Toshiyuki Takahashi, also known as Takahashi Meijin (“Famous Takahashi”), has announced in a blog post (translated by Tiny Cartridge) that he will be leaving his post as a PR executive at the publisher on May 31st after almost 30 years. He has stated that he will remain in the video games industry, though in what capacity remains to be seen.
Mr. Takahashi, who is celebrating his 52nd birthday today, is considered a celebrity in Japan due to his ability to press a button sixteen times per second and his ability at Star Force and Star Soldier. The public face of Hudson, his likeness became the star of the Hudson’s Adventure Island games, which was renamed “Master Higgins” in the West. He also made numerous appearances in television and anime.
Hudson became a wholly owned subsidiary of Konami in January. Konami then moved to close Hudson’s American office in March, axing 40 jobs in the process, and has cancelled all 3DS releases for the brand, including one for Bomberman, Hudson’s biggest franchise. Konami has stated that Hudson will be focused on social and casual games.
As of this writing, Konami has not made a comment.
Analysis: Imagine you’ve been working at a company for almost three decades. I can’t; today’s my 31st birthday, so that’s almost my entire lifetime. In those 30 years, you were part of a company that put out amazing video games, games that combined the ease of control that allowed them to be picked up quickly, with outstanding design that took them forever to master. Adventure Island might be little more than Wonder Boy with a new skin, but Bomberman and Bonk were classics that stand up well. Furthermore, your company helped develop a system – the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 – that achieved moderate success (moreso in Japan), helped usher in the CD era of video gaming, and was home to a number of legendary games. In short, for almost 30 years, you were the face of a gamer’s game publisher.
Then, things changed. Konami had been eating your company, slowly but surely, through stock purchases. By 2001, they were the largest shareholder. By 2005, they were the majority owners. According to insiders, they basically took away the thing that made your company what it was. They made it corporate, making sure to please investors over the people that made the games. Who cared if you were making solid gold? This is about moving units, damnit! Quick, remake Bomberman to cater to that Western dollar! Make it edgy!
Finally, the ultimate insult: Konami bought the rest of your stock, closed your US distributor, and told you to throw your entire history away, cancel your 3DS releases, and start making “social” and “casual” games. Not because they can be any good, but because that’s where the beancounters say the market is going. You’re officially a line item on a quarterly statement now.
If this was you, what would you do? If you say anything other than “get the hell out of Dodge with my dignity”, you already lost your dignity. It’s too late for you.
Trust me when I say this: when Takahashi Meijin leaves Hudson, it will mark the end of an era. The Tiny Cartridge post didn’t exaggerate. A solid piece of gaming history and lore just ended. Hudson Soft used to be about games. Great games, and great systems. Even later in the company’s life, they were about getting the message out in a unique way. They were a large, historic publisher that gave exclusives to smaller gaming sites, regardless of their Alexa ranking or advertising pull. They were about the gamers until the very end, even as Konami stripped them of their identity. Takahashi-san was a large part of that. He was Hudson. And now, his company has been reduced to making… I want to puke this out… *SOCIAL* games. I wonder how many people I’ll need to recruit, or how many Facebook credits I’ll need to spend, to be able to get my powerups on the Facebook version of Bomberman. Konami is chasing the market instead of leading it, and they’ve made Hudson their vanguard in that corporate, soulless endeavour.
I will always maintain that gamers should be sceptical whenever game companies talk about going public, releasing IPOs, or otherwise let people into their culture that have no business being anywhere near a video game publisher. The benefits (shitloads of money) are obvious, but with that money comes a dumbing down of what made the company able to go public in the first place. Activision would never have had the opportunity to be in a position to strip-mine purchased developers if it wasn’t for the enterprising people who left Atari and went on to make Pitfall! and River Raid. Electronic Arts would never have had the chance to create “ea_spouse” had it not been for Pinball Construction Set, M.U.L.E. or Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. And the Konami of today would never have come about had creative people not made amazing games like Contra, Gradius, Castlevania and the Ninja Turtles arcade games. Don’t even get me started on Square.
This reads more like a UTS than a news analysis, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I love the creativity that goes into making the best games that come out, and adore the social structure of the companies that do or did it the best. On the flip side, I abhor when a company goes public, gets an infusion of cash, and then quickly sets to pumping out sequels of its franchises – franchises that were at one time original and are now being stamped out in naked cash grabs – while shuttering studios, laying off help, and making substandard games. Nowadays, small developers who do solid work are being sucked up before we even know who they are (see: Chillingo, Playfish, anyone Zynga’s sucked up), and that’s the painful thing: in 2011, no one is able to build up the tenure or the record to become the next Takahashi Meijin. Before they get 1/10th the way there, Activison’s bought them, made them pump out six sequels, and closed the developer.
Nowgamer has a two part history of Hudson that is a fantastic read. Here’s part one.