Miss: Square Enix try to sell Hitman devs IO Interactive

Square Enix are pulling out of IO Interactive, leaving the future of the Danish studio (and their sandbox murder simulator series Hitman) uncertain as they try to find new investors. Squeenix bought IO in 2009 and, only eight years later, want rid of them for reasons of both business and pleasure — “to maximize player satisfaction”, in their words. It’s a bit of a bummer, not least of all because the first season of the episodic new Hitman was great once it got rolling.

“To maximize player satisfaction as well as market potential going forward, we are focusing our resources and energies on key franchises and studios,” Square Enix declared in a financial announcement today. “As a result, the Company has regrettably decided to withdraw from the business of IO Interactive …”

Oh, they’ll sell IO Interactive to maximise my satisfaction but not nip down the shops to grab me an Irn-Bru? I guess I know where this relationship stands. Squeenix continue:

“As a result of this the Company started discussions with potential new investors and is currently in negotiations to secure this investment. Whilst there can be no guarantees that the negotiations will be concluded successfully, they are being explored since this is in the best interests of our shareholders, the studio and the industry as a whole.”

In short, no one knows what will happen to IO Interactive, its employees, or its games.

This isn’t Squeenix’s first problem with IO. In 2013, they laid off half the studio and cancelled all its non-Hitmens – which rumour said included a follow-up to the underrated Kane & Lynch 2. I do still wish we’d seen more of those stumbling murderuncles.

This latest move will cost Squeenix too. The publishers are declaring an extraordinary loss — a business term, not an astonished declaration — of about £33 million as a result of all this, though obviously they think it’s for the (business) best in the long term.

This is a shame – and just as Hitman had recovered from the rubbo Hitman: Absolution! The combination of Hitman being an episodic release and having time-limited live events may have backfired. This did get the game out into our hands sooner and kept it lively between episodes, but it did bring problems. The episod-o-live format is confusing for a game series that’s traditionally just a game in a box, it’s off-putting to fuddy-duddies who object to episodic games on principle, and it’s undesirable to people who don’t want to bits of the game they’ve bought to be missable forever. It didn’t help that the series didn’t really get going until the second episode.

Best of luck to IO Interactive. Stand strong! Do those business deals well. Find business. Do the business. Do the special handshakes, both the one where you slip a business card into their hand and the one where you tickle their palm with your ring finger.

45 Comments

  1. Zach Fett says:

    If IO can find another publisher then this’ll be a good thing. Square Enix do a lot of consumer-unfriendly things and I’ve noticed they think a game is a failure when it sells pretty well (case in point: the first Tomb Raider reboot).

    I’m crossing my fingers IO will get with a good publisher who allows them to do another Kane & Lynch and Freedom Fighters.

    • skyturnedred says:

      I don’t care if we never see another Hitman if we get to see Freedom Fighters 2.

    • shde2e says:

      “IO interactive bought by EA, Hitman moving to yearly release schedule.
      CEO ‘Excited’. “

      • demicanadian says:

        Season pass to yet unannounced game, announced.

        • Zach Fett says:

          EA isn’t that bad, if you ask me. Especially in recent years.

          Don’t they only do season passes with Battlefield now? Like, Titanfall 2 for example has free titans, maps, weapons, etc. getting added often.

          Origin has a really lenient refund system too. That and their customer support are miles ahead of Steam.

          There’s better publishers out there, but there’s also much worse ones. I’d rather EA pick them up over Activision, that’s for sure.

          • Okami says:

            I’ve been a game developer for some time now, working with many different publishers over the years and I’ve had the most pleasant experiences with EA by far. IO could do a lot worse then being picked up by them.

    • Shuck says:

      “they think a game is a failure when it sells pretty well”
      To be fair, that’s because the cost of a AAA game and its marketing are now so high that what used to constitute “good sales” no longer do. That is, they have to sell a lot more copies than they used to, just to break even. This is why AAA development studios have been closing down for years (and are no longer being replaced by new ones).

      • April March says:

        By 2030 the AAA industry will consist solely of Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, plus GTA every five years.

        On 2041 people rejoice at the release of Rockstar Presents Table Tennis II: You’ve Been Served.

  2. GlasWolf says:

    Squeenix got IO as part of the Eidos takeover, so didn’t explicitly choose to buy it. Possibly they were never really that interested.

  3. Zorgulon says:

    I do hope this doesn’t mean Season 2 is cancelled? I really quite liked the new episodic Hitman.

  4. Jac says:

    Sad news, hope they can keep going either through a publisher with some sense and interest in their games or heck take to kickstarter/fig and call their game Star Hitizenman.

  5. Sakkura says:

    Damn. I know they’re not the whole game industry in Denmark, but they’re definitely the crown jewel.

  6. rustybroomhandle says:

    Silly question – were they ever planning to make these “elusive targets” available at a later date?

    • dontnormally says:

      It’d be daft/rude not to.

      • Imaginary Llamas says:

        Not sure where the source was, but I’m pretty sure the devs said they definitely weren’t going to make the Elusive Targets available again. I think one of their reasons was that the average quality of the missions was below the other official stuff (I personally found several of the missions to be full of bugs). Still seems silly to have gone to the effort of doing voiced briefings and intro cinematics if they weren’t going to stay around.

  7. Someoldguy says:

    “it’s off-putting to fuddy-duddies who object to episodic games on principle, and it’s undesirable to people who don’t want to bits of the game they’ve bought to be missable forever.”

    This would definitely be me. If I buy a game, I want to play a whole game that flows from sensible start to logical conclusion. Not wait for years of promised DLC to finish the story or realise I’ve missed stuff because I didn’t play at a particular time. That’s why I’d rather kickstart from companies I trust than buy episodic content until it’s all done and available in one gold package. It’s bad enough for adult games. Try explaining to your 7 year old that the LEGO Hobbit ends on a cliffhanger and will never be finished.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thirith says:

      I’m no economist, but I would imagine that especially on smaller budgets its easier to use an episodic format because you will have money coming in during development, i.e. you need less of an up-front investment to cover a longer duration without income on that particular title. Which in turn may well mean that some games might simply not come about without that sort of revenue stream, because it’s considered too much of a risk for a publisher. If I’m not entirely wrong on this, I’m of the opinion that while I wouldn’t want all games to be episodic, I’d rather give developers the option where it makes sense, because in the end I’d rather have a new albeit episodic Hitman exist than no new Hitman (which I imagine was a definite risk after Absolution).

      • desolation0 says:

        The problem for me, it pushes the risk from the publisher to the audience. If the first episode doesn’t sell well enough, the producers will most likely fully cut bait even though cash is now in pocket from the consumers. While there generally isn’t a promise that the game will be completed, it is a reasonable expectation of an average consumer.

        • Premium User Badge

          Thirith says:

          That’s definitely true, but to some extent I’m glad that some of the audience at least is more willing to take risks than publishers are. It’s why I like crowdfunding as an option – it is flawed, and fans aren’t always the best replacement for publishers, but I know a number of games that have come about thanks to such alternative approaches that I think might simply not exist otherwise.

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          kfix says:

          That’s not much of a risk to the consumer if the pricing is per-episode though (assuming it’s also a reasonable price, of course).

    • skeletortoise says:

      I get this general attitude, but I think it’s really misapplied to Hitman. More than most games, Hitman games consists of a series of entirely self contained levels to play around in with a story that exists primarily as a justification for why one level comes after another. So most levels are only tenuously connected and the story is essentially immaterial to the actual experience. In my opinion, levels are generally better when they’re less constrained by the story than when they’re not (usually the end of the game). From everything I’ve read, the episodic Hitman has embraced this and made the story increasingly irrelevant and tacked on. Think of it as buying individual short stories (all in the same literary universe) rather than a collection. The end result is the same.

      • Zorgulon says:

        Yeah, I think Hitman is perfectly suited to the episodic format, as the staggered release really encourages you to replay missions, the way they were intended. The overarching storyline is minimal and vague to the point of irrelevance.

  8. skeletortoise says:

    I understand that ‘regrettably’ doesn’t necessarily mean “we regret this”, but I’ve always found it annoying when people use it to basically mean ‘unfortunately’. It either makes you sound disingenuous or dumb. If you regret it so much after an hour, maybe you should’ve thought it through a bit more!

  9. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    You all remember when there was that kickstarter (or whatever) to try and buy THQ? One of these days it’d be interesting for that kind of thing to succeed.

  10. GenialityOfEvil says:

    And yet they’re keeping Avalanche, whose last two games were complete, objective failures. Yeah, I don’t see Squeenix lasting very long.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Dragon Quest

      Final Fantasy

      That is all.

    • The Bitcher III says:

      It’s possible this is the more saleable of the two assets.
      I’d also note Avalanche have released a bunch of games in the time it’s taken IO to come up with Absolution (legit failure) and the reboot – which, whilst well loved, took an age to recover from a bad first impression, and unfortunately doesn’t seem to have sold very well (going from Steamspy).

      Don’t really know, mind you. These decisions can be made for all sorts of reasons. Balance sheets can be very counterintuitive, and then there’s politics.

      I think JC looks like a steady franchise, especially in the console arena – with room to grow into the MP market. It’s also a gaming gif makers dream, and the kind of game you can pick up and blast within a couple of minutes*. I got lost on Hitman’s training level.

      (*and throw away in ten)

  11. jezcentral says:

    This is horrific. I hope someone comes in for IOI. Squeenix were responsible for the stupid online-single-player decision. Is that a Japanese thing? Phantom Pain had the same default-is-online.

    If there was one thing I would criticise Hitman for was the slightly anodyne levels. No matter how well designed, Beldingford Manor, Meat King’s Party and You’d Better Watch Out they were not. But it (Hitman 2016) is my favourite game of all time (displacing Blood Money), and I desperately want to see it succeed.

  12. gbrading says:

    It’s sad, I hope IO will find a buyer (and preferably from a good publisher rather than *shudder* EA). Hitman 2016 was a great return to form for the Hitman series and it would be a shame if Season 2 was now cancelled as a result of it.

    I wonder if Square Enix will allow them to take the Hitman license with them; somehow I doubt it.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I don’t see Season 2 happening now. Somebody with deep pockets will need to come along and that is becoming less of a thing these days. On console there’s only a few franchises that make big money where everyone else scrapes by or fails. On PC it’s a bit more sporadic but again the majority scrape by or fail. Only a few companies left with huge pockets to pick these things up.

  13. Rince says:

    Time-limited events… I don’t understand the appeal of that. To me is just a big “Skip that game” sign.
    I want to play my games when I want and at the pace that I want, not be forced to do something because it will be lost forever.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      That’s pretty silly.

      • dontnormally says:

        I missed literally every one for various reasons. I didn’t miss any of them on purpose.

    • Vandelay says:

      Yes, it was an odd decision. They sold it on the fact that it added more drama to playing it if it was a one time thing, which is reasonable enough. But why I wasn’t able to have that one time go a few months after it was released and instead had to play over just a couple of days I don’t understand.

    • AndreasBM says:

      To be fair, it was a pretty innovative feature which fitted the format perfectly. The Himan series has always been about learning the maps and routines of the NPCs until you could kill your target like some kind of clairvoyant. This is fine, that’s what computer games is, but it takes a bit away from the feeling of being a true assassin.

      The Elusive Targets offer a great combo – new objectives in an old map. You know the layout, you know most of the NPCs, but there is a new element. By not letting you do any more attempts after completing an objective, and by limiting you to a few days of trying, you allow the player to use her expertise to plan and commit the hit, but also make her really tense and nervous. This is the closest I’ve been to a true assassin experience.

      Plus, there are so many and they come so often that it doesn’t matter if you missed some. And the game is absolutely stellar even if you completely discount the elusive targets.

      They even added a smartphone app which alerts you to new elusive targets.

  14. Jack says:

    For me it would be worse to have the rights sold to Sony instead of Ea.
    They already gave some exclusive content to the ps4 copies of the game.
    Imagine having to pay for a console just to play your favorite franchise on 30fps.

  15. Banks says:

    Hitman was an absolute joy and this news make me so fucking sad. I don’t see how this can end well.

    Only SEGA can save us from this mess. We deserve a glorious Season 2!

    • caff says:

      IO must have huge value for the latest Hitman. It was brilliant. I’m hopeful someone who cares about their talents picks them up.

  16. somnolentsurfer says:

    This reminds me, I must book time off for Feral Vector. Business! Business! Business!

  17. sagredo1632 says:

    I find the special handshake where you tickle their palm with a tenner works best.

  18. lycaniz says:

    I kind of hope that Paradox will purchase them and put them to work on their World of Darkness franchise.

  19. ulix says:

    German PC mag Gamestar says they have info from a confidential but reliable source that IO will retain the Hitman licence, and that season 2 is about halfway done and will come out in 2018.

  20. Pinga says:

    Episodic, always online, limited time game.

    One thing is to risk something creative, like how Amnesia stripped combat or Dark Souls forces PvP. Not everyone agrees with it, but it’s part of the creative design of the game.
    Another is to impose technical hurdles that every single being knows it’s bad, in hopes to force more sales.

    I’m proud of the gaming community for responding not only with their voices, but with their wallets that such practices are not ok.