According to a report on Nikkei, the corporate culture at Konami — home of Metal Gear, Silent Hill and Pro Evolution Soccer — hasn't only soured over the past few years, but has become almost terrifyingly Orwellian.
Nikkei's report alleges that the culture at the corporation's video game division, famous for its console games, worsened in around 2010 when a mobile title called Dragon Collection became a smash hit. As a social game for phones, development costs were low and profit returns were huge. Not long after, the report says, Konami's corporate bosses shifted the company's focus away from traditional, hardcore games and towards cheaper, and potentially more lucrative social titles.
(Somewhat related, the same Nikkei report says that Metal Gear Solid 5's development costs have surpassed 10 billion yen/US$80 million).
In a country where mobile gaming has exploded in popularity, the fact Konami has pivoted to this type of offering isn't in itself surprising. What is, however, are some of the office conditions Nikkei reports have arisen as a result of the shift, especially with regards to how Konami treats employees.
Here's a breakdown of the Nikkei piece's allegations. Some of it we've heard before. Some of it is new:
- Kojima Productions, the studio behind the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V (and long famous as a brand of its own), is now simply known as "Number 8 Production Department." The computers in this section, Nikkei says (and as we reported earlier this year), are allegedly not connected to the internet and are only able to send internal messages.
- Nikkei reports that employees leaving the company offices during their lunch break are having their absences monitored with time cards. Those who stay out too long are having their names announced throughout the company.
- That there are cameras in the office corridors that aren't there for security, but rather to monitor the movements of Konami's own employees.
- That most Konami employees do not have their own permanent company email addresses. Staff who must deal with people outside the company, such as sales and PR do; however, everyone else routinely has their address randomised and changed every few months. (Note: Konami employee emails are typically a few letters followed by a string of numbers, but this random email changing has been going on at Konami for years. A while back, one Konami employee told me this was done to prevent headhunting. Over the years, I have seen developers with company email addresses, but this might have changed recently.)
- That Konami game developers who aren't seen as useful are reassigned to jobs as security guards, cleaning staff at the company's fitness clubs or roles at a pachi-slot machine factory. This includes not just junior staff, but producers who have worked on well-known game titles. In 2013, Asahi News, one of Japan's largest newspapers, ran an interview with a former Konami staffer who allegedly went from game development to working in Konami's pachi-slot factory, causing him to experience severe depression.
- That one former employee, upon announcing on Facebook that they were leaving Konami and had got a new job elsewhere, had their post monitored. Nikkei says remaining Konami staff who "liked" the post were all reshuffled within the company.
Kotaku is following up with Konami for comment.
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