At this point, we’ve been watching Konami turn their famed console gaming department into a veritable wasteland. Just about everything they’ve been doing has perplexed and frustrated everyone involved, from gamers and fanboys to developers and collaborators. Hideo Kojima, Koji Igarashi, and even Guillermo del Toro are some of the famous names that have recently been spurned the way a big Japanese company only can. This is certain not the first time that such a thing has happened, and it surely won’t be the last.
For those who don’t know yet, Konami has been slashing and burning their console game development on the down-low, having given Kojima Productions the boot and even canceled the much-anticipated Silent Hills. The latter saw the playable teaser P.T. pulled from Playstation Network, never to be downloaded by anyone ever again.
What I have here is not merely a recap, but more of a speculation on some very likely conspiracies. I personally have little to no stake in Konami since I never really got to play their games during my childhood. These are merely semi-educated guesses from observations and second-hand knowledge about Japanese corporate and socio-political culture, which seem to be quite relevant to the subject at hand.
NOTE: The following are merely my opinions and speculations made from observations of news and other people’s opinions on the matter. The more provocative statements made here are due to some recognizable patterns. Reader discretion is advised.
The Story So Far
To understand whatever the hell had been going on, you only have to watch two videos, one by Jim Sterling and another by George “Super Bunnyhop” Weidman. The former had been in Konami’s blacklist for quite some time, while the latter had his video removed from YouTube temporarily via copyright strike. Their retelling of the events leading to the “Great Konami Purge of 2015” are worth tuning into.
While Jim Sterling’s video made it easy for me to scratch my head at Konami, the one by Super Bunnyhop had me smelling a familiar stench in the air that somehow made it easier to put two and two together as far as Konami’s scorched earth policy is concerned.
Mobile Gaming and Gambling
It’s true that mobile gaming is a bigger hit in Japan. Console sales have been faltering in the country, and Japanese companies have been legendary with their lack of concern for the international market. No matter what happens, their main focus will always be on their domestic sales, which is perfectly understandable for the most part. However, to say that the rest of the world doesn’t matter is rather crass as declarations by big multi-million dollar companies.
But then there’s Konami’s other moneymaker—gambling. There’s no Las Vegas in Japan as gambling is illegal in that country as of this writing. Even having cash prizes for video game tournaments and contests is not allowed there, which is why “pro-gamers” from Japan have to travel to tournaments in other countries to win cash prizes. However, we do know of pachinko parlors and other similar establishments, so gambling does exist there in some form.
EDIT(26JAN2021@2:25AM): Gambling in Japan was finally made legal in 2018. This also means esports in the country can finally give away cash prizes, thus giving a legitimate avenue for pro-gamers to pursue a competitive career and earn a livelihood.
It’s this part of Konami’s business that perked my sixth and seventh senses up. It’s certainly not like I’m at the cusp of some big expose—makes me sound more like David Icke thinking the Queen is a reptilian overlord in disguise—but it does help in making sense of this madness. I’m surprised how few people are bringing this up, even if it’s surely a prevalent thing in Japan.
Conspiracies, Probabilities, and Eventualities
Yakuza involvement seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle here. Something must have been pushing Konami CEO Kagemasa Kozuki to make drastic measures with the company’s cash flow. Since there’s much overhead and deficits in the console gaming market in Japan lately, it may have been easy on their part to take the axe to everything on that side.
My personal observations of Yakuza fucking things up in a business is rooted in being a fan of mixed martial arts. During early to mid 2000’s, Japan was swept by Pride Fighting Championships, which was the biggest MMA promotion during that time. They were filling 90,000-seat arenas with these theatrical productions that combined the grit of MMA with the pantomime of pro wrestling. Even now, watching past Pride events from over a decade ago still holds a certain level of magic that has since been gone after Zuffa bought the promotion back in 2007.
As legendary Pride fighter Enson Inoue lays out in this clip from the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, the reason why it all went to shit was due to Yakuza involvement.
EDIT (1JAN2021@11:30PM): The clip from The Joe Rogan Experience podcast that was previously embedded here is no longer available. Here’s a brief clip of him talking with Chris Leben about the subject.
The death of then-president of Dream Stage Entertainment (then owners of Pride) Naoto Morishita in January 2003 was very suspicious. It was ruled an apparent suicide, despite the lack of a suicide note and having been found with his neck hanging off an obi sash from a shower curtain rack in a hotel room in Shinjuku. It could be said that he was certainly not suicidal and he had just pissed off the wrong people.
As Joe Rogan in the video above stated, Zuffa would discover that all the fighter contracts in Pride were illegal and all they got out of the whole $65-million deal was a video library and not much else. Meanwhile, DSE was already coming up with Dream — the follow-up to Pride that later folded in 2012.
EDIT (26JAN2021@2:15AM): I looked at this post again after news of Konami Digital Entertainment finally closing its doors came out and realized that there’s now a video that tells a better story of Yakuza involvement in Pride. I wrote about this YouTube documentary series by Secret Base (formerly SB Nation) on this post.
Various figures who had been in Pride like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Niro Mijatovic—former manager of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Fedor Emelianenko—just to name a few, had come forth with testimonies of their own shady dealings in Pride, including match-fixing and other such juicy details.
This type of thing happens a lot in Japan since the Yakuza pretty much control everything there. They’re basically the Mafia if only Lucky Luciano did get the “license” to steal from the public. They’re a big part of everyday life in Japan, even if they’re frowned upon. It wouldn’t be that big of a surprise if Konami is in a similar situation right now.
Of course, everything I’ve just said is merely the speculations of an armchair conspiracy theorist who may know some things, but is not exactly an investigative journalist with a big scoop. I’m just saying that it does make a tad bit of sense when you look at it that way, especially if you know what has been going on over there at least since after World War II, from having to lick their own nuclear wounds to becoming an economic powerhouse and surviving the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
But then again, maybe I’ve watched too many Yakuza movies and documentaries — some of which I will write about on this website in the near future. In any case, that’s the reality of Japanese business, and it does affect how game development in that country gets propagated.
Perhaps the only hope left is for those who’ve remained to not do anything just as drastic and for those who do have the talent and vision to do what Keiji Inafune and Koji Igarashi have been doing and take their ideas to crowdfunding in the hopes of coming up with a modern day classic.