After enduring an onslaught of douchbaggery from his former employers, Hideo Kojima finally severed the chains of Konami. The official news broke out when Kojima announced on Twitter that his employment contract with the much-hated game publisher was ultimately terminated.
There was much jubilation around the infinite corners of the Internet. It was then followed by an announcement that Kojima put up a new independent studio, Kojima Productions, which will be working with Sony to develop new exclusive Playstation titles.
The liberation of Kojima signals the end of an era. He was the last Japanese videogame auteur to break off from the control of a triple-A publisher. He now joins the ranks of fellow ex-Konami employee Koji Igarashi (Dracula X/Castlevania series); former Capcom hotshots Keiji Inafune (Rockman/Megaman) and Shinji Mikami (Biohazard/Resident Evil); ex-Koei Tecmo producer Tomonobu Itagaki (Ninja Gaiden); and Square Enix luminary Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy), who have left the seemingly secure life of running a publisher-housed studio to explore the exciting world of independent development. Of course, they had to give up (by force or otherwise) their beloved creations in the process. And only they can tell us if it was worth it.
The fall (or rise, depending on your point-of-view) of the last auteur is the last crack that finally broke the crumbling Japanese triple-A market. We already know that Konami is reusing (read: bastardizing) it’s intellectual properties (IP) by turning them into more profitable pachinko machines, and studios like Square Enix are skipping out on creating new IPs and remaking/rebooting their popular ones.
But one can’t really be too hard on these publishers. With new development models, sources of funding, and modes of distribution becoming more accessible, studios are no longer reliant on moneyed publishers to get their games out there. The IPs (and all the equity that came with them) they’ve acquired through the years are, unfortunately, all they’ve got.
On the flip side, the auteurs are enjoying the benefits of the aforementioned new business models. Inafune and Igarashi took to Kickstarter to fund their respective projects, Mighty No. 9 and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Both campaigns did well and overshot their funding goals by miles, so both creators were able to bring develop spiritual successors of their creations for both old and new fans.
Kojima could have easily taken that route as well, but because of all the publicity on him (thanks to Konami), it’s no surprise that Sony grabbed the chance to partner with him once he was free to start his own studio. He pretty much followed in the footsteps of Sakaguchi and his studio, Mistwalker, with whom Microsoft immediately partnered with upon his departure from Square Enix.
Everything now seems alright in the world of gaming, but we still have to be watchful. Despite the Japanese auteur movement, the triple-A industry will still most likely continue to create titles with a mindset that prioritizes marketability over creativity. If there’s anything that this situation really showed, it’s that there is an underserved market of gamers who are also looking to play and buy games that have more compelling gameplay than flashy graphics.
The situation is far from “okay,” but the outlook on the future of the Japanese game industry has a lot of potential to become something akin to a Renaissance. Now is our chance to let the industry know what kind games we really want.