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Report Reveals Restrictive and Hostile Working Conditions for Konami Employees

Game developers are monitored on and off site, lack internet access and personal e-mail accounts, and are punitively reassigned from development roles to positions in security and maintenance.

Members from the what used to be called
Members from the what used to be called "Kojima Productions" While we all know Kojima himself, it's definitely important to remember that the MGS games are the work of many, many people.

This morning, the Japanese financial newspaper The Nikkei published a report filled with damning details about the corporate culture at Konami, the game publisher well known for its Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania, and Pro Evolution Soccer franchises. Kotaku published a translation of key facts from this report, and additional information was provided by Twitter user @SerkanToto in this Twitter thread and by Reddit user Dtnoip30 in this post.

The report outlines a number of policies that the company uses to monitor and control their employees. Development studios at Konami are constantly kept under surveillance with camera systems, not for security reasons, but as a measure meant to keep workers efficient and productive by reminding them that they're under close watch. This is further emphasized by a policy that requires workers to clock in and out with timecards during lunch breaks. Workers who run late are publicly named and insulted.

And when management at Konami decides that a developer isn't as "useful" as they could be, they lose their position as a developer. I don't mean that they're fired, either. The Nikkei reports that these workers are reassigned to roles in security at company offices, to the cleaning staff at one of Konami's many fitness clubs, or to the assembly line of a pachislot factory. This reassignment isn't just a punishment reserved for underperforming entry-level workers, either. Even experienced developers who have shipped numerous games are at risk of finding themselves reassigned.

One such case even had aftershocks that affected those only indirectly involved in the reassignment. When a former Konami developer who was moved to a pachislot factory finally found employment with another company, he did what a lot of us would: He posted the joyful news to Facebook. Some of his former development team colleagues, who were sympathetic to his situation, liked that post... and soon after found themselves re-assigned too. This sort of monitoring of private communication must be terrible for both morale and team cohesion. Not only can you not you speak freely at work, you can't even be sure if the things you say on your off time are being scrutinized.

Konami doesn't only watch how workers communicate, though. They also dramatically limit their ability to talk both with each other and with those outside of their offices. The majority of Konami employees do not have e-mail accounts at all. And while there are some developers who do have access to internal email services (and a rare few in PR or sales who can send emails to outsiders), these workers only have access to temporary e-mail addresses comprised of random letters and numbers, assuring that these employees can't be consistently reached. Those at Number 8 Production Department (formerly Kojima Productions), have it even worse: They don't even have internet access.

While a lot of folks have compared Konami's overbearing attitude to George Orwell's 1984, I think there's an even more apt reference: Michel Foucault's analysis of the Panopticon in his 1975 book Discipline and Punish. The Panopticon was a style of prison designed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham which separated inmates into individual cells, laid out in a circle around a tall guard tower in the center. Prisoners couldn't see into other cells, nor could they tell if the guard in the watch tower could see them. The panopticon aimed to control prisoners by limiting the information they can gather, preventing them from communicating to other convicts, and giving them the constant suspicion that they were being watched. But for Foucault, the Panopticon isn't just about prisons, it's about any sort of structure (architectural or otherwise) designed to make its inhabitants feel watched. He writes:

I thought real hard about including a screenshot of one of the MGS torture scenes, but I thought maybe that was in bad taste. So instead: Here's Jehuty, a cool mech from Zone of the Enders.
I thought real hard about including a screenshot of one of the MGS torture scenes, but I thought maybe that was in bad taste. So instead: Here's Jehuty, a cool mech from Zone of the Enders.

Visibility is a trap. … [The individual] is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication. … If the inmates are convicts, there is no danger of a plot, an attempt at collective escape, the planning of new crimes for the future, bad reciprocal influences ... If they are workers, there are no disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of those distractions that slow down the rate of work, make it less perfect or cause accidents.

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.

For the Panopticon to be effective, the inmates don't even need to actually always be under surveillance. So long as there is the threat that the individuals are under watch, and so long as they can't communicate with each other, the inmates (or workers, or students, etc.) will self-police. Just imagine working at Konami, seeing your friend get reassigned for liking a former co-worker's Facebook post, and thinking to yourself "Well, shit. Will they see it if I post a joke about the long hours I'm working? I better not say anything, just in case."

Don't get me wrong, not every instance of surveillance is a Panopticon, in the same way that not every new restrictive law is actually Orwellian. But given all of the details that The Nikkei released today, I think "Panoptic" is a fair descriptor for the way Konami management is operating its games division.

Why should this bother us? Well, the result of this constant threat of surveillance is a sort of dehumanization. Groups of people are amazing: We talk and laugh and fight and collaborate and gossip and do all of these wonderful, weird, exciting things. Panoptic structures work to reduce all that makes us wild and unpredictable into something controlled, numbered, and carefully managed. There's a great deal of irony that Konami publishes Metal Gear Solid, a series known for its own wild and unpredictable nature, which ultimately sings the praises of people working together to do amazing things.

The Nikkei does more than just paint Konami's company culture as cruel, it also raises questions about the future of Konami as a major game publisher. Over the last ten years, the company has cut the console game portion of their business by 40%, and it is putting increasing focus on its social and mobile gaming, fitness, and casino operations. Meanwhile, The Nikkei also reports that Metal Gear Solid V's development costs have soared to $80m, a budget that will require big sales figures to make the game meaningfully profitable.

This puts consumers who are both eager to play the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V and who aren't happy with Konami's corporate culture in a tough spot. The money brought in by MGSV will likely go towards expanding the company's non-game operations, and given the treatment that Konami's workers face, the likelihood that good sales will result in good developer bonuses seems low. But if fans decide not to support MGSV, what will that mean for the "usefulness" of the game's developers?

Obviously consumers are going to do what they want, and this is only one more thing to add onto the incredibly long list of unethical production practices when it comes to video games. But while I can't imagine Metal Gear devotees staying away from what seems to be Hideo Kojima's final entry in the series, it could be tough to balance excitement for their favorite franchise with the knowledge that the people who made that game did so under these conditions.

Konami has not yet issued a statement in response to The Nikkei's article.

294 Comments

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hassun

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Edited By hassun • 

All the Konami news is definitely sad to hear. Makes me glad they are downgrading their video game I'm just sad that they are not relinquishing their IPs.
RIP ZOE3.

I don't fault fans buying MGSV for supporting Konami either. It's a game straddling the line between Konami being bad and Konami being terrible and I feel the creators of the game still deserve our support. I do intend to stop supporting Konami completely post-MGSV.

At least I can rest assured MGSV is the final Metal Gear game. It's Kojima's series. Even if Konami decides to try and make more, it's over.

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iAmJohn

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Edited By iAmJohn • 

I never thought I'd see a day where a Giant Bomb article has a serious discussion about Foucalt. I am so fucking stoked this day has come.

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Rirse

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Rirse • 

Somehow Konami has become the Patriots from their own very game. I hope someone rallys and take them down so their good IPs can actually get made again.

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holycrapitsadam

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Edited By holycrapitsadam • 

Man I am so conflicted on whether or not to buy MGSV. I want to play the game and support the developers but I don't want to support the company for this unethical treatment of their employees.

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mattgriffin

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Edited By mattgriffin • 

Solid Hideo must rescue his former comrades from the evil Konami.

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JayDubya

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JayDubya • 

All this stuff at Konami makes me hesitant to buy MGS5. I don't want to support such a company. On the other hand I don't want to abandon the hard work those employees have put in them.

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Shindig

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Shindig • 

There's a really good book to come out of this. This must be what its like to defect from North Korea.

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Homelessbird

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Hoo boy. I read most of this report yesterday, and boy, it is some dark stuff.

Thanks for the write-up Austin. Great stuff on the Panopticon.

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StriderNo9

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Edited By StriderNo9 • 

Just wow, I can't believe a company can still operate that way in this day and age, although game developer conditions have been pretty subpar for a while now, this has to be the worst we've heard of right? Konami just made EA and Activision very happy. Next time either one is called the worst developer in the world they just have to point to this report.

Also, Austin, thanks for this article, it's well written and informative.

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Getz

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Edited By Getz • 

They're basically trying to turn development in to a mill. Make cheap games at a fast rate, prioritizing efficiency over creativity. Weed out dissent through shaming and degradation. It's why they're focusing so heavily on mobile; its the only arena where that strategy works. Just keep churning out shovel-ware on the cheap until something clicks, then milk the hell out of it. Once the teat runs dry, you move on to the next thing.

Call it the Virus Methodology of Game Development.

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wrecks

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WalterCrunkFite

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@iamjohn said:

I never thought I'd see a day where a Giant Bomb article has a serious discussion about Foucalt. I am so fucking stoked this day has come.

Yeah! And Austin dropped a sweet Derrida reference into the Beastcast recently. Now the duder is dropping Jeremy Bentham shout-outs into his news reports. This all makes me so happy! :D

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I_smell

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Edited By I_smell • 

Wow, didn't expect this article to go in that direction!

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ChrisTaran

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ChrisTaran • 

I'm sorry, but there is no way I could ever support that company again.

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conmulligan

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@iamjohn said:

I never thought I'd see a day where a Giant Bomb article has a serious discussion about Foucalt. I am so fucking stoked this day has come.

I've been waiting for Austin to namedrop Foucault since he was hired, and now that he has I'm giddy with excitement.

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Owozifa

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Owozifa • 

Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but even under terrible conditions if I'd produced something meant to be enjoyed I would want people to enjoy it. If not at least that, what was all the suffering for?

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shinjin977

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shinjin977 • 

As a Japanese man, this is not too far from our typical shitty corporate work environment. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good companies out there but out of all the bad ones I have heard about/worked for, this is not even close to being the worst.

Japanese companies are being control by old conservative men that lost touch with their employees years ago, not to mention their customers. This might be in bad taste seeing as we just lost one of the most profound voice in Japanese gaming in Mr. Iwata's passing but the sooner some of these old exec step down the better. Seeing as they will never resign of their own free will, the younger generation like myself are just waiting for those guys to die off.

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Brodehouse

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Brodehouse • 

If you're going to avoid Phantom Pain, likely Konami's last game, because of Konami's working conditions, I want you to smash your iPhone on the street.

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Rirse

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Rirse • 

@christaran: don't worry, I doubt they will have any games after MGSV anyway.

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Novis

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Novis • 

Man, when I read this last night, I was sick to my stomach. What happened? Why did the money go to their heads SO HARD?

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mashzapotato

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Edited By mashzapotato • 

While this may seem extreme I wonder how extreme it really is in the context of Japanese corporate culture. There may be some cultural dissonance here.

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SnideInsinuations

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Austin stans knew it was only a matter of time before he brought up Foucault in one of these things. Next week: bell hooks.

In all seriousness though, that's real shitty to hear, and I hope things improve for them.

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glitches

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glitches • 

Don't buy from Konami, no matter who the "old developer" that you cared about was. Your money will go to the current entity that is Konami.

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indieslaw

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indieslaw • 

The micro-economics of power are in full swing at Konami... and every call center I've ever worked at.

Fun fact, I failed a Foucault paper on Madness and Civilization when I was distracted by Gerstmann-gate.

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Sen0r_Awes0me

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@iamjohn: Austin made clear his desire to talk about Foucault in one of his Starting at Giantbomb articles.....it's just unfortunate such a fitting subject for comparison popped up.

I wonder how all those employees were feeling when we were all focusing on the PT and Kojima situations as indicators of a decline of Konami...

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glacialhelmnun

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Game development continues to be a be kind of a lousy gig in a lot of ways.

I don't have any real context for how widely this news will be reported in Japan. Hopefully these revelations will lead consumers of the pachinko machines/ health club memberships etc. to push back against Konami. I don't really think a boycott of their games division alone would have the kind of effect that fans of their past games are looking for.

The anonymous sources from the Nikkei report deserve a lot of credit for sticking their necks out like this!

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TehPickle

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TehPickle • 

To quote Jim Sterling:

'Fuck Konami'

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kunoh

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kunoh • 

I work in the game industry, and out of all the horror stories - this is definitely the worst I've heard. Usually the bad stories I've heard revolve around single individuals being difficult to work with (Supervisors, Producers, Leads, etc.) but this is different because it's company policey that is the problem. It's basically a scene out of 1984 - but on a company level.

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THE_RUCKUS

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THE_RUCKUS • 

Sad times for Konami game devs, but It's not surprising after all the news about employees from different studios leaving ever so more disgruntled at Konami.

Also Austin nice image choice. I have always admired the designs of the mech in Z.O.E maybe one day we will get a spiritual successor to the Zone of the enders series.

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Toug

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Toug • 

Boy, a lot of Metal Gear tends to be about shadowy figures trying to control the masses by taking control of the internet and the flow of data. And low ranking soldiers becoming disillusioned with their leaders after watching their friends and mentors thrown under the bus.

Probably a coincidence though. :/

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MonkeyKing1969

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I'd like the view of the people at 8-4 Play I think they are closer to the issues and might have a tiny amount of insight into how common some of the concepts are seen in other companies. I recall hearing that 'reassignment, demotion,...or just being put in an office with no work" is done in Japanese companies.

While much of what is alleged sounds harsh, it might be worth noting if other companies do the same, but to less harsh or less frequents extent.

I might note: when I worked in retail I had to punch-in on time, punch-out on time, and munch-in/out for breaks. Years later, years wiser, and in a different field - I would LAUGH if anyone asked me to start using a punch-clock. In fact, I just told my boss I'm taking four days off in two days time which is totally outside company rules. She wasn't happy, but there was very little she could do since I had coverage and I'm owed time.

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Eribuster

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Eribuster • 

Ooo, didn't know much about the Panopticon before.

Oh, Konami. The leaders chose this. I just hope that the people that are interested in making big console games can get out and land somewhere else. That's probably very unlikely given trends in Japan.

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Monkeyman04

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Wandrecanada

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Remember LA Noire? Bad management is a great way to ruin a product and the lives of the people who make it. Everyone hates to see potential thrown away due to greed and I hope articles like this continue to shine a light on these terrible behaviors.

I fully believe that people at very high corporate levels value their reputation more than the people who work under them. Public exposure of inhumane behaviors are often major drivers for positive cultural change.

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johnsonic7

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Edited By johnsonic7 • 

wow. That's ridiculous.

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noizy

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Edited By noizy • 

That's not how Konami can retain talent. They should be chaining employees to their desks.

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tuxfool

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Edited By tuxfool • 
@hassun said:

RIP ZOE3.

It was already dead. Torpedoed by High Voltage and Konami when they put out that shoddy HD collection.

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Shindig

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Shindig • 

@tehpickle said:

To quote Jim Sterling:

'Fuck Konami'

They have a long and illustrious legacy and have fostered many great careers but, man, they're getting out in the roughest transition possible. I'd like to hope its just a bad reaction to a disgruntled workforce where dissension is rife but this seems like the longest, most suffering goodbye that company and the people working under the roof could've imagined.

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notnert427

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Edited By notnert427 • 

Man, this is some Foxconn shit here. Awful. Panoptic, indeed.

That said, @austin_walker has given us another well-written, thought-provoking piece. Thanks for continuing to do right by the written word, good sir.

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cloudymusic

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Edited By cloudymusic • 

It's sort of bitterly amusing that a Panopticon literally appears in Konami's own Silent Hill 4.

This is seriously messed up stuff. I can understand wanting to focus on mobile games if that's what makes you more money, but what's the deal with the public shaming of employees, the repercussions for things done outside of work, or for not even giving your employees email accounts?

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forkboy

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forkboy • 

If you're going to avoid Phantom Pain, likely Konami's last game, because of Konami's working conditions, I want you to smash your iPhone on the street.

Yes, of course, that's logical. If you don't boycott everything bad then you must boycott nothing at all.

I am really quite glad I never followed my youthful dream and tried to work in video games because it sure sounds like shitty treatment and long hours are standard across the industry (though obviously this is a particularly extreme example). I cannot imagine retaining a passion for video games when going through that grind. And because there is a conveyor belt of people who want to work in that field it's unlikely change will ever actually happen in any meaningful way. Shame.

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Catlicker

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Catlicker • 

This sucks.

Even just a month away from releasing probably the most awaited title of the year, and they manage to screw it up.

Why Konami. Why.

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Maluvin

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Maluvin • 

This is distressing to read. I do have to say that that while Konami's actions are particularly gross and extreme it's worth keeping in mind that lots of companies either have similar policies or the means to engage in them. Doesn't make it right.

The whole thing puts the themes and events of the Metal Gear Solid series in a different light for me.

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AwkwardMan

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AwkwardMan • 

Well... that's pretty fucked up.

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Malarkain

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Malarkain • 

You guys I think Kojima was trying to warn us about Konami through his MGS antagonists all along.

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MonkeyKing1969

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Ooo, didn't know much about the Panopticon before.

Many modern and even a few 19th century penitentiaries are/were based on the concept. A round cell system with a central tower that looks into every cell with very limited views of other cells.

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ShadowConqueror

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Mister_V

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Edited By Mister_V • 

@mashzapotato: I sure as hell hope it's limited to Konami. I work for a Japanese company and this article scares the shit out of me.

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Brodehouse

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Brodehouse • 

Yes, of course, that's logical. If you don't boycott everything bad then you must boycott nothing at all.

Who said anything about boycotting nothing at all? What I said is not a matter of logic, it's a matter of consistency.

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dudeglove

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dudeglove • 

As someone who worked in nowhere near as bad as an environment, but was in a company that very much leaned in the same direction Konami is in, I sympathize greatly with the poor folks at Konami. And Austin is right, those sort of conditions are extremely debilitating. Also, I can't understate how great it is that this site now has a writer that actually reads.

@novis said:

Man, when I read this last night, I was sick to my stomach. What happened? Why did the money go to their heads SO HARD?

Dodgy national economy coupled with being a publicly-traded corporation beholden to shareholders means that the bottom line must always be met. If that bottom line rises due to unexpected explosion in mobile gaming sales, fuck everything else. It's morally abhorrent to you and I, and at the same time that's the grim reality.