Throughout 2015, just when you thought things couldn't get any more bizarre for Konami, they did. Let's take a look back at the weirdness that was Konami in 2015. I've been working at Kotaku for a long, long time. I've never seen a company have a year like Konami just had. While publishing one of this year's biggest and most lauded titles, the Tokyo-based fitness company has also been on the receiving end of scathing criticism and been the subject of alarming rumours. In the future, students studying corporate communication will use Konami's 2015 year as a textbook example of what not to do.
The Japanese financial year ended in March. Hideo Kojima gave an interview to IGN stating the following:
"I always say 'this will be my last Metal Gear,' but the games in the series that I've personally designed and produced — Metal Gear on MSX, MG2, MGS1, 2, 3, 4, Peace Walker, and now MGSV — are what constitute a single Metal Gear Saga. With MGSV, I'm finally closing the loop on that saga.
"In that sense, this will be the final Metal Gear Solid. Even if the Metal Gear franchise continues, this is the last Metal Gear."
At the time, few took the comment seriously, because Kojima always says each Metal Gear is his last one. Some probably thought, good, he can focus more on things like the "Playable Trailer", called P.T.
Soon after, the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain release date was inadvertently leaked by IGN.
Here's where stuff started to get strange: it was noticed on NeoGAF that Hideo Kojima was no longer an exec at Konami and the Kojima Productions website had been turned into a Metal Gear portal site, and Kojima's name had been stripped from the page. Moreover, Kojima Productions Los Angeles had been renamed Konami Los Angeles Studio. People wondered what the hell was going on. GameSpot reported that "power struggles" resulted in Kojima being demoted to a contract employee who was slated to leave in December.
The following day, Konami released a statement pledging to make more Metal Gear games and even set up a recruitment page for a "new" Metal Gear title.
That was followed up by another odd press release that stated, "Hideo Kojima will remain involved throughout" the development of The Phantom Pain.
On March 26, via Twitter, Konami issued another statement, attempting to clarify what was going on:
"In accordance with the recent change in production organisation of all of Konami, Kojima Productions, as well as other internal production companies, has had its name, etc., changed to move into the corporate headquarters work structure.
"The name and organisation has changed, but as before, MGSV: TPP is continuing as a work from director Kojima and the existing team members."
The Japanese game site Gamespark interviewed Konami PR about the situation, asking whether Kojima was still a full-time or contract employee. ("I am unable to comment on an individual's type of employment," the Konami spokesperson said.) Gamespark asked if it was true development staff had limited email and internet access ("It's true that during the organizational change, there were things that were revised," the spokesperson replied, adding that the team could now give "undivided attention to development"), and if all this meant Kojima would be doing fewer interviews for The Phantom Pain ("Yes, it will be like that").
On April 23, Japanese game publication Famitsu held its annual awards ceremony. Hideo Kojima, a regular guest, was not in attendance, even though his games Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and P.T. won awards. When he got an award for innovation, the host said, "Unfortunately, representatives from Konami Digital Entertainment were unable to attend today and so there will be no awards ceremony."
Days later, there was a sudden notice on the official website for the "playable teaser" for the next Silent Hill game that said it would be pulled from the PlayStation Store in four days. Director Guillermo del Toro, who had collaborated with Kojima on the project, told an audience in San Francisco that the collaboration was "not gonna happen". The following day, Konami officially cancelled Silent Hills.
The month kicked off with the discovery that P.T. had been eradicated from the PlayStation store and couldn't be redownloaded. Konami, it seemed, tried to do the same to a highly critical YouTube clip by successfully issuing a copyright claim — a claim that YouTuber later overrode. Again, Guillermo Del Toro commented publicly, saying, "...the completely unexpected happened, which was Kojima and Konami separating. It's kind of left me reeling." At the month's end, Konami issued another press release, which said a lot of nothing.
On the Kojima front, publicly at least, things were relatively quiet. Elsewhere at Konami, there continued to be bizarre goings on. Game creator Akira Sakuma, for example, issued a statement that his popular train-themed series Momotaro Dentetsu was "officially finished" and named one Konami employee in particular for allegedly destroying the franchise. Konami then issued a statement saying it wanted to continue the Momotaro Dentetsu series, but didn't know yet what form it would take. That same day, Love Plus creator Akira Uchida announced that he had left Konami back in March and was now at Osaka-based developer Yuke's.
Another month, another batch of weird Konami news. Snake's Japanese voice actor Akio Otsuka echoed the claims that Kojima Productions had allegedly been "dissolved" and, two days later, The Phantom Pain's final box art showed that Hideo Kojima's name had been removed. While all that was happening, Konami revealed it had been working on a Castlevania pachinko game with "erotic violence".
Three days into the month, major Japanese publication Nikkei published a report about the ongoing situation at Kojima Productions. Among other things, it alleged that Kojima Productions had been renamed "Number 8 Production Department" (which had previously been alleged several months earlier in the YouTube clip Konami tried to take down), that employees regularly had their email addresses changed, and that development employees who weren't seen as useful would get reassigned as security guards or cleaning staff at Konami's health clubs.
Sources told Kotaku that Konami allegedly had its own internal auditing group that one insider described as the publisher's own secret police, and that the audit group allegedly would even contact the employers of ex-Konami workers to badmouth them, and that there were cameras throughout the company, watching everything.
Konami began a promotion that included a chance to win "an autographed" Phantom Pain poster. Autographed by whom? Konami didn't say. It also announced another new release: a Silent Hill pachinko-slot game.
Meanwhile, Kotaku's Jason Schreier spent the month playing MGSV: TPP, writing that it was "friggin' great".
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain may have launched in September, but like every other month this year, things didn't exactly go smoothly for Konami. The month started with a clip in which Kojima appeared to say goodbye to Metal Gear.
Fans discovered that the game had initially included another mission, Mission 51, which was apparently cut. One thing that wasn't cut was an in-game mission in which players rescued a captive Hideo Kojima. Jason's official Kotaku's review, despite being largely positive, did note that the game felt incomplete.
"Right now, The Phantom Pain feels incomplete," he wrote. "It is incomplete. It's a stellar stealth game and a triumphant work in many ways, but it's also not the story it should have been, and that's disconcerting."
There was no launch party for the game. There was no countdown. Hideo Kojima didn't appear on stage at the Tokyo Game Show, like he does pretty much annually. He did wander around Tokyo, autographing things.
The Phantom Pain had been out for a month at this point. Things should have returned to normal, whatever the hell "normal" means for Konami. Guillermo Del Toro, your source for rad monsters and Konami insights, was asked about the Silent Hills cancellation, replying, "When you ask about how things operate, that makes no fucking sense at all that that game is not happening. Makes no fucking sense at all."
Mid-month, The New Yorker reported that Kojima's last day at Konami was October 9 and a farewell party was held to mark the occasion. Konami denied that Kojima had left the company, instead stating that the team was "taking a long time off from work". When asked about the party, Konami replied, "We're not sure what kind of thing this was."
The author of the New Yorker piece, Simon Parkin, tweeted out the photo, below:
Here is a photograph of Kojima's farewell party on October 9th at Konami, which Konami claims no knowledge of: pic.twitter.com/xgRUoYs5qt
— Simon Parkin (@SimonParkin) October 20, 2015
Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez, meanwhile, spent an unexpectedly awesome week with Metal Gear Online.
Konami told the Nikkei that a "large-scale investment" would be necessary for the next Metal Gear Solid, while at the same time it shuttered Kojima Productions' former LA studio. Konami stressed that it would continue making Metal Gear games.
Just when we thought things might have calmed down, Konami sent a PR person to a Sony award ceremony to pick up trophies for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. In Los Angeles, the host of The Game Awards, Geoff Keighley, said on live television that Kojima "had every intention" of appearing on the show, but "he was informed by a lawyer representing Konami just recently that he would not be allowed to travel to tonight's awards ceremony to accept any awards". Keighley added that Kojima was "still under an employment contract" and that it was "inconceivable...that an artist like Hideo would not be allowed to come here and celebrate with his peers and his fellow teammates". Konami did not issue a statement in response.
After news was leaked by Japan's Nikkei, Sony announced that Hideo Kojima had formed a new studio — a new independent studio, that is — called, wait for it, Kojima Productions. It's developing a game for PlayStation 4 and PC.
"When working in big companies, especially Japanese companies, every little thing has to be approved beforehand, and you need paperwork to do anything," Kojima told The New Yorker. "Now that I'm independent, I can do what I want with much more speed. I don't need to invest time in unnecessary presentations. I shoulder the risk."
And with that, Konami's strange year drew to a close. Hideo Kojima is free to run his own studio, and the publisher is free to get back to, well, whatever it is they're going to be doing. Hopefully things get back to normal for Konami in 2016, whatever that means.
Top image by Jim Cooke (edited by Kirk Hamilton)