Japan’s Nikkei publication reported that the corporate culture at Konami is Orwellian, with constant monitoring of employees and public shaming for any offenses.
The report said that the company that has published game series such as Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, and Pro Evolution Soccer has become a demoralizing place to work in recent times. That report could be damaging to the company’s efforts to recruit new developers as it expands from consoles to mobile. The company’s reputation has already suffered public relations hits during its ongoing separation from longtime Metal Gear developer Hideo Kojima.
But some of the accusations that Nikkei highlighted about Konami also sound a lot like how Japanese companies treat performers that they would really rather fire. In Japan, layoffs of employees are often categorized as illegal labor actions. To make nonproductive employees quit of their own accord, management assigns them undesirable tasks, said Serkan Toto, a game analyst in Japan. Sony, for instance, has been documented as assigning undesired employees to a “boredom room.”
In the case of Konami, Nikkei alleges that game developers that a studio doesn’t see as useful are reassigned to tasks such as being security guards or cleaning out the garbage at the company’s fitness clubs. They could also wind up in roles at a slot machine factory. This kind of treatment doesn’t apply just for senior staff but to producers, too, who have worked on big titles.
Also, the company apparently assigns random email addresses to employees who don’t have to deal with the outside world. This is redone every few months, allegedly to prevent headhunting. Cameras in offices monitor the movement of employees. Employees who leave the offices during lunch are monitored with time cards, and the people who stay out longer than allowed are publicly shamed.
Kojima Productions, the game studio that was known for making games like the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V, is now called Number 8 Production Department. The Nikkei report said that Metal Gear Solid 5’s development costs have climbed to $80 million.
While Konami’s monitoring of employees and treatment of poor performers may not be unique, this report certainly won’t help the company become more competitive in recruiting talent to win the gaming wars, whether its focus is in console games or mobile.
The obvious problem for Konami is that it depends on the good will of gamers, who decide whether to buy games based on branding, reputation, and the fame of its developers and franchises. Reports like this one will keep Konami mired in negative news. The publisher has delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, but it said in May that its profits are up dramatically as it shifts to mobile.
The Nikkei article is in Japanese and is available only for paying members on the site. Other publications have made partial translations.