After 28 years, Hideo Kojima’s relationship with Japanese publisher Konami is pretty much over. His first job with the company was in 1986, working as a designer on a colourful platformer called Penguin Adventure. Then, just a year later, he lead development of the first ever Metal Gear for the MSX, and the rest is history.
No one really knows what happened between Konami and Kojima, but there seems to be some bad blood between them. Shortly after news of the split broke, the company removed all traces of Kojima’s name from their website. He’s still overseeing the last stages of the development of Metal Gear Solid V, which is due for release in September, but his other project, Silent Hills, has been unceremoniously cancelled.
Kojima was something of a golden goose for Konami, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare without his shiny eggs. But what will he do next? He can’t make Metal Gear games anymore—the license firmly belongs to Konami—so he’ll have to try something new, if he does anything at all. Here are some paths he might take.
Defect to another publisher
The Kojima name holds a lot of weight, and he’s probably being inundated with offers from other publishers to make games for them. Would he ever do it, though? Starting his own studio, Kojima Productions, felt like a bold statement of independence—telling Konami that, yeah, you can publish my games, but I don’t need you to make them.
He could follow in the footsteps of someone like Shinji Mikami, becoming a sort of gun for hire. Since leaving Capcom, Mikami has developed games for Bethesda (The Evil Within), EA (Shadows of the Damned), and Sega (Vanquish). Kojima could start his own studio and adopt a similar strategy, shopping games around. But at this stage in his life, with as much influence as he has, he might want more autonomy.
Kojima starting a self-publishing indie studio could be hugely exciting. He’s one of the most daring, creative game makers around, and I can only imagine what he’d come up with if he was freed from the shackles of the big publishers. Being Konami’s star developer, I imagine he has a fair bit of money, so he’d be able to get something like this off the ground. If not, he could always turn to Kickstarter, where he’d have no trouble raising money.
We’re seeing more and more ‘AAA’ developers leaving major publishers and studios behind to make indie games, from The Long Dark to The Magic Circle. There’s a huge market for them, especially on PC, which gives people the freedom to make any game they want. In this environment, Kojima would thrive. He probably had more freedom than most while working at Konami, but he still had investors to appease and suits looking over his shoulder. Doing his own thing, at his own pace, could result in some really amazing games.
According to Kojima’s Twitter bio, 70% of his body is made of movies. His love of cinema is well known, and the Metal Gear series is renowned (or perhaps infamous) for its long, indulgent cutscenes. So it makes sense that he might turn his hand to movie-making. He has fans in Hollywood—he’s mates with Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn has compared him to Stanley Kubrick—and Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Snowpiercer) says he’s always wanted Kojima to direct a film.
Kojima definitely has a flair for the cinematic, although game design has always been his strong point, not direction. Still, I reckon he has a great film in him. I can see him teaming up with someone else, as a producer or writer, rather than leading his own feature. I’m sure Guillermo del Toro will happily bring him on board for a future film. A Metal Gear Solid film is reportedly in the works, although I don’t think Konami would be happy with Kojima working on it after their acrimonious split. Which is probably for the best, because I don’t think even Kojima could make a Hollywood video game spin-off watchable.
Kojima turns 52 in August, which is by no means old, but maybe he’ll just retire? I don’t think so. He’s a creator, and creators never want to stop creating. Kojima will always be working on something until the day he dies. If he doesn’t want to make movies or games, he could always write a book—which would probably be the longest book ever printed. There’s no way Kojima is just going to disappear. Whatever he does next, you’re certain to hear about it. He won’t be bowing out of the limelight anytime soon.
Of all these possibilities, it’s Kojima going indie that I want to see the most. It would be a poetic reflection of the story of Big Boss in Metal Gear: a warrior (game designer) disillusioned by his paymasters, leaving to form his own renegade army (indie studio), free from the meddling of the government (publishers). Let’s just hope Konami haven’t been secretly running their own Les Enfants Terribles project with his DNA. He’ll probably never make another Metal Gear Solid game, but The Phantom Pain is shaping up to be something pretty special, and a fitting swansong for the veteran developer.