All is not well in the world of Konami. Recent rumours have suggested that the Japanese veteran could be planning a move out of the home gaming business, and the company's recent treatment of Hideo Kojima - surely its most famous staffer - has raised eyebrows throughout the industry.
However, if a recent report from Japanese business publication Nikkei is to be believed, the situation within Konami is much worse than many previously thought, and could explain why Kojima appears to be leaving the firm without a fight once his work is finished on Metal Gear Solid V.
According to the report, which has been partly translated here, Konami has been shedding development talent in recent years. The creators of famed Konami franchises Momotaro Dentetsu, Tokimeki Memorial, Love Plus and Suikoden have all left following various disagreements. One source quoted in the Nikkei report feels that ever since Konami discovered large profits could be found in the mobile sector with very little investment, the outlook at the company has changed radically. Konami chairman Kagemasa Kozuki apparently started to clamp down on console development around 2010, which he saw as offering diminishing returns in the face of the mobile gaming explosion.
This could explain why Kojima's prolonged development of the latest Metal Gear game - which has taken around five years and, according to Nikkei's sources, has cost Konami around $80 million to make as of April this year - has incurred the wrath of the Konami board of directors.
Elsewhere in the report, working conditions at Konami have been reported as particularly harsh. Email exchanges with people outside of the company are handled via randomised email accounts, and lunchtime breaks are regulated with punch-cards to ensure staff are back at their desks at the allotted time. Those who run over are allegedly outed within the company.
More worrying is the news that employees who are seen as under-performing have been used in other areas of Konami's business empire, such as cleaning its line of leisure and fitness centres or standing in as security guards. This apparently isn't limited to lowly programmers, but has also been the fate of producers and senior development staff.
Another incident reported by Nikkei involves the social network Facebook. One Konami employee posted on his account that he was leaving the firm, and the Konami staff who "Liked" the post were targeted and reassigned within the firm. This apparently impacted individuals quite high up in the Konami management.
The Nikkei report concludes with the observation that Konami is very much a family firm, with the Kozuki clan exerting a lot of control over business proceedings. Founder Kagemasa Kozuki remains chairman, while son Takuya Kozuki is company president. The board of directors includes Kimihiko Higashio, Kozuki's nephew, and Fumiaki Tanaka, Kozuki's son-in-law. Four out of the seven internal directors are family members, leading Nikkei to refer to the set-up as the "Kozuki Empire".
While Konami's involvement with Nintendo formats of late has been slight, the firm rose to prominence off the back of the NES console, which was known as the Famicom in Japan. The platform's success in North America and Japan arguably turned Konami - and many other Japanese developers - into globally recognised businesses, and Konami in particular enjoyed a stream of smash hits on Nintendo's 8-bit console, such as Castlevania, Metal Gear, Gradius, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many more besides.