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Six Days in Fallujah developer Atomic Games recently claimed it was "caught by surprise" when publisher Konami decided to withdraw its support of the project. I was surprised too: Surprised that nobody foresaw the immediate and strong reaction to the game's announcement, surprised that Atomic was surprised and surprised that Konami got itself wrapped up in this mess in the first place.
Konami said it chose to drop the project after "seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and email." And maybe Konami, a developer and publisher based in Japan - the country that gave us RapeLay - honestly didn't see what the big deal was when it revealed Six Days to the world. But surely somebody - maybe in the company's U.S. offices - would have suggested that releasing a videogame based on a war that's still being waged might arouse some passions among the American people, and not necessarily in a good way.
The Battle of Fallujah (technically speaking, I believe the game covers the Second Battle of Fallujah) took place in late 2004, an uncomfortable proximity for many that's compounded by the fact that the war in Iraq is still being fought. The game has support among some members of the U.S. military, a few of whom are credited with the bringing the idea and supporting materials to the studio. But a great number of people have expressed opposition to the game, despite knowing virtually nothing about it beyond the subject matter and Atomic's claim that it intends to present the subject in a "documentary style."
Which should come as a big surprise to absolutely no one, least of all the people behind Six Days. Basing a game - not a "serious game," which Atomic also develops, but a mass-market entertainment product - on an ongoing war, especially one so heavily shrouded in ambivalence and unpopularity, is just begging for controversy. And while controversy can be a fantastic marketing tool, it's only of value if you're willing to stand up to it.
This is where things get dicey for Konami. It's a mainstream company; it does games like Metal Gear Solid, Pro Evolution Soccer, Castlevania and Dance Dance Revolution. It needs the furor surrounding Six Days in Fallujah like it needs a hole in the head and since the game isn't much of a threat to become a lucrative hit franchise, there really isn't any good reason to continue carrying the torch. Fighting the good fight and refusing to bend to howls of outrage and ignorance sounds great in press releases and might even be fun for awhile but from a corporate perspective, it's a path fraught with impracticalities.
"Every form of media has grown by producing content about current events, content that's powerful because it's relevant," Atomic Games CEO Peter Tamte said last week. "Movies, music and TV have helped people make sense of the complex issues of our times."