INTERVIEW: Kunio Neo and Martin Schneider

Christopher Dring
INTERVIEW: Kunio Neo and Martin Schneider

Konami has gone some time without a Metal Gear moment.Since the last game in its iconic stealth franchise – June 2008’s chart-topper Metal Gear Solid 4 – sales successes have been few and far between.

The biggest disappointment has been the Pro Evo series. Once the jewel in Konami's release schedule, the soccer series has suffered in the face of a resurgent FIFA.

“Last year we struggled besides FIFA,” says Konami’s European president Kunio Neo. “This year the quality is very good. We showed the game to several people, and the feedback has been very positive.”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard talk of a Pro Evo fightback. The series has been on the wane ever since EA decided to stop being rubbish with FIFA, and each new PES has promised to be ‘the one that gets it right.’

But there’s a genuine sense that this Pro Evo could close the gap. The challenge will be for Konami to convince fans to come back.

“This year we’ve concentrated on expanding awareness via social networks,” adds Neo. “This is going to be more important in the future.”

NOT-SO SILENT HILL

It’s not just Metal Gear that’s been AWOL for a few years. There’s not been a new Silent Hill since 2009 when the firm released two games, Homecoming and Shattered Memories – the latter being a remake of the original PSone classic.

Now the series’ next chapter is almost upon us – Silent Hill: Downpour – which is preceded by a HD collection featuring Silent Hill 2 and 3.

There’s more to come next year. A second Hollywood movie is planned for release, as well as a PlayStation?Vita game – Silent Hill: Book of Memories. And Konami is cautiously optimistic about Sony’s new handheld.

“It has its challenges,” admits Konami’s European general manager for sales, marketing and products Martin Schneider. “But I watched Sony’s Gamescom conference and I think they made a quite promising and convincing presentation. With publishers like us supporting the platform, it certainly has its chances.”

GOING WEST

Silent Hill represents Konami’s strategy of giving its brands to US and European studios to increase their appeal to Western gamers. Downpour has been built by Czech studio Vatra, while Book of Memories is in the works at Californian outfit WayForward. Last year’s Castlevania:?Lords of Shadow was developed in spain and more partnerships with Western studios are in the works.

Neo adds: “More and more we will use outside developers to grow in Europe and create content suited for the European market.”

Konami’s success in Europe comes despite a downturn in key territories including the UK. The publisher’s Euro HQ is based in Germany, and Neo says this is one reason why it has bucked the trend.“

Despite the economic conditions in many other countries, Germany is doing alright. So we are not as affected as an American publisher that has is headquartered in the UK. They are suffering because they focus their sales on the UK market.”

MISSING?THE?DANCING?BOOM

Probably the most popular genre across Europe is dancing. So it makes you wonder why Konami hasn’t capitalised on this trend, after all it did invent the genre with Dance Dance Revolution.

“We had no idea to develop a dance game without the mat,” admits Neo.

Schneider adds: “Our dancing games didn’t take off in all European countries at the same time. They were very successful for a certain period in the UK, then they became successful in Germany and then France. So the developers started to lose interest, and thought the time of dancing games might be over. In hindsight you are always smarter.”

Konami has strength in its IP. But the publisher is also cautiously trying new things. There’s the creative XBLA kinect game Leedmees, and the firm has also partnered with UTV Ignition on quirkly adventure game El Shaddai.

“I found it would be a perfect addition to our line-up as long as the expectations of UTV Ignition would not be unrealistic,” says Schneider. “Since there expectations and our forecasts matched, it made sense to us. And it has been received really well.”

There’s promising times ahead for Konami. A combination of quirky IPs, new Silent Hill games and a much improved PES make for a strong line-up. While the company says it is maintaining its position in Europe.

Who needs Metal Gear Solid?

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Tags: interview , konami , kunio neo , martin schneider

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