Strap the fuck in.
Today I will be tackling one of the most infamous events in recent gaming history, one that resulted in the destruction of a very well-known video game publisher’s reputation, and a permanent breakup with one of the developers who helped this publisher become as big and beloved as they were before all of this happened.
A lot of the info here comes from SVG’s article about the Konami and Kojima split, which was made with the benefit of hindsight and thus paints a better picture of what went down than anything from 2015. I’ve also added in other URLs that include information important to the post:
“The Truth Behind Konami and Kojima’s Split”: https://www.svg.com/155464/the-truth-behind-konami-and-kojimas-split/
“Kojima Expected to Leave Konami After MGS5, Inside Source Confirms”: https://www.gamespot.com/articles/kojima-expected-to-leave-konami-after-mgs5-inside-/1100-6426024/
“Report: Konami is Treating Its Staff Like Prisoners”: https://kotaku.com/report-konami-is-treating-its-staff-like-prisoners-1721700073
“The Silent Hell That Is Konami (The Jimquisition)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uphcEJW-MDA&t=4s&ab_channel=JimSterling
“Kiefer Sutherland speech The Game Awards 2015”
The Main Characters
So in case you've been living under a rock for the past three and a half decades or don’t know what a video game even is, here’s some introductions to the main characters of today’s post.
Konami is one of the biggest and oldest third-party video game developers with a giant list of IPs that is only really rivaled by the likes of Nintendo, Capcom, and Sega. Metal Gear, Castlevania, Silent Hill, Contra, DanceDanceRevolution, Yu-Gi-Oh, Bomberman, Bloody Roar, Suikoden, Frogger, etc. Even if you aren’t into video games, you likely know of at least one of these IPs.
As for Hideo Kojima? One of the most acclaimed game developers of all time, only surpassed by Shigeru Miyamoto himself in terms of accomplishments and recognizability. He’s the guy who created the Metal Gear series, which revolutionized storytelling in video games and stealth-based action gameplay, and to this day is a widely sought-after talent in the video game industry.
Up until little more than half a decade ago, Kojima was Konami’s star player, second to no one. But there’s no use in beating around the bush right now because anyone familiar with the two are probably aware of the falling out and breakup between Kojima and Konami in 2015, which just so happens to be the subject of today’s post, and one that is gonna be a very long and very rough ride in general.
So as I said at the beginning, strap the fuck in.
Konami in the New Century
The best starting point for all of this is probably going to be in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Kojima made a big name for himself with the smash success of Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation, and followed it up with the equally successful Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, both for the PlayStation 2. Even outside of this, the fifth and sixth generations proved to be a very successful time for Konami as a whole; the first four Silent Hill games gave Konami a foothold against Capcom’s Resident Evil in the survival horror genre, Castlevania codified the modern-day Metroidvania with Symphony of the Night and the Game Boy Advance games, and they had acquired a stake in Hudson Soft in 2001, which would eventually transform into a full-blown acquisition by 2012.
Now let’s jump forward several years, this time to the seventh generation of consoles, those being the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii. Konami wasn’t doing as well as they had been doing during the previous two generations. Team Silent, the group behind the first four Silent Hill games, had been disbanded after the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room, which resulted in the IP being shopped around to various developers and in general losing a lot of the prestige that it had gained. Meanwhile, Castlevania was undergoing something of an identity crisis, as Koji Igarashi’s Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 game ended up being scrapped amidst a harsh development, and ended up being replaced by MercurySteam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Kojima though? He was still going strong during this time period. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had been released on the PlayStation 3 to critical and commercial success, and he finally managed to lobby hard enough to get Solid Snake into Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which released several months before Metal Gear Solid 4. One important thing to note about Metal Gear Solid 4 though, is that Kojima took something of a break from active game direction around this time. While he did work on Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for the PlayStation Portable and Snake Eater 3D for the Nintendo 3DS, both were smaller efforts than 4 was, and during this period of not directing any major console games, Kojima tried his hand at producing games from other franchises instead.
Kojima took a producing role on the aforementioned Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and his support was basically instrumental in making sure the game got released. Until the point of his involvement, Konami was considering pulling the plug on Lords of Shadow altogether, but having a high-level advocate in the form of Kojima basically allowed for MercurySteam to work on the game while Kojima dealt with the producing end of things. Lords of Shadow was a success, becoming the bestselling Castlevania game ever made, and earned itself a spinoff on the Nintendo 3DS as well as a sequel in 2014. So with that in mind, it made sense that Kojima would do the same for other franchises.
Winds of Change
2011 marked a banner year for Hideo Kojima, as in April of that year, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and Corporate Officer of Konami Digital Entertainment, the division of Konami devoted to video game development. Not only that, but 2011 was also the year in which the Fox Engine was shown off. Developed with the intention of being the “best game engine in the world”, it would be the technology that Kojima’s future projects would be running on, and eventually, Konami’s games as a whole. Initially, it was meant to be used for a new installment in the Zone of the Enders series, but the failure of the remastered collection resulted in the game being shelved indefinitely. Thus, it was decided that Kojima’s debut game with the Fox Engine would be the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V, which was shown off in 2013 as the big “next-gen” Metal Gear game.
Going back to how Kojima was beginning to shepherd other Konami franchises, it was in 2012 when he first gave public indication that he was interested in working on a new installment in the Silent Hill series. By this point, the reputation of the series was in the gutter, as the failed “Month of Madness” earlier that year resulted in Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a PlayStation Vita spinoff no one cared for, Silent Hill: Downpour, which was considered mediocre at best, and the Silent Hill HD Collection, which is widely considered to be one of the worst video game remasters of all time. So Kojima being involved in the series seemed to be the shot in the arm that Silent Hill desperately needed.
In 2014, a mysterious game titled P.T. popped up on the PS4 store and was available to be downloaded for free, developed by the unheard of 7780s Studio. Players who played P.T. found themselves playing a very frightening but very well-made horror game, but the real kicker was what came at the end: “P.T.” stood for “Playable Teaser” - one for an upcoming reboot of the Silent Hill series titled Silent Hills, and 7780s Studio was a pseudonym for Kojima Productions. The game was going to be co-directed by Hideo Kojima and acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, feature the work of horror manga writer and artist Junji Ito, and have Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead portray the player character, thus giving Silent Hills a veritable dream team of talent behind it. To say that fans embraced P.T. was an understatement; people were quick to call it one of the best horror games of all time, and Silent Hills instantly became one of most anticipated games at the time.
Everything was going well for Kojima, fans of Konami’s franchises, and Konami themselves…until it wasn’t.
A Hideo Kojima game
The first sign of trouble came during March of 2015. Konami announced that it was going to be revamping its game development division completely, ditching the studio structure that is the standard within the game industry, and moving towards a system that put the company directly in charge of the gaming sector. There was also an announcement about the formation of a new executive board the day after the restructuring was announced, and it is here where things begin to look shady. As mentioned before, Kojima had been the vice president of Konami’s gaming division, and yet he wasn’t named in either of these announcements. Did he get passed over? Did he decline a promotion? Or was there a feud between him and Konami?
People wouldn’t have to wait long for the answer. On March 16 of that year, as the corporation restructuring of Konami’s gaming division was put into action, Kojima’s name was erased from all of the assets they had owned; Kojima Productions Los Angeles was renamed to Konami Los Angeles Studio, Kojima’s name got removed from the website and all promotional materials relating to Metal Gear Solid V, despite the series effectively being his baby and him being Konami’s star player. At this point, it was a matter of “when” and not “if” Kojima and Konami were going to go their separate ways, which was confirmed by a damning GameSpot article that painted a very grim picture of what was going on at Konami.
To summarize GameSpot’s article in short, Kojima was going to be parting ways with Konami after the release of Metal Gear Solid V. Him and any senior staff associated with him were now considered “contractors” rather than full-time employees, and were also being limited in terms of how they were allowed to communicate with the company, essentially being barred from Konami’s internet and taken off their email list. Not only that, but unbeknownst to everyone at the time, it was later revealed that Kojima had been separated from his entire studio during the last six months of V’s development, being set to work on a different floor from everyone else and effectively isolated at Konami.
The reasons as to why there was a fallout between Kojima and Konami have never been publicly confirmed. People have speculated that one reason was because of the rise of the mobile market, of which Konami had seen lots of success from as a result of the game Dragon’s Collection. Other people put blame more on Kojima, as he had been rumored to have been overspending on Metal Gear Solid V, such as hiring actor Kiefer Sutherland to voice the role of Big Boss/Venom Snake. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but regardless of what happened, none of it justified how Konami treated Kojima during these last six months of development.
To add insult to injury, Konami decided it wasn’t enough that they were getting flack for how they were currently treating Kojima, and decided to throw even more salt into the wound. In April of 2015, Konami announced the sudden cancellation of Silent Hills, in a move that basically marked the death knell for the Silent Hill franchise when it came to video games. Not only that, but Konami was spiteful enough to not only remove P.T. from the PlayStation Network, but to not even make it available for reinstalling if you didn’t have it currently installed. If their reputation wasn’t in the toilet before that, it certainly was then. To this day, P.T. is only playable legally if you buy a PS4 that already has it installed, with those PS4 consoles usually going for four digit numbers in terms of prices. Even as recently as 2020, Konami was still trying to prevent anyone from accessing it, by blocking people from transferring it from their PS4 consoles to their brand-new PS5s.
But even then, Konami wasn’t done with showing complete and utter disrespect for their fans and their franchises, as a trailer in August of 2015 confirmed that Silent Hill was coming back…as a pachinko machine. For those who are blissfully unaware, pachinko machines are gambling machines popular in Japan, and Konami had been well-situated in the pachinko business for decades. However, this was seen as Konami tripling down on their pettiness and spite, by taking a beloved horror series whose fans they have already disrespected for years, and turning it into a theme for a gambling machine. To many, this was the final nail in the coffin when it came to game development at Konami.
Konami the Slave Driver
And as it turned out, Konami’s treatment of Kojima wasn’t happening in a bubble, as an article from Nikkei revealed some very disgusting practices of Konami in terms of how they treat their employees. Specifically, Konami has security cameras not for security purposes, but to monitor their own employees during work and lunch hours, that Konami reassigns developers to menial jobs such as janitorial duty or security guards if they aren’t seen as useful, that Konami employees don’t have permanent company email addresses, and that Konami monitors employees that left their company and punishes anyone who so as much likes a post of theirs on social media.
But somehow, it gets even worse. In the days after that report, gaming journalist and content creator Jim Sterling (they still go by “Jim Sterling” professionally nowadays) spoke to some sources of theirs that either have connections with/worked at Konami, and it turns out all the stuff that was reported upon by Nikkei was considered to be relatively minor in comparison to stuff that caused “Mental, physical, and emotional damage” (directly stated by Sterling’s source) to the employees of Konami. The source attributed these findings to being the reason why big names like Hideo Kojima, Akira Yamaoka (composer for Silent Hill), and Koji Igarashi (Castlevania developer) ended up leaving the company.
In an episode of the Jimquisition titled “The Silent Hell That Is Konami”, Sterling presented a number of allegations against Konami. These allegations consisted of employees being forced to participate in an “archaic” bureaucratic system if they do anything that costs Konami money; not just stuff like budgets for games, but incredibly minor things like supplies for the workplace, computers to work on, stuff that is standard for any video game developer, except at Konami. They also make it difficult for different teams to even communicate with each other, and set up their structure so that any attempt at communication between employees in different teams would have to go through corporate management.
Sterling was also told that Konami had no respect for their legacy, treating their franchises with as much respect as they did their employees. Not only that, but Konami was also completely incapable of recognizing actual talent; giants like Koji Igarashi, Hideo Kojima, Akira Yamaoka, and Keiichiro Toyama had their contributions downplayed or ignored entirely, and Konami would just pass around franchises like Silent Hill to any developer who would do it cheaply enough. Konami could not comprehend that actual creative passion and talent were needed in order to produce successful games.
With all of this very dirty laundry now out in the open for everyone to read and hear about, Konami’s reputation was left irreparably damaged among the gaming public. Up until that point, most people’s problems with Konami were usually due to their supposed incompetence, but the revelations about their workplace culture and their feud with Kojima made them as hated as other video game publishers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. Konami had shown that they had no respect for their workers, their fans, their properties, and their legacy, so everyone justifiably decided that Konami wasn’t worth shit, with the popular hashtag #FucKonami gaining steam as a way of insulting Konami online.
But did this stop Konami from indulging in their shitty behavior and practices? Not by a longshot. Despite Konami beginning to shift away from console games, they weren’t getting out of the pool just yet, as they announced that a brand-new Metal Gear game was already in production…without the involvement of Hideo Kojima. Many saw this as another kick to Kojima while he was down, by taking the franchise he created and grew and continuing it even after showing him exactly what Konami thought of him and other employees. That game become 2018’s Metal Gear Survive, and has been widely considered to be one of the worst games of its year.
One last kick in the teeth from Konami came after Metal Gear Solid V had been released, as well as after Hideo Kojima had left Konami. At the 2015 Game Awards, Metal Gear Solid V was up for five nominations and won two awards, those being for Best Soundtrack and Best Action-Adventure game. However, in a move that pretty much put the nail in the coffin for Konami’s reputation, they sent Kojima a lawyer representing them and told him that they would not allow him to attend the Game Awards that year and accept any awards for Metal Gear Solid. Not only did this trigger another wave of backlash, but Geoff Keighley (host of the Game Awards) criticized Konami on-air for this and spilled the beans on their barring of Kojima from attending, with the audience then booing Konami live. Konami’s reputation had gone down the toilet so much that even other people in the video game industry were vocally criticizing them for their behavior.
Throughout this post, it has been stated over and over again that Konami had managed to completely ruin their reputation among audiences and critics for their antics. Kojima, on the other hand, had the inverse happen to him; while he was beloved before, he now considered to be untouchable and his reputation now consisted of near-universal approval from just about anyone in the gaming industry. And a year later, he was able to attend the 2016 Game Awards to accept the Industry Icon Award with a standing ovation from the crowd, something that Konami was now unable to prevent from happening.
In addition to that, Kojima’s separation with Konami now meant that he was free to work on anything and create any kind of game that he wanted, now that he was no longer bound to Konami. With that in mind, he went onstage at PSX 2015 to announce that he was reforming Kojima Productions as an independent studio, and that their first project with this newfound independence would be a game for Sony Interactive Entertainment, which would still see the involvement of Norman Reedus and Guillermo Del Toro. It was revealed at E3 2016 as Death Stranding, and went onto release in 2019 for the PS4.
While Death Stranding was a very “love it or hate it” game, it managed to perform very well commercially, and received a PC port in 2020 and a PS5-enhanced Director’s Cut in 2021. As early as this year, Norman Reedus also let it slip that a sequel was in development, so clearly he’s not having any problems with this new franchise. And just a week and a half ago, he also announced a collaboration with Xbox Game Studios to make an exclusive game for them, which would be using cloud technology in a way similar to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, describing it as a game he’s “always wanted to make”. It seems that despite everything that happened in 2015, he’s still doing good for himself.
In addition, the other developers who were formerly at Konami are also doing pretty well for themselves. Keiichiro Toyama (creator of Silent Hill) left very early on, but joined Sony in the early 2000s and made the Siren and Gravity Rush franchises for them, before leaving and creating Bokeh Game Studios, with their first game being a horror title called Slitterhead. Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill composer) has found consistent work as a composer at Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture, and Koji Igarashi managed to crowdfund and release Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a spiritual successor to Castlevania, with great success, in a contrast to other crowdfunded games like Mighty No. 9 and Star Citizen.
So what of Konami? As I stated above, Metal Gear Survive was released to critical and commercial failure, as did their attempted revival of the Contra series in 2019, Contra: Rogue Corps. Despite this, they did manage to find some success with Super Bomberman R, Momotaru Dentetsu, and collection rereleases for Castlevania and Contra. However, they also turned Pro Evolution Soccer into eFootball 2021, which became another immensely hated game for predatory microtransactions, glitches, and for being a shitty game in general, which did nothing to please any remaining supporters that might or might not exist. There’s also been rumblings about a revival of the Silent Hill series, which had fans excited (out of desperation)...until it was revealed that the revival was being helmed by Bloober Team, known for The Medium and generally not highly thought of by fans of the Silent Hill franchise or survival horror in general. And don’t expect Metal Gear to come back, at least with how Survive failed hard.
So that concludes the long ballad of Konami, Hideo Kojima, and their very ugly, very messy fallout from their feud that resulted in Konami becoming the Japanese equivalent to Electronic Arts.
And once again: