30 September 2015

Update 03/10/2015: A friend of mine remarked that I did not clearly state my reasons for disliking Konami. I have updated the article below.

This month saw the release of the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, usually known as MGSV. The game received glowing reviews accross the boardw, ith a metascore of 93 at the time of writing, was somewhat divisive amongst the existing fan base, and overall looks like a somewhat pleasant if unpolished fuck fest.

Also in the news was the rather rocky end of the development cycle, which saw Kojima Productions, MGSV’s developer and series creator Hideo Kojima’s studio get closed by parent company Konami. Kojima himself got axed, and Konami wants to move away from AAA games in general, with the Pro Evolution Soccer series being the last property in that category of games. Kojima has joked several times that every MGS game in the series was the last, but now with those events, it really seems it’s gonna be the end of it, for real this time. And this is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.

I didn’t play MGSV, and I don’t plan to play it. But my reasons for doing so might surprise you.

For you see, MGS is a franchise I’ve been following for some time. It’s just like with Final Fantasy: I’ve never played any game in the series, yet I find the entire context surrounding it quite fascinating to say the least. Bunnyhop’s Critical Closeups on the first three games MGS titles are probably amongst the most interesting video game analyses I have ever seen, although that might be because George Weidman is a human-shaped blob of awesomeness.

So I originally figured MGSV would be my first entry into the series, but then Konami decided to show us how much they were assholes, and that made me reconsider the whole thing. And now I’m at the point that if I ever buy this, it’ll be for dirt cheap and I’ll probably give something to charity as well just to be sure. Because Konami are indeed the biggest bunch of twatcakes in the entire games industry. That’s right, even more than EA. Jim Sterling has a very accurate writeup on the whole situation, but basically, Konami seems to operate on the idea that its employees are not its greatest asset, but rather some sort of necessary evil. For them, everyone is unimportant at best and expandable at worst, and they even show a blatant disregard for even the few creators who made their biggest franchises in the first place.

If you work at Konami, you’ll be treated like shit. If you get them a huge amount of money, it won’t happen, because as soon as they’re bored with you, you’re gonna get sacked. And really, that’s bullshit. Last year at MIGS, Brandon Beck, CEO of Riot, said it himself: for any creative business, the people, and how well they work together, are the single most important thing you can have. Konami not only hates their employees, they also prevent teams from interacting with each other. Game developers in general, especially on AAA projects, might not have the best working conditions, but at least they’re not treated like dirt.

There’s also the idea that Konami treats its intellectual properties with no respect, by shoving them in the hands of incompetent or inexperienced developers in the hope of making a quick buck, or just by making slot machines out of them. Really, fuck these guys.

Criticizing versus supporting

Now, you might think it’s a bit weird to refuse to buy a game because of the actions of its publishers. After all, we should always keep a work and its creator separate, right? And yes, in a sense, it is true that the identity of an artist should not factor in your evaluation of its creation, as it doesn’t matter. Just because Beck is affiliated with Scientology doesn’t mean his music is suddenly shit. Because it isn’t shit. It’s great. Great all around.

So, yeah, just because Konami are a blight on video gaming doesn’t mean I shouldn’t touch their game, right? Well, not really, because Konami is not the creator here, Kojima is. And if Kojima was the problem I wouldn’t be caring. Yeah, he might be a bit weird and he writes like a sewer backup, but he’s still one of gaming’s last remaining authors and in any case, who he is doesn’t matter when analyzing the things he creates. But this is only true if you’re talking about critique.

Giving money to someone in exchange of a cultural product means you’re supporting that person’s work. By paying a creator, you’re essentially saying: “I want you to keep creating more products so that I can keep consuming them”. Buying is endorsing, and that’s why a journalist writing about someone that they’re financially supporting through crowdfunding initiatives is a breach of ethics.

Normally, I wouldn’t be having this dilemma. If I purchase, say, Civilization V, yes, I giving money to 2K Games, but I’m also telling them that I want Firaxis to continue making more games in general and more Civ titles in particular. But in Konami’s case, we already know that they don’t want to make more AAA titles, much less actual MGS games, so any money raised through the sales of MGSV will instead go the development of pachinko machines and F2P bullshit, and that is not an enterprise I will be a part of. If I knew my money would somehow go to Kojima, then that’s a bullet I would be ready to bite, but in the current state of affairs, it won’t happen. I’ll wait until he inevitably starts a Kickstarter like Inafune and Igarashi did for their respective projects.

As for my boycott of Konami hurting them, well, the games industry is doing very well, and Konami going bankrupt would lead to their intellectual properties going to more competent developers, and their employees finding another job anyway, preferably at a place where they’re not treated like criminals. In any case, Konami going under would actually improve the state of the industry by sending a clear message that this kind of bullshit is not acceptable.

Back your favorites

Now, you might think this is it for this article. I won’t buy MGSV because at this point all the money injected into it will go to help something I despise. But there’s a related subject I want to talk about, and also because I can’t always end on a very negative an ranty note. It all started when Jim Sterling mentionned that Konami seems to believe that really anyone can make a game if given enough time and money, and that’s why Silent Hill had been outsourced to a variety of low level Western developers with no actual understanding of what makes Silent Hill great. And that opinion, that “games are made magically”, is something I think many people hold.

For you see, games are hard to make. Incredibly hard. Even the smallest and artiest of indie games require a tremendous amount of effort to produce, and all your favorite fancy big budget titles that come out in Christmas season need hundreds of people and millions of dollars just to even go out the door, let alone get into people’s minds and hands. However, most games face similar challenges and problems, so the single biggest decider of whether or not a game will be good, or at least better than the others, is how good that game’s developers are at wrestling with the sausage factory Additionally, if you liked a game, it’s also because both you and the developers agree on what makes a game good, or at least what makes it interesting, and so you’re quite likely to also like the next game they put out.

Looking up who made a particular title is a very good indicator of quality, or at least of whether or not you’ll enjoy your purchase. Remember, bad developers typically make bad games, so stay away from the people who consistently put out garbage. And since buying is endorsing, then you should support the people who make the works you like by buying their stuff. In the end, buying a cultural product like a video game isn’t just an exchange of currency for a product or service: it’s also an investment, albeit a small one, for which you get in return the possibilty of more games that you’ll also like. Come to think of it, it’s really like planting a seed.

So, what you should take away from this is that you should start caring about who makes your games. I despise Konami and everything they stand for, and as such will not encourage them by buying MGSV, even though I want to play it. Likewise, I am happy to support companies like Colossal Order, Supergiant Games or Obsidian Entertainment since I trust them to be able to consistently ship interesting and entertaining experiences, and I want them to keep making games for me to enjoy.

So, remember to vote with your wallet. That’s how, for better and for worse, culture proliferates in this economy.