already revealed their master backup plan—but as a matter of respect. If Konami envisions themselves as promoting addictive habits that seem cheap but swallow all the money from your pockets like a black hole and pachinko machines, then fine. They can do that. But don’t take advantage of the good faith that your artists and fans have given you.
Enjoy your Metal Gear, gamers.
Get closer to V day by day. pic.twitter.com/yAsP6bi6Rx
— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) August 28, 2015
Disclaimer: Much of this article has been dramatized for the sake of humor, but seriously I do honestly think Konami might be led by Bond villains. It is worth saying though, I am not a lifelong fan of Metal Gear as many are (though I am of Silent Hills). What matters is respect of consumers and creators, and this remains true no matter the franchise.