It was back in March when news first started to come out that something might be rotten at Konami’s Tokyo headquarters. That was when a corporate restructuring indicated that Hideo Kojima, the legendary helmer of the Metal Gear and Silent Hill series, was no longer on the company’s list of directors. And in April the developer canceled Kojima’s Silent Hills, a move that Guillermo Del Toro, the game’s co-director and no stranger to project cancellations himself, compared to the most inexplicable Hollywood studio moves.
When word got out that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain would be Kojima’s last project with Konami, few were surprised. But interest in Kojima’s impending exit has been high, partly because of claims that Konami has been meting out draconian punishments to rebellious employees – and partly because Kojima and Konami seem to have different opinions on whether he’s actually leaving or not.
Kojima’s impending exit has brought on widespread mainstream interest: a recent piece in The New Yorker reported that his farewell party took place on October 9th, and speculated that his departure from Konami was related to the Japanese gaming industry’s shift in focus from console blockbusters to games for handheld devices. And today, Kotaku ran a partial translation of a report from Tokyo Sports in which Konami claimed that Kojima was not leaving, and was merely “on vacation.”
It’s hard to tell what’s going on at Konami at this point – and about all that can be said for sure is that their denial of Kojima’s departure is another chapter in this confusing saga. The New Yorker piece paints a picture of an internal struggle for Konami’s future in the face of the dying Japanese console market. The returns on convenient, cheaply made handheld games in Japan are simply huge, and blockbuster console games are obliged to make most of their money in the international market – not unlike Hollywood blockbusters. It’s hard for a Japanese developer to justify the expensive projects of Hideo Kojima, so it’s perhaps heartening that Konami has denied that he’s left for good—maybe they’re trying to negotiate his return.
Whatever is going on behind the scenes, we think it’s safe to say that Kojima’s vacation from Konami will be permanent. Given the unpleasant working environment at Konami, and the demand for Kojima’s talents in the international market, why would he return? He may be in talks with Western developers, even as we speak (or, rather, you read this).
That being said, there is a small chance that Konami could negotiate Kojima back into the fold. After all, they own the properties that are closest to his heart.