Konami has a reputation as a top video game company, responsible for classic franchises like Silent Hill, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, and more. But over the past few years, this once-great game maker has stopped caring about video games. Fans of these franchises might not even have noticed it happening, but if you look at the company’s recent moves, it’s hard to deny.
The most recent incident happened when Konami canceled Silent Hills, a high-profile project that was conceived to bring the classic horror franchise to new consoles. Silent Hills would have paired Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima with Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro to dream up the spookiest game they could imagine. Konami had even signed The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus to lend the game his voice and likeness. Fans were feverishly looking forward to it when Konami pulled the plug.
Soon after canceling Silent Hills, Konami yanked P.T. from PlayStation 4’s digital store. P.T. was a “playable teaser” for Silent Hills that was equal parts cryptic and terrifying, and pointed the way toward an exciting new chapter in the survival horror genre. Now it too is gone, effectively erasing a small masterpiece from video game history.
Prior to that was a very public kerfuffle between Metal Gear’s Hideo Kojima and Konami that resulted in Kojima’s production studio being stripped of his name and its web presence. The short version of that story is that Kojima will almost certainly leave Konami after Metal Gear Solid V comes out in September. If and when Kojima leaves, Konami won’t have anyone to helm its major game releases unless it goes on an incredibly unlikely hiring spree.
That is, if it even has any more major game releases. Konami has slowed way down in recent years, letting its all-time classic franchises languish or fall into obscurity. We haven’t heard anything from Contra, Suikoden, or Dance Dance Revolution lately. Even Konami’s busiest franchise, Castlevania, seems to have no future, since its creative chief left the company last year.
The culling began in the early 2010s, when, instead of releasing dozens of titles each year, the numbers dwindled to just a handful. On Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Konami published only three games in 2013 and three more in 2014. Its plans for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2015 include just a single release: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
The downward trajectory is clear. I’d be surprised if Konami puts out any major games by 2018, or even earlier.
The sad thing is that giving up on triple-A video games makes sense for Konami. This business is no longer the thriving cash cow it once was. Video games cost more than ever to make, while retail prices remain stagnant. Where there was once a sizable market for mid-tier console games, now there’s only room for independent developers running small studios, operating on shoestring budgets, or getting funding from Kickstarter.
Only the biggest console game makers can survive in the current market, and they rely more than ever on popular franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty.
Most companies would choose not to fight such an uphill battle if they could. Konami doesn’t have to, because it has other more surefire business interests, like casino games and even health spas in Japan. There’s very little incentive for Konami to gamble in the high-stakes world of video games if it doesn’t have to.
But while that may be the best move for Konami as a company, it’s a letdown for fans of its franchises. Our greatest hope is that Konami sells the rights to Castlevania, Contra, and other classic IPs to companies that will treat them right.
I’m still looking forward to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but it seems like a swan song both for the series and for Konami as a maker of triple-A video games.
Leaving the video game business might be the right move for Konami, but it’s a letdown for the fans.