What Does Hideo Kojima Think A Game Designer Needs?

By Ishaan . July 15, 2011 . 5:01pm

What does Metal Gear series creator, Hideo Kojima, think it takes to be a game designer that gets hired in today’s game industry? Not technical skill, he says; rather, you need to be good at marketing and sales.


“Right now, it’s very similar to movies: You need a lot of money,” Kojima said to the PlayStation blog. “So rather than doing what you want, doing what you like, you must have a clear idea of marketing and sales. That’s what’s happening to us with FOX Engine; you do not need be an expert in programming to develop a game, but if you have a question, you still need an expert on-hand to provide an answer.”


“As for expression,” he continued, “that has reached a high level. Video games are trying to reach the peak of entertainment, so game makers should be clear that things like emotion and sound are among the many things that have to be involved.”

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  • Ereek

    To some extent, I agree, especially for the larger businesses that need a more consistent source of revenue to fund their projects.  But at the same time, catering to what people want is not the way to promote change. Sometimes people don’t know they want something until they’ve actually tried it.  I know I’m not the only one out there who has loved a game I came into expecting to dislike.  Stepping out of the bonds of familiarity is risky, but I think there’s room for both innovation and consistency in the industry.

    One of the main problems I see with many inexperienced with development is that they have so many ideas- and that’s a wonderful thing! The problem is how to realistically implement the ideas under a budget, time constraints, and technical limitations. Game development isn’t magic.

    • I agree with you, but then there are people who feel game developers. Should only be making the games that the consumers want. This argument have been used when people ask why Nintendo make 3D Mario games compared to the 2D games. Since the 2D games sell so much more copies Nintendo should cater to the majority. Instead of making the 3D games where they try new and creative ideas. Iwata said recently we try to make something that no one has ever seen. Something they may not know they like until the try it. With the hope that they will like it after the try it.

  • In Kojima’s case, you also need a stern look that never changes when you take pictures. Without it, they can not take you absolutely serious.

    • Exkaiser

      You also need to eat a lot of noodles. Every day.

      • Zefux

        Curry flavoured too.

  • d19xx

    Is this the reason why the MGS series is starting to become a shooter?

  • Christian Wright

    kojima is a master of the art. 

  • Ladius

    That’s why I like little companies and low budget games: they can focus on creating interesting games without losing their mind on sales data or trying desperately to gauge the market’s latest trends.

    • neogeno

      My thoughts exactly. When a company is small the soul and idea of the game is preserved without the overall vision being spaced out by a huge development team. I imagine overhead costs would become much more manageable. I think when devs dont have a “too big to fail” game in development, they can really focus on the fine details an bring out the concept to its most realized state.

  • z_merquise

    “So rather than doing what you want, doing what you like, you must have a clear idea of marketing and sales.”

    So is this the reason why Kojima kept on developing Metal Gear games? Because it’s profitable even if he personally wanted to create other games beside it?

    I do agree that every game developers should have an idea of the business side of things but creating a game that they want to create is, for me, the most important part. 

    I think not every game needs to be a million seller to be successful or maybe it’s just me but that’s my opinion.

    • theworldofnoboundries

      Well the game that the creator wanted is not always profitable and fun for gamers as each person preference is different and if they failed badly with one game who knows what will happen to the game designer?(Getting fired is not a good idea lol.)

    • PrinceHeir

      agree :D

      oh well it’s always about sales which i don’t blame them.

      *looks at Game Republic and other companies


    • Exkaiser

      Well, your opinion might be wrong in this case. Not million sellers, of course, but not every company can survive on 100,000 sales.

      Different companies have different overheads. Sales that would be profitable for a small company, such as Atlus or NIS, might not be profitable for Konami.

      And, well, Konami is in the business of making money. They can’t just break even, either, because that’s a waste of labor that could have been put towards a project that makes money. Kojima’s job is to make Konami money, so they have him work on profitable things like Metal Gear. Granted, he’s not working on MG right now, so he could be up to anything.

      Granted, I don’t know anything about Konami, so I couldn’t tell you how high their overhead might be relative to another company, but I get the feeling that, say, ZOE and ZOE2 didn’t exactly net them a lot of money.

    • RupanIII

      Actually, many theorize that that is in fact the case. Kojima has been saying since SoL that he was done with the series, but Konami knows that it’s a huge hit and brings in the $, so they kept convincing him to develop more. Not only that, but I read that he actually received death threats when he said he wasn’t going to make 4.

      I’m a huge MGS fan so I like them all, but it’s a bit sad in a way too. imo, SoL was the most purely artistic work, and fans/haters jumped all over him for it. They didn’t want an intellectual game that challenged their assumptions and desires, they wanted to shoot stuff. Since then, the series has become more shooter-esque. You can tell Kojima is conflicted about it too, I think, if you read into MGS4’s mournful tone – even when he’s being pushed into making games based on business rather than art, he still gives an artful approach.

      Anyway, I wish Kojima felt free to make a purely artistic work again. I agree with you. It’s a shame that the industry is like that now, development costs so high, etc. that things become increasingly focus-group tested/bland/safe and non-risky/etc. so try to appeal to as many people as possible.

  • Apache_Chief

    The sad truth is that business trumps art in any entertainment industry.

    • The two aren’t mutually exclusive…

      • Apache_Chief

        Of course not, but there comes a point when an artist has to make some compromise to help business. Whether that means cutting a guitar solo or making the same game 5 times with a different title because the first one sold well. Metal Gear proves that successful games can still be creative works of art, but they’re made as a way to make money first and foremost.

        • malek86

          I don’t really see the problem with that. Toriyama said many times that he only kept drawing Dragon Ball because it was too popular to let go, but that didn’t make the manga any worse.

          • Apache_Chief

            As long as the creators are able to avoid stagnation, then I have no problem with sticking with what works. But that takes a real talent that I don’t think is all that common, honestly. I’m sure Miyamoto would love to make more experimental Pikmin-type games, but Mario and Zelda sell well and they’re darn good games too. I don’t expect or want Nintendo to ever stop milking those cows, because they still give good milk. But if everyone kept making what has worked in the past and doesn’t change anything, then we’d never have any progress. No Resident Evil 4, no Symphony of the Night, no Mega Man Legends or World of Warcraft. We’d be getting the same game with different graphics every year and a hardware upgrade every few years. Look no further than the modern fps industry.

          • malek86

            Every recent game you have mentioned is an evolutionary improvement, not a revolution (those are almost impossible to do today, since every genre has been explored). In the end, evolutions would still exist, because every developer would try to one-up the other developers by offering something that gives some innovation that can’t be found anywhere else while still appealing to the masses.

          • Aoshi00

            Toriyama drew as much as he could.. it really wasn’t up to him.  If he could choose and wasn’t pushed by Shuueisha, he said he would’ve stopped after Freeza (and for a long time I didn’t really like that comment because I liked the android/Cell arc so much), and he finally did end it after Buu because there’s nothing more to talk about (Buu was really a stretch), but Toei went ahead and made GT.

            When I read what Kojima said, it immediately brings to mind how manga artists work too, each of them has a tantou from the publisher to bounce ideas off of and keep the author/artist in check (chapter by chapter during the course of a manga’s weekly serialization), in order to not let the artist write whatever the heck he wants, which might not appeal to the readers, but that doesn’t necessarily lower the quality or creativity of the work. On the contrary, w/ expectation and pressure of sales, it could actually make the artist work harder. It’s the difference btwn professional mangaka and amateur doujinshi writer.

            It’s like Naruto, I’m sure Kishimoto wants to give it a satisfactory ending, but it’s probably still going on because Shounen Jump wants it and Bamco wants to sell tons of Naruto games.. otherwise he might have started drawing a new manga alrdy..

  • I’ll let the publisher worry about marketing and sales, thanks.

    • malek86

      You won’t be saying that when people don’t buy your games and your studio gets closed and everyone working there is fired.

      It’s too easy to blame the publisher with “of course, they didn’t advertise it!” for every game that is a failure. But sometimes the product just isn’t to the market’s liking. The publisher has to market a game, but the developer has to make the job feasible for them by inserting features that cater to the general audience, or at least a sizeable enough niche.

      • Everything you just said doesn’t require marketing knowledge to understand.

        • Patrick de Kruijf

          Actually marketing is knowing what your customers want so he speaks the truth. Then again it sounds easy but is extremely difficult to truly make what your fans want.

          For example: Should they answer to an individual fan request or should they look at the games the whole fanbase plays?

  • I agree entirely. There are times where ideals are good, art direction is good, and programming is good – but everything can still fall short because they don’t understand the market well enough. Whether it’s advertising, or just knowing what fans want – without these things, it’s really really hard to make a good game. So while it’s good to have the other qualities of a game designer, this ability to market is “necessary”. It doesn’t mean the other things aren’t important, it’s just that this is  the most “necessary”.

    It’s true that most game designers don’t get the chance to create a game they really want, as well. But I think what happens is companies make a cash cow-like series that is sure to be a hit, while making risky games that they really like on the side. Not to say that the cash cow games aren’t great and flowing with the dev’s love; it’s just that one of it’s primary objectives is to generate income.

  • Hmm, i’m in a Game Design school, and this is very interesting to me… Yet not really reassuring for me.

    As always, and especially now, we need lot of money.
    Lot of people in my classe got the fear to don’t have any work after this school.

    • Adam Moore

      No degree guarantees a job. Period. Especially in this industry. You need to be able to market yourself and your skills to get a job in the game industry. Recruiters are more interested in your projects than in your degree. You are working on projects, aren’t you?

      Remember, the games industry is an INDUSTRY – this is a business and the publishers are concerned with their bottom line. How much money can you and your IP make them?

    • Jellybit

      In game design, your projects are king.  Just make sure you spend time making cool games and pushing limits.  You have to have made games.  Bringing in a stack of GDDs aren’t going to amount to anything really.

    • bugmeknot

      I imagine there is demand for game designers all year round. Game designers don’t suddenly become useless once the initial idea has been accepted and game production has started.

      The game design team would need to constantly assemble the game from all the hard work everyone around them is doing, tune the game experience and answer many questions about edge cases found during development and quality control.

      Kojima says, “you do not need be an expert in programming to develop a game, but if you have a question, you still need an expert on-hand to provide an answer”. Perhaps the expert he is referring to is a game designer.

  • raikage

    “So rather than doing what you want, doing what you like, you must have a clear idea of marketing and sales.”
    Is that the reason why he didn’t make a real Boktai 4?

  • Jirin

    Doesn’t that depend what audience you’re trying to appeal to?

    To make a Hollywood movie you need a good sense of marketing and sales.  To make the kind of movie I like to watch, it’s better to do what you want. The same applies to games.

    • Sure, it’s always a question if you want to appeal to the mainstream or to the arthouse people. But opposed to art Games rarely get funding from the country as a help and also can’t be sold at any pricepoint as for instance Art…

  • epy

    So this is why we don’t have Zone of the Enders 3, huh?

    • Exkaiser

      Just wouldn’t sell as well as MGS: Peace Walker HD Ac!d: Ghost Babel.

  • ……unless you’re an indie game developer

  • money seems to get in the way of all great things (sighs)

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