Kojima, Konami, and 2015’s Most Interesting Story in Gaming

Originally published on Trevor Trove on December 16, 2015

Having never been a Metal Gear Solid fan until the latest game (and I don’t know that I would even now consider myself a fan of the series so much as that singular entry), I never thought I would be as fascinated as I have been with the public relations nightmare that has been going on between Hideo Kojima and Konami this year. It will no doubt still be many years before most of the real story comes to light, most likely due to a combination of non-disclosure agreements as well as the culture Kojima-san and Konami primarily exist in where hard work and keeping matters private takes precedence over making waves and personal or professional attacks. But if an intrepid journalist is ever able to get a fraction of that story on the record, it will no doubt be one hell of a read.

Metal Gear Episodic

Something obviously started happening a couple of years ago when the decision was made to break off what would seem by almost all accounts to be the original prologue of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain into a standalone product in the form of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Most likely a business decision by Konami to bring in some revenue to help cover the ballooning costs of the larger game as a whole, this decision was widely panned as cashing in on what was effectively a demo for the rest of the game.* Viewed now, it seems more likely than ever that Big Boss’ missions at Camp Omega were almost certainly intended as the modern-day equivalent to Metal Gear Solid 2‘s opening tanker mission. As a single story, this would have had the benefits of introducing players to the game’s mechanics in the self contained Cuba base, before continuing the story at the hospital and into Afghanistan and Angola. Told separately, Ground Zeroes feels laughably incomplete and Phantom Pain even replays the most important cutscenes of Ground Zeroes to ensure players know what led to the game’s opening. The fact that Phantom Pain even shipped without the game’s third act is even more disappointing as it becomes abundantly clear that Kojima didn’t get to tell the story he intended.

* It’s interesting thinking about these two games in light of the recent news that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be episodic in nature. The key difference of course is that we already know (or have access to) the full story of Final Fantasy VII, whereas the entirety of the Metal Gear Solid V story was heretofore unknown to the world.

The #FucKonami Movement

As the drama kicked into high gear this year, it seemed that Konami was doing virtually everything in their power to diminish Kojima’s involvement, short of firing him and cancelling the game. From removing Kojima’s name from the promotional materials and box art to cancelling his passion project Silent Hill and even pulling the playable teaser P.T. from the PlayStation Network, countless think pieces were written about the battle between underdog artist Kojima and big, bad corporate overlord Konami this year, which this very entry adding one more. Jim Sterling created and popularized the #FucKonami moniker to highlight all of the company’s anti-consumer decisions this year.

Perhaps most surprising to me was just how little Konami’s marketing and public relations teams tried to run damage control, instead remaining virtually silent while story after story painted them in a negative light. The few times they did spring to life seemed horribly tone-deaf or even duplicitous. For example, when The New Yorker reported Kojima’s going away party and Konami responded that no such event had taken place, despite the image below suggesting otherwise.

Things finally seemed to come to a head when Geoff Keighley threw Konami under the bus by publicly shaming the company at The Game Awards, telling the audience that Konami’s lawyers had effectively banned Kojima from attending and receiving any awards for the game.

The Future of Kojima Productions

Then news broke yesterday of Kojima’s employment with Konami officially being terminated. Initally rumor, later confirmed through a video featuring Andrew House and Kojima himself, Kojima has started his own new Kojima Productions game studio and will be developing his first new game under this new banner in partnership with Sony for PlayStation. Rumors to this effect had been swirling for months but the partnerships were anybody’s guess. Some were  thinking Microsoft would use their vast wealth to set him up as a new Xbox First Party. Others (like myself) believed his long history with PlayStation would make him an ideal candidate to lead a new Sony First Party studio.

I even predicted (when that New Yorker article broke announcing his contract would end in December) that he would appear at the PlayStation Experience keynote with this announcement. And given the lackluster and abrupt ending to that keynote, I’m not entirely convinced I was wrong in believing that to be the case. If the announcement of Paragon had led into a “one more thing” announcement of Kojima’s new studio and the partnership with Sony, the whole perception of the conference would have changed.

Regardless of what led to this point, public perception and support is clearly behind Kojima and his new studio. PlayStation’s announcement video is barely a day old and has already brought in 750,000+ views. It will undoubtedly be a couple years before this new project makes it to market, but I imagine many are awaiting the day they can throw their money at it as one last gesture of #FucKonami.

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