UPDATE: Konami released a statement confirming that further Metal Gear games are coming, but the publisher is looking for new main staff for the next project after Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The statement does not cover Kojima's employment status otherwise.
"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!" said Hideo Kojima in the joint statement.
"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," said the company in its statement. "As the next step in the series, Konami has already resolved to develop new Metal Gear. We will be conducting interviews for main staff to lead the development."
How do you expunge all signs of a breakup without letting anybody know the relationship is dead? Konami is attempting to figure out the answer to that question.
What has become apparent is that there's been a fallout between Konami and Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima. For a long time, Kojima was Konami's golden boy and could do no wrong, but today Konami began slowly and quietly removing Kojima's name from everything at the company. The official Metal Gear Solid V website, which once proudly listed Phantom Pain as "A Hideo Kojima Game" has lost that branding. The URL that once pointed Kojima Productions' website now redirects to a generic Metal Gear portal site. The official Metal Gear Twitter account went from @Kojima_Pro_Live to @metalgear_en today.
Earlier this month, Konami hinted at these potential changes. Back in July of last year, Kojima was appointed executive content officer, with Shinichi Hanamoto joining him as senior content officer. Earlier this month, Konami released a document showing a new organizational structure coming into effect on March 16, 2015. Kojima and Hanamoto were not listed on the new executive rollcall, with Shoji Dewa being promoted to senior content officer. The publisher also announced that it was shifting to a "headquarters-controlled system", with three Production Divisions handling the Digital Entertainment business.
Kojima Productions launched a studio in Los Angeles back in September of 2013, a North American division to bring Western talent into Kojima's sphere. On Konami's jobs site, Kojima Productions LA is now known as Konami Los Angeles Studio, which is still hiring.
Despite all these changes, Konami's comment on the matter was still alarmingly slight on information. "Konami Digital Entertainment, including Mr. Kojima, will continue to develop and support Metal Gear products. Please look forward to future announcements," a Konami representative told Videogamer this morning. Konami has yet to respond to our request to comment, but the statement above lacks any information whatsoever. Sure, Kojima may finished Metal Gear Solid V, which is already due out this year, but what's his status with the company overall? What about the development of Silent Hills? (Poor Guillermo del Toro will never get a game made it seems.)
Anonymous sources have told GameSpot that power struggles between Kojima and Konami have led to the studio's current status. One source said that once Phantom Pain ships, Kojima Productions will be disbanded, with current staff already being moved over to contractors from employee status. The studio is also operating under restricted communications access.
"After we finish MGSV, Mr. Kojima and upper management will leave Konami. They said their contract ends in December," the source told GameSpot. "At a team meeting, Mr Kojima explained that team have to be one and make a good game for fans."
With the loss of Kojima, we're seemingly at the end of the road for Konami as a traditional games publisher, with most of its talent leaving over the past few years. Kojima is not the only creator who walked out the door; LovePlus senior producer Akari Uchida and character designer Mino Taro announced their departure from Konami earlier this week. Long-time Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi left the publisher in March of last year. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and PES producer Dave Cox left the company a few months later, in August. PES UK team leader Jon Murphy left in September after 16 years at the company. Ninety-Nine Nights II and Blades of Time producer Tak Fujii rolled out in December.
"I've decided to break out on my own to have the freedom to make the kind of games I really want to make - the same kind I think fans of my past games want as well," Igarashi told IGN when he left.
It's safe to say that Konami is hemorrhaging its traditional games development talent. These are veterans with over a decade at the company, all simply deciding to call it quits within the last year or so. It points to a shift within Konami, a desire to leave classic game titles behind for proven AAA hits, mobile games, pachinko, and other gambling machines.
It's All Just (Free-To-Play) Business
A look at the publisher's last consolidated financial report for the nine months ended on December 31, 2014 shows a lack of focus on traditional games. Winning Eleven 2015 and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes were mentioned as having strong sales, but the rest of the successful titles mentioned in the Digital Entertainment segment were mobile games: Live Power Pro Baseball (Jikkyo Pawafuru Puro Yakyu), World Soccer Collection S, Dragon Collection, Crows × Worst, and Star Wars: Force Collection. Despite those successes, Digital Entertainment was still down revenue 5.1 percent year-over-year.
In contrast, Gaming & Systems, which covers Konami's slot machine business, was up 4.2 percent year-over-year, while the Pachinko and Pachiko Slot division nearly doubled its revenue compared to last year.
In its outlook for the rest of the fiscal year, Konami focused heavily on smartphones and tablets as the way forward.
"With the spread of smartphones and tablet PCs worldwide, the available means of providing games continue to diversify, and opportunities to reach an even greater audience for games are increasing," said the company in its outlook. "Against this background, our belief is that we can increase the number of "outlets" for the Konami Group's game content by taking advantage of opportunities presented by the emergence of new devices and developing our business around game content. We are further focusing our managerial resources on the development of content that we believe will become major hits in order to produce more hit content, especially in the native application market. Looking ahead, we will continue to expand our lineup."
All this before even mentioning traditional video games. The only titles mentioned? Metal Gear and Winning Eleven.
It looks like the talent is leaving because Konami isn't allowing them to make games that aren't aimed at mobile and aren't free-to-play. Mobile games are cheaper to produce and the potential chance on return is huge, so that's where Konami sees its future.
Memories Trapped in the Attic
Which is a shame, because Konami is sitting on some classic franchises. In addition to Metal Gear and Winning Eleven, LovePlus is a big question mark, Castlevania seemingly ended with Lords of Shadow 2, Silent Hills may never come out, and the Bemani games continue on mobile and arcades. Outside of those major games, the publisher has seemingly given up on Zone of the Enders, Suikoden, Gradius, Ganbare Goemon, and Contra. Konami has also sat on the entire Hudson Soft catalog, including Bomberman, Adventure Island, Bonk's Adventure, and Far East of Eden. That's a ton of great titles someone could do something with; sadly, Konami isn't that someone.
So until we have confirmation on Kojima's status, it seems like we've seen the last of the Konami we know and love. Another classic publisher shifting with the times and leaving behind the fans that kept it running until now. Another one bites the dust as console development gets more expensive and starts to look less lucrative for these former giants.
Let's tip one out for Konami of old. Take a shot for Contra III, Super Bomberman, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Silent Hill 2, Dance Dance Revolution, Ganbare Goemon, and Metal Gear Solid. Take a drink for the great memories.