Interview with Konami’s Michael Rajna

I have seen a wide array of outlets and internet comments stating that Konami is back right now, as in, only after the announcement of the Metal Gear Solid 3 remake and the plethora of Silent Hill announcements in late 2022. I don’t particularly agree with that sentiment. If anything, I did state that the company was already performing a slow, but effective resurgence way back in late 2018, all thanks to actions like Castlevania Requiem, the VR version of Zone of the Enders, and partnering up with Nintendo in Super Smash Bros Ultimate.

This isn’t new for us, it’s just the natural course of what seemed to be a long-term (and unrushed) strategy. Over the past few years, we saw more releases, both in terms of retro collections and new entries in estabilished IPs. Thankfully, I was able to interview Michael Rajna, Senior Director of Business Development and Licensing at Konami, at BIG Festival this year, where I was finally able to ask about the company’s past, present, and plans for the future.


Michael Rajna Zone of Enders

Konami did venture into VR with a Zone of the Enders remaster a few years back.


WayTooManyGames: I want to start the interview out by noticing a slight change in Konami’s release approach over the past few years. There was a time when its output was mostly limited to eFootball (at the time known as Pro Evolution Soccer, or just PES) and remastered collections of older franchises, such as Castlevania and Contra. Nowadays, we see a much wider array of releases. Konami still publishes collections, but they have branched into AA games, indies, VR, and more. What was the decision to branch out?

Michael Rajna: I think it’s been a priority for Konami to get back in the game space overall. Not just focusing on one platform or another, but really across all gaming devices. So that would include all consoles, PC, mobile, VR as you have mentioned, arcade, just really across all different gaming platforms.


How do you decide which studio will partner up with Konami for a game based on one of your IPs? Do you accept pitches from smaller studios, do you approach them, or do you announce the intention of making a specific game, then wait for studios to respond?

MR: That’s a really good question. Quite honestly, it’s a case-by-case basis depending on the IP itself and the studio in question. It depends on the overall strategy for each individual IP.


Are there specific IPs from Konami’s portfolio that are considered the more ideal for a partnership, or are you willing to listen to offers to revitalize even the smallest of franchises? Say, if a studio pitches an idea for a Goemon, or a Frogger, or a Gradius game.

MR: Yes, we are definitely open to considering all different opportunities. The key thing again, it’s that it’s sort of a case-by-case situation, so it will depend on the studio, it will depend on the IP. Some of our game properties are a little bit more sensitive than others, though.


Michael Rajna Silent Hill 2 Remake

The Silent Hill 2 remake is just the first of three upcoming Silent Hill games being released over the next few years.


This also applies to franchises previously released by Hudson Soft, right?

MR: That’s correct. We own the entirety of Hudson Soft’s catalogue.


Konami took the gaming industry by storm last year with the announcement of three Silent Hill projects at once, as well as a new movie. What made the company decide to bring the franchise back to life with so many releases at once, as well as striking partnerships with studios from completely different backgrounds and track records?

MR: The overall plan was to not simply have one-off games, but to release a real strategy of output for our titles. It encompasses not only games, but also other multimedia opportunities. So with Silent Hill, we’ve announced an upcoming movie, the GenVid experience (a.k.a. Silent Hill Ascension), and obviously the three new upcoming games: the Silent Hill 2 remake, Silent Hill Townfall, and Silent Hill F. So really, that’s the kind of strategy we want to have going forward for our franchises: it is to do something a little bit bigger, rather than just sort of one-off games.


We have seen Bloober Team and No Code, two European studios, take the helm on Silent Hill, a franchise originally developed in Japan. Is Konami willing to let more Western studios handle their original IPs in the future, or is this a special case for Silent Hill, considering its Western influences and success in the Americas?

MR: Well, we definitely want to see our games have more of a global impact. So if that’s working with studios that are in the West or in Japan, it really doesn’t make a difference as much as it’s the right fit for the franchise. We’re definitely open for all of our properties to be worked on by studios in the East and West.


For a while, eFootball was pretty much the only console game being released at a consistent pace by Konami. The game had a big emphasis on South American clubs, players and licenses, a continent mostly ignored as a focus market by the vast majority of gaming companies. I’d like to know a bit more about this decision.

MR: Football is gigantic all over the world, and nobody can discount how important football is in South America, in pretty much all of the countries here. So it was a priority for us, as a global company, to understand that, and appreciate that, and bring some of that value to working exclusively with a lot of the leagues and clubs here in South America, and most particularly, its largest country and market, Brazil.


Michael Rajna Skelattack

Skelattack: an indie published by Konami, and a great one at that.


There is one game I’d like to talk about, Skelattack. Unlike most recent releases by Konami, it was a brand new IP by a Western studio, a smaller game in scale. In essence, it felt like an indie game published by Konami. How did that partnership begin, and are there plans for more publishing partnerships like this in the future?

MR: Yes! Part of our goal in expanding Konami’s portfolio is to work with indie developers and release what we feel is really cool and unique content. When we first met with the Ukuza Inc. team (the developers behind Skelattack), we just found that it was a really great concept, a really great game and we were excited to partner with them and publish the title. Going forward, we expect to do a lot more of those types of releases in the near future.


One of Konami’s upcoming titles is CYGNI: All Guns Blazing, a high-budgeted take on the arcade shooter genre, one which Konami has had a massive past track record. I’d like to know a bit more of how that game started development. Were the developers the ones who pitched the idea to Konami, or did Konami approach them to publish the game after seeing similarities to the company’s releases from a few decades ago?

MR: As a global company, we’re looking to meet with as many developers as possible. And this particular game came from our Konami Europe office. They had met with KeelWorks, the developer of CYGNI, and found that they had a very symbiotic vision, and decided that there would be a great partnership, because, partly it is a great game, and partly because it really fed into the Konami core DNA, being a shoot ’em up inspired by the classics. So, yeah, it’s been a great partnership with them so far.


What is your stance on virtual reality, and would Konami be interested in releasing more VR games in the future? The company was an early adopter of the console VR scene with the release of a Zone of the Enders remaster a few years ago, after all.

MR: Yes, we’re definitely open to all gaming platforms, so it’s something that we’re considering. It just, again, depends on the studio that we might work with, and the property itself.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection

This collection was a godsend.


One of the most surprising releases by Konami over the past few years was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection. We have always thought that such a released was deemed impossible due to licensing issues. Yet, here we are. It exists, and it’s amazing. How did you strike the deal to make such a collection come to life?

MR: We’ve discussed this with Paramount Pictures, the ones who control the rights to the TMNT franchise, obviously due the past history of Konami having released seventeen games based on the franchise. We really wanted to do a collection that celebrated all of that past history. Paramount and Nickelodeon agreed this would be a fantastic opportunity. We were able to secure the license, and then we expanded and added the museum pieces and everything else that went into the game. It’s been a fantastic partnership.