The road to redemption is typically a hard one to walk, and few companies in the video game industry should know this as intimately as Konami. For those of us who have been around a while, the word Konami still has a certain air to it that invokes a sense of excellence and timeless acumen. Arcade classics like Frogger, Gradius, and Contra were stupendous games that live on today. They even transitioned into the console space with tour de force games like Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, and Silent Hill that all went on to spur long-running franchises that continue to shape the entire gaming medium today. Dependability, greatness, even supremacy in the eyes of many, were words so synonymous with Konami for so long that it can still be hard for some of us to remember that the Konami of recent years is so radically different. As with any major decline, it’s not easy to pinpoint an exact origin of the beginning of it.
Handing off the development of Silent Hill games to far less experienced developers in the seventh generation is probably about where I would put it, but depending on what you consider to be an error in judgement, you may place it somewhere else, but regardless, most gamers now agree that Konami just isn’t what it was all those years ago and they’ve been far less dependable than their former selves for some time. Many also likely agree that the apex of their modern-era disappointments was the cancelling of the overwhelmingly promising Kojima-led project Silent Hills and the subsequent treatment of Hideo Kojima afterwards i.e., not allowing him to appear at the 2015 game awards to accept his industry icon award. After that they scorched the earth even further by delisting P.T. and delisting themselves from the New York Stock Exchange. This was a moment that will live on in infamy for Konami, and no matter how much they turn things around one day, they will likely never live that one down. That said, there is plenty of reason to believe that Konami is making such an attempt. For better or for worse, despite all the damage that Konami has done to its reputation in recent years, they may just be in the midst of threading that needle and making some significant strides to repair said damage.
The past few years for Konami have been rather interesting. Following the multi-layered debacle of their fallout with Hideo Kojima, the company did engage in a notable shift from investing in their classic video game franchises to other, less noteworthy games, and have also completely restructured their production divisions in such a way that seemed to signal less of an emphasis on video games entirely. Konami has spent an uncharacteristic amount of time from 2015 until now investing in various arcade amusements and the like, even making some themed with their classic franchises of yesteryear, which can feel like salt in the wound to many of us who were already disappointed in their decisions before that. At the same time, several of Konami’s main video game development studios have been completely dissolved, but according to the same shareholder announcement that revealed this, they maintain they are not shutting down game development altogether.
So, what does this mean? Shutting down several internal studios and consolidating resources while shifting emphasis to entirely different sectors is hard to categorize as anything other than a deliberate stepping away from video games, yet they still feel the need to proclaim that they aren’t doing that. In fact, post-Kojima-debacle releases like Metal Gear Survive, Bomberman R, and Contra Rouge Corps seem to suggest that they are still in the game. But given that many of their recent efforts in the last few years have fallen far below the level of quality that many expect, this has led some to actually hope for Konami to leave the industry and sell off their IPs to other companies who will actually make good games out of them. Of course, one-time sell-offs of classic intellectual properties isn’t the smart decision for a company like Konami do – at least at this point. What they should – and likely are – planning is to license them out to other publishers for predetermined amounts of time, allowing other more capable teams to make the games while Konami can sit back and collect perpetual checks with little to no investment on their part. With rumors continuing to swirl about Silent Hill and Metal Gear reboots, and to a lesser extent rumbling about a return of Castlevania, it would make a lot of sense if those two situations were connected.
On top of that, we are also seeing a lot of leaning into Konami’s classic games. Multiple collections have been released within the last few years that feature some of Konami’s best titles. Castlevania Requiem, which includes what are arguably the franchises best two games in Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night, the Contra Anniversary Collection that includes most of the classic side-scroller Contra games, a more comprehensive Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and even a Konami Arcade Classics Collection that include many of the better shooters from Konami’s classic arcade days.
These collections, while well put together with help from the folks at M2, could easily be seen as a quick cash grab – and perhaps they are – but they are also a sign that Konami understands what still works about their gaming division (or whatever is left of it). They know that there is still a healthy appetite for their classic arcade shooters, Contra, Castlevania, Metal Gear, and Silent Hill. If you look at the totality of what they’ve put out in the last couple of years and the rumors of bigger things that are still to come, then a real picture does start to form. Maybe Konami isn’t really looking forward as much as we would have liked to see with their games, but we could indeed be in for a future for Konami where they lean into their classic IPs with handy collections and smart decisions concerning handing off their IPs for bigger upcoming releases.
So, perhaps the Konami of the future isn’t quite going to be the return to form that many of us are hoping for. Maybe with the consolidation of their gaming division and the realignment of their corporate strategy, new games with their best IPs aren’t in the cards for Konami themselves. This may be disappointing in a way, but if they can continue to keep their older games alive with nifty collections and continue to let those IPs evolve with newer games by placing them in the hands of other publishers that are better situated to take on those risks, maybe we don’t really need Konami to return to form. If they can let others do the heavy lifting while they make smart choices about who those others ultimately are, Konami can do just fine by sitting back and playing the licensing game. As long as that’s a game they want to play, and we can continue to see new adventures in their long-standing IPs, I suspect most would consider that to be a respectable compromise.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.