If you think working in Japan’s renowned gaming industry is prestigious, then think again.

Top trained designers at one of our country’s biggest video game firms have been assigned menial tasks like scrubbing floors if they fail to meet their supervisor’s rigorous standards. And even employees lucky enough to maintain their company’s stratospheric expectations must still adhere to strict lunch breaks recorded on time cards, and other rigid polices like frequent barring from internet access.

These alarming conditions were revealed to be taking place at Konami, the massively successful developer of world wide blockbuster game franchises like Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid. Nikkei news agency recently reported on the issue, in Japanese, setting off a fierce backlash. When popular gaming website metalgearinformer.com ran a blog post about the Nikkei report, translating key details like “One employee announced on Facebook he was leaving Konami, his social media was subsequently monitored, and those in the company who ‘liked’ it were reshuffled within the company.” Several readers took to the comments section to vent their outrage. One commentor named ddmaster wrote: “Regardless of how the game comes along they shouldn’t have the right to act so inhumanly to the poor folks who have been working their asses off night and day to make the greatest game they can possibly make.” Another named Gatsu was even more distressed by the news, writing: “Sounds like some prison…to treat the personnel in such ways, that isn’t right. This make me so furious.”

Giant Bomb, another popular video game blog, ran an even more detailed article about the Konami controversy, offering a thoughtful comparison of the gaming company’s practise to a bygone sociological prison experiment. Its readers were also livid, with one named Shindig writing: “There’s a really good book to come out of this. This must be what its like to defect from North Korea.”

Venture Beat, a popular tech news site, also ran insightful article about Konami’s working conditions, adding that such backlash from gamers could be particularly substantive in Japan, before elaborating:

“The obvious problem for Konami is that it depends on the good will of gamers, who decide whether to buy games based on branding, reputation, and the fame of its developers and franchises. Reports like this one will keep Konami mired in negative news.”

But the VB article also commented on how frequent such dismal practices are at not only Konami, but also several many other video game firms. Serkan Toto, a gaming industry expert who was quoted in the Nikkei article, Tweeted about such concerns, writing “I regularly hear such horror stories about JP companies, but Konami does seem to be extreme.” When another netizen asked for details about other “horror stories” Serkan replied:  “…most include ridiculous overtime, including on Saturday and Sunday,” and when that other user compared Konami’s practices to slavery, Serkan added: “Yes, but there is also something like self-respect. I wonder why employees affected don’t quit. Japan is a free country.”

If such a workers revolt does ensue, it will not be Konami’s only woe. As Asian Correspondent points out, the beleaguered gaming giant is also being critiqued because the Nikkei report additionally pointed out that the company spent a staggering 10 billion yen (US$80 million) on its still-to-be-released Metal Gear Solid 5 title. The report’s sole bright spot centres on Konami’s pivot toward mobile social games, which could may be less intensive and costly to produce while also having far larger profit margins. But even bigger changes than that may be necessary, if socially conscious gamers begin avoiding the company because of its inhumane working environment.

—Kyle Mullin

Image: Sebra / Shutterstock.com