I find the game industry to be an unusual specimen of sorts. The interplay between fans and media creators is a tangled mess that will largely be explored in “Fear and Loathing on the Internet”, but I do want to call attention to a certain pattern of corporate behavior.
Today we’re going to talk about two large game publishers, Capcom and Konami. For the uninitiated, Capcom and Konami cut their teeth early on in gaming history. Capcom became well-known for franchises such as Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil. Konami became well-known for franchises such as Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Silent Hill.
But, take a quick glance at internet forums and you’ll find the discussions regarding Capcom and Konami to be largely very denigrating. What on Earth happened?
Just a Little Blue Boy
Both Capcom and Konami had decided to cancel two highly anticipated titles. The problem wasn’t just that they were highly anticipated, but they carried a lot of goodwill with them. Ironically enough, I am a fan of both of the franchises involved so I can understand the frustration.
The focal point for Capcom’s fall from grace was when they announced Mega Man Legends 3 for the Nintendo 3DS. This was meant to resolve a cliffhanger left in Mega Man Legends 2 many years prior. The game seemed to be on track for a successful release…and then was promptly canceled.
Because the cancellation notice was so opaque, the only thing people could do was speculate. Due to the specific mention that it had nothing to do with Keiji Inafune leaving Capcom, it was assumed that it was because Keiji Inafune left.
What Capcom failed to realize was just how much goodwill was riding on this project. The many years of silence regarding the Mega Man Legends franchise combined with the “remove all traces” approach to cancelling it (including the demo) was seen as a betrayal. But you can’t put goodwill on a spreadsheet or put it in the bank, so they didn’t see that the goodwill they would lose would translate into lost sales.
Consumers remembered this because when Capcom unveiled Rockman XOver, there was an immediate backlash. The gameplay was criticized for being so simplistic that it could be recreated within 24 hours. In other words, it was a slapped together game that added insult to injury. Other Mega Man games such as Mega Man Universe and Rockman Online got canceled. Mega Man’s last appearance was in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS. Other than that, the latest release was the Legacy Collection which arrived with little fanfare. It was merely a compilation of the first six Mega Man games.
Inafune went on to found Comcept and release the mediocrely received “Mighty No. 9” and is now producing the spiritual successor to Mega Man Legends “Red Ash: The Indelible Legend”.
However, with Capcom, the tide does seem to be turning back in their favor. Resident Evil 7’s reveal was well-received. But, whether or not they will recover the goodwill they lost is debatable. There’s little purpose in predicting the future because things could change so quickly.
The same cannot be said for Konami, though.
Meet Me In Silent Hill
Konami’s big blunder was in firing one of its golden boys, Hideo Kojima. Kojima is well-known for his work on the Metal Gear franchise and was sent in to resuscitate the ailing Silent Hill franchise.
He collaborated with filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and “Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus to create “P.T”, which was an acronym for “Playable Teaser”. It serves as a teaser to Silent Hills. P.T was beloved by the fans, believing it was going to breathe new life into the franchise. But the executives thought otherwise, and Silent Hills was cancelled. P.T was also vaporized from the digital storefronts, customers who deleted the game had no option to download it again. Anyone who wants to play P.T either has to find someone who has it or run the risk of bricking their console.
Perhaps it was precisely because Kojima had been a longtime employee that they decided to give him the sack after his work on “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” was complete. It appeared that Konami was shifting its focus away from traditional console titles and towards mobile and gambling titles.
To this end, they have licensed Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Silent Hill as pachinko slot machines. I do not understand how they came to the conclusion that those two demographics overlapped. Fan reaction to Silent Hill’s slot machine was astoundingly negative, as the typical horror atmosphere in the promotional video gave way to harsh metal rock music and an intrusive voice commanding the player to “HIT THE LEVER!”
Konami has since announced another Metal Gear game, but the plot seems quite ridiculous even by Metal Gear standards. “Metal Gear Survive” was quickly denounced by fans and Kojima alike. To him, Metal Gear was about political fiction and espionage, and Survive was about…crystalline zombies. That’s not even touching on the wormhole that opens in the sky and drags soldiers with it to an alternate reality. This seems more based in making it a parallel story than for the purpose of a coherent narrative, but Metal Gear is notorious for having a dense narrative that is constantly subject to retconning.
I don’t know who’s managing Konami’s PR department, but I feel absolutely sorry for them. When Silent Hills was cancelled the Silent Hill Facebook page virtually vanished, and now it’s got tons of people calling for the return of Silent Hills.
Sunset on Japan
Of course, an astute observer will note that both of these companies are Japanese. Unlike in my childhood, where the market was absolutely dominated by Japanese publishers and developers, modern gaming seems to be going westward. Inafune has been very critical about the “behind the times” mentality he perceives in the Japanese game industry. Phil Fish, a former indie developer known for his work on “Fez” had tactlessly said that “[Japanese games] suck.”
Honestly, I had fond memories of Japanese games in my childhood and believe there’s still value in them. Square-Enix seems to be turning things around, but until “Final Fantasy XV” gets released we’ll have to reserve our judgment.
But how these game companies will react to an ever-changing market remains to be seen. Until then, both Capcom and Konami will have to perform massive amounts of damage control or otherwise risk the fade into irrelevance.