With the departure of Hideo Kojima from Konami now official, we come to the close of an era. For console gaming, we’ve not known a world without Konami. Contra, Castlevania, Metal Gear, SIlent Hill; all are synonymous with video games and consoles from the NES through the latest Playstation 4/Xbox One.
Back in May, Konami’s CEO Hideki Hayakawa reported that Konami would focus their game development to mobile and has spent the better part of 2015 dismantling the console development side right up to the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain release.
"Gaming has spread to multiple platforms, but the platform that is always closest to us is mobile," -Hideki Hayakawa
Annual titles like Pro Evolution Soccer will continue on, but the most famous franchises they own have no plans for further development internally, only the prospect of licensed deals with other developers being rumored. This is heartbreaking news for those who love Konami games, but was it the right business decision?
This is actually a decent question for the industry at large. If you consider companies like King creating simple game successes like Candy Crush still raking in $800k daily, to even be 10% as successful and invest minimal amounts compared to AAA titles (MGSV cost an estimated $50-80 million to develop), what incentive is there to create AAA games?
The answer is that there isn’t any unless your business model is limited to “make amazing video games.”
That isn’t the case here. Konami’s gaming business used to comprise over half of Konami’s revenue, but has been on the decline the last 5 years and 2015 finally saw it slip to less than 50%. Konami has a successful Pachinko business, Casino gaming business, and a successful network of fitness clubs that make up the other half. Within the gaming revenue, the console side and arcade side have been continually slipping for years while the mobile side has been on the rise.
Truth be told, they’ve done themselves no favors with their recent releases. Since 2012, the only major releases were HD remakes of Zones of the Enders and Silent Hill, Metal Gear Rising, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zero, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013-16, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. That’s basically 2 remakes, 2 MGS games, and Pro Evo. It seems to illustrates a pattern of slowly phasing out this side of the business which leads one to believe that they haven’t been serious about development for some time.
But you cannot ignore the rise of mobile gaming and it’s low barrier to entry and potential for high ROI. Mobiles games give Konami the flexibility to spread the risk around a few different projects and minimize exposure. The fact that they did a good job of establishing themselves in the mobile industry early on, they already have a relatively strong players base for their existing mobile games, and have seen nothing but continued growth makes this is a sound move. The old strategy of “put all your eggs in the Kojima basket” just isn’t responsible, as one failed project could mean half of Konami crashing and potentially bring the whole company down with it.
So for Konami, the answer is yes. This is the best decision in the interest of the company as a whole. It provides them a solid foundation to continue to operate and grow, and leaves the door open to returning to console game development down the road without undue risk. Unfortunately the rational understanding doesn’t remove the down feeling you get when you realize the high probability that you won’t be enjoying any of those franchises anew ever again.
The silver lining to all of this is the high profile that former Konami developers like Koji Igarashi and Hideo Kojima have within the industry and with their fans. Much like Keiji Inafune and his goal of resurrecting a proper Mega Man game independently, Igarashi has gone on to get a fully funded Kickstarter for a proper Castlevania style game, and Kojima has gone onto establish his own studio which already has a partnership in place with Sony, and a game in the early stages of development.
So while we will not be seeing Solid Snake or Simon Belmont any time in the near future, they will have spiritual successors. We won’t be missing out on the experiences, only the characters.