Last night's Game Awards were full of all the grandeur and spectacle we've come to expect from Geoff Keighley's personal revival of the now-defunct Spike TV annual event. But the biggest news of the night wasn't an award or game debut. Instead, it was a brief segment in which Keighley took time from a tightly coordinated show to publicly shame Konami, for preventing legendary game designer Hideo Kojima from attending to accept his award for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.
Keighley's statement was measured and calm, but there was no disguising the frustration in his tone.
Mr. Kojima had every intention of being with us tonight, but unfortunately he was informed by a lawyer representing Konami just recently that he would not be allowed to travel to tonight’s awards ceremony to accept any awards.
He’s still under an employment contract, and it’s disappointing. It’s inconceivable to me that an artist like Hideo would not be allowed to come here and celebrate with his peers and his fellow teammates for such an incredible game as Metal Gear Solid 5, but that's the situation we're in. Hideo is in Tokyo watching the show, so we want you to know, Hideo, that we're thinking of you and we miss you. We hope to see you at The Game Awards 2016.
And with that, we saw the last remaining shreds of Konami's goodwill among gamers evaporate. The crowd actively booed the revelation, just moments after cheering for the Best Action/Adventure award as actor Keifer Sutherland accepted it on Kojima's behalf. In turn it cheered to show support for Kojima when Keighley mentioned that he's watching from Japan. In the ugly breakup that is Konami and Kojima, the gaming community has clearly chosen a side.
However, it's doubtful Konami, on a corporate level, much cares about the feelings of the gaming enthusiast community. Its output has been slowing to a crawl in recent years, composed mostly of annual Pro Evolution Soccer games. Metal Gear Solid 5 seems to have marked something of an endpoint for Konami.
The company's own games page lists no future video game projects. Its own blog, an increasingly valuable tool for publishers to message directly to fans, has been sporadically updated months apart, consisting of only seven entries in the last year. The site gives prominent placement to trading cards and casino games. In short: Konami isn't really a video game company anymore.
This has been a long time coming. Konami has been working toward diversifying its structure for more than a decade, with interests in subjects as broad as anime and health clubs in its native Japan. What seemed to be the company making itself less reliant on video games as its major source of revenue has slowly turned into video games as an afterthought. It may pay lip service to games, and certainly its own development teams care about the quality of their work. As a corporate entity, though, it is decidedly not focused on video games.
How else could one explain the callous decision to prevent a legendary game developer from accepting an award for his swan song? As Kojima's last game in his most revered series, they had to know that any accolades would be a de facto lifetime achievement award. Even if the company wasn't counting on Keighley making the refreshing but altogether unorthodox decision to call them out publicly, it had to know Kojima's absence would be noticed. (Just how long is his vacation supposed to be, exactly?)
Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine what possible risk there was in allowing Kojima to attend. Even if we assume this was motivated by legitimate corporate self-interest, any contractual entanglements would be easy enough to sort by making it clear and on-the-record beforehand that attending the event would not supercede any existing decisions regarding Kojima's contract. If anything, allowing him to attend would help maintain some level of positivity, as it would let Kojima end his relationship with the Metal Gear Solid series with a graceful note on one of the most public stages in video games.
It stands to reason that Konami expected some level of backlash, and simply knows that this flare-up will only matter in our own insular community. It doesn't have a large financial stake in games anymore, and so it doesn't need our goodwill. That's good news for the company, because last night, it lost what remained of it.