Two weeks ago, I lamented the demise of Silent Hills and pondered what the loss of the PT teaser demo could mean for the games industry in an age of digital distribution. This week I’m going straight for the company behind it all – offering criticism that they’ve done very well to invite onto themselves.
As I’ve said previously, Konami were behind some of my favourite video games from the past – such as the early Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid titles from the late ‘90s/ early 2000s. I was also an avid player of their Pro Evolution Soccer series in my mid-teens, and even bought the 2015 edition after it got the series’ best reviews in almost a decade. So this is far from some gleeful battering of a company I love to hate – if anything it is exactly the opposite.
Konami, based in Japan (once where all the best games came from), are the fifth largest game company in the world today. While most would agree that the quality of their games has been gradually deteriorating in recent years (the possible reasons for which are too intricate to explore in detail here), regular iterations of the above franchises are still some of the bestselling titles on the market. Therefore, rather like Liverpool F.C., you could say they’ve been living off their past successes for a while now. They certainly don’t deserve, nor do they ask for our sympathies from a financial point of view. In fact, recent events can arguably be put down to exactly that: money, and wanting to make more of it.
Rumours of something being amiss within Konami began when it emerged back in March that Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear creator and without doubt their biggest asset as it pertains to developing for current generation consoles, was to leave the company when development finished on Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain (due for release in September). No reason was given nor has either party spoken of it since, aside from Konami confirming that they would continue to develop new Metal Gear titles after Kojima left – though whether or not that would be for console wasn’t a detail they elaborated on. Many gamers safely assumed this would of course be the case; after all, developing for console has worked well as a business model for the company thus far.
Yet there were other hints that they were perhaps starting to shift direction. The Phantom Pain remains their only confirmed upcoming release this year, despite the Pro Evolution Soccer series having been an annual release every year since 2001. That a new instalment of PES has so far received no mention at all (we’re now at the end of May and each version is usually released in October) would seem to suggest the series will not, in fact, be returning later this year to continue its annual rivalry with EA’s Fifa series. Of all the company’s curious decisions lately, this may be the most eyebrow raising; while Fifa continues to outsell it year on year, the PES series was still a regular and all-but-guaranteed source of substantial income for Konami.
So why then cease its production? The answer to that question and what it could mean for the direction the video game industry is heading in (from my point of view) may just be more worrying than the PT fiasco that preceded it.
You’ll remember PT. It was that revolutionary teaser demo released last August that had everyone raving about what the future could hold. Was, because it’s gone now. When Konami showed a concerning amount of publisher power to remove PT from the PlayStation Store, even robbing gamers of the privilege of re-downloading this refreshingly modern little slice of survival horror, many of us were pissed. And not only in a “I really wanted to play this game and feel they owe it to me” kind of way, though granted there was some of that.
There was a deeper sense of artistic loss here; a larger context in which the flippant removal and apparent lack of care for a ‘demo’ that, for some, honestly felt like something of a milestone for the industry, upset the delicate balance of a medium already uncertain of its own integrity and value. What has become clear is that players felt PT represented more than a simple ‘means to an end’ – that it had value independent of the parent game it was intended to advertise. Konami did not seem to anticipate that and I have my doubts over whether they’ll come round to eventually realising it.
They are a business first and foremost, after all, and it seems once the potential for profit was removed from the PT situation, the game was no longer considered to be of any value by the very company responsible for making it. I talked last time about the stark future this industry faces if games are not preserved and treated with more respect; one would think their creators typically first in line to ensure this happens. Video games will only begin to be viewed as ‘art’ in a wider context when those within the industry start at least pretending they can have that kind of value, even if they are not quite there yet.
All of this interlinks, of course, with what came next. Konami soon announced their intention to switch company-wide focus in order to ‘aggressively pursue’ gaming on mobile platforms, based on current industry trends. Most of us cringed. The story sounded almost like a parody; some kind of satire about the capitalist state of the modern day gaming industry – because while we all knew the rather obvious reasons behind such a move, many of us didn’t dare believe a gaming company could so drastically change course for the simple sake of profit.
It means a hard truth that some would have suspected beforehand, now looks set to become a cold reality: that Konami, like the vast majority of mainstream gaming companies, are in the business primarily – maybe only – for the prospect of making money.
As for creating a well-made work of art to be proud of? Surely pales in comparison with the much more sustainable method of free-to-play mobile games in which gamers are encouraged to spend consistently over a period of time. No longer are one-off purchases for hard copies deemed an acceptable practise, it seems – that’s being discouraged from almost every corner of the industry. Though I wonder if I ever would have given any interest to this medium if it had been like this fifteen years ago?
Paid DLC, pre-order bonuses, games being rushed out unfinished to cash in on a quick buck… these are relatively recent trends that will eventually kill consumer interest in gaming, ordered by tight-fisted company bosses who probably have an impressive resume of outside success within business. They’ll have regular board meetings where they come up with new, creative ways to squeeze money out of their costumers, because that is, after all, pretty much their job description…
Is this all that the video game industry has to look forward to though? If progression means ‘investing’ in managers who certainly know a lot about making a profit but little about the essence of video gaming itself, then I’m not so sure I want to continue being a part of it. Many others feel the same way, and this may be the beginning of a slow death for video games if the industry does not soon take heed.
Konami, the company behind some of the most revolutionary titles the industry has ever seen, has decided that their future lies in mobile titles like Candy Crush. The latter doesn’t require a huge budget to make, yet its addictive qualities and constant carrot-dangling of added extras and bonuses (for a small price) mean projected profit margins are presumed to be very high. Though one can’t quite imagine Candy Crush, and the numerous other titles exactly like it, being celebrated as ‘artistic’ hundreds of years from now. At least, I’d certainly hope not.
The near future is bright for Konami’s bank account, one would think. But I wonder whether they might go down in video game history for far more negative reasons after this.
Or maybe, in the end, I’m just coming across as a bit of a snob about the whole thing. Perhaps I am finally, once and for all, becoming a part of the nostalgic generation that looks below itself and doesn’t like what it sees. “They don’t make them like they used to”, or “those young ones should have more respect” – are these sentiments I’m in danger of embracing?
Possibly. But I’ve realised that might not be such a bad thing; not in this case anyway. If the future of the entire gaming industry is exemplified in sneaky games of Candy Crush while waiting for the bus, and little else of note, then I’m afraid it’s a future I don’t like the look of. If on the other hand you think you’d prefer it that way, then… you’re entitled to your opinion, of course. Unfortunately it probably means you’ve never played Silent Hill 2 (2001), because games are not supposed to be mature and that was the kind of game which instead dared to strive for something more, but hey, just go ahead, remain happy and ignorant of what this industry could have been. Go on living your life and don’t bother worrying about this issue or even giving it a second thought.
For the rest of us: we riot (online).