Layoffs at Hitman devs IO as Square Enix ditch studio

Less than one fortnight after Square Enix announced they were ditching IO Interactive, IO have announced a round of layoffs. While that’s no surprise, it is certainly a shame. We still don’t know what the future holds for the Danish studio, who are best known for their Hitman games, and the path forward is looking bumpy. Squeenix had said they’d try to find new investors in IO to replace them, but we’ve not yet heard much on how that’s working out. Initial impressions: not entirely great. Fingers crossed, everyone.

IO Interactive tweeted the following statement this afternoon:

“Today at IOI, we had to make some changes to our studio, which will allow us to be better equipped for our future adventures.

“We’re sad that great talent and good friends will be leaving the studio. We are doing everything possible to look after everyone affected.

“Thank you for your support and understanding.”

They don’t say how many people are gone.

An unconfirmed rumour last week said that IO would keep Hitman and continue their plan to make a second season of its episodic latest. Though that rumour also said IO would make an official statement on that this week, and all we’ve heard so far is, er, this bad news. Don’t take the rumour as fact.

Hopefully IO manage to turn this around, both for their sake and for ours. Our Alec has highlighted the new Hitman as one of the fine games making up this “golden age of big-budget PC games that offer us choice and freedom.” And I’d still like to see a third Kane & Lynch game, sending the creaking uncles stumbling through yet another mess of their own making.

Best of luck to everyone at IO affected by this.

30 Comments

  1. poliovaccine says:

    I know I’m no business-savvy expert in the standards and pressures facing large corporations, but dammit it boggles my mind how a franchise as uniquely adored as Hitman can go bellyup, or how a group of utterly reliable developers of quality such as IO can have done to them the same. The only thing even close to a gaffe in the whole series I can recall is Absolution, and I feel complaints about that were justified but overblown. Their brief forays into other areas, with stuff like Kane and Lynch, were totally solid, but even if they were a one-trick pony, Hitman’s one hell of a trick horse. And it’s not as if their last iteration was a big flop either – they didn’t sell as well as they hoped because it was on this season to prove the worth of the experimental, episodic format, okay, sure, but how could they have expected any different? And besides, in the end it seems like the experiment was a success to me..?

    I just don’t get a business where there’s no room for a franchise like this or a dev like IO. I’d call it throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but I’m not even seeing the bathwater here. They’re just straight up huckin’ the baby.

    • davethejuggler says:

      Yeah this is weird. It’s also weird how no other big publishers are swooping in to pick up the newly successful hitman franchise.

    • JohnnyJustice91 says:

      Welcome to a fictionalized economy, where even traditional rules of supply and demand in relation to goods and services are pretty meaningless.

      Can’t buy back stock with a good game and a cult following.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Judging by Square Enix’ history (I seem to remember them being disappointed with reboot Tomb Raider’s massive sales) they probably just had unrealistic expectations. The game likely sold well and then some, but not as much as projected, so it’s a “failure”.

      When everything needs to be a massive blockbuster or nothing there’s no room for cult hits… It’s a real shame.

      • epeternally says:

        You don’t get to define ‘unrealistic expectations’. Games cost a ton of money to make, of course publishers aren’t going to just keep trucking along with a franchise that lost millions of dollars. Not only do they need to cover the costs of the project and their own overhead, there also needs to be enough surplus coming in so that the company isn’t sunk when a hundred million dollar product inevitably fails. It’s a ridiculously delicate balance that people are paid huge amounts of money to optimize, backseat commentary of this sort is meaningless. AAA games needing to sell three million or five million units to justify their continued existence isn’t corporate greed, it’s just economic reality.

        Believe me, I don’t enjoy the death of mid-tier development or the loss of deep single player games any more than you do; but vilifying businesses for not running themselves into the ground isn’t helpful. We can not keep perpetuating the ridiculously reductive and harmful notion that the games industry’s problems are simply “greedy publishers”, “lazy devs”, and “anti-consumer behavior”. That is not the real world.

    • Moraven says:

      620k Steam Owners (full season) + console sales

      They laid off half the studio in 2013 and canceled other projects.

      Hitman launched without clarity of the episodic method. Wave of negativity they had to overcome.

      Hitman Absolution sold 3.6m copies in a year.

      This is Square Enix, who said 3.4m copies in one month for Tomb Raider failed meet their initial sales target.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      I think it’s fair to say that Hitman is more niche than fans of the franchise think. The games that have been top of the sales charts lately have been accessible to many – your Dishonored 2s, your assassin’s creeds, your Mass Effects, your Preys and Call of Duties are all pretty easy games to get your head around. Pretty much any old Joe can pick up those games and roll through them without a great deal of effort and still get just as much out of the experience as anyone else. Hitman has traditionally been anything but easy; on the harder difficulties some of the levels are fiendishly difficult and require things like planning, or lateral thinking, which some people just don’t want to invest into their gaming experience.

      In order to try and make Hitman be a sure-fire mark for investors, IO would have to do a lot more than change their marketing strategy, they’d have to make the game a lot more accessible; but then of course you run the risk of pissing off the existing fanbase, as evidenced by Absolution, which was way more accessible and sold like hot shit but was mostly maligned because of the legacy it apparently besmirched. That in itself would give any investor pause.

      So not so easy I guess, which is a shame because Hitman is fucking awesome, and it would be sad to see it go.

      • poliovaccine says:

        I mean, I don’t know how niche I’m supposed to think it is, but I certainly agree it’s a niche. That said, these niches exist, and this seems like such an historically reliable one that even if the last game had totally sucked and bombed, I still wouldnt think that’d be enough that they’d shelve the franchise altogether… even if they canned IO, frankly, I’d still have thought the Hitman franchise was worth keeping on ice, if nothing else.

        Like say, Thief is a niche franchise I love a lot too, but seeing no new Thief on the horizon is far less surprising to me than this has been. Call of Duty and Far Cry and etc will never cover every gamer in the entire market, there will always be gamers who have no interest in those types of kerblammo-fest games. Not to mention, the “immersive sim” niche to which Hitman belongs has been at about the height of its seeming resurgence lately – I dont know if those games, as a sub/genre, have *ever* been more popular(?).

        I know publishers have their reasons, but from the consumer-level perspective I’m at, it’s not that I love Hitman so dearly that I cant imagine anyone else would ever feel any different, it’s more that like… well, for example, everyone in this comments section seems surprised or dismayed. Nobody is saying they’re sick of this franchise, that it’s been overblown, or overdone, that it’s lost its way, whatever. People arent even saying, “Yeahhh it sucks, but given ____ it does make sense.” Even shelving Mass Effect is less surprising to me, given the reception Andromeda got. I mean, I’d *also* be far less surprised if they decided to make Hitman into a dumber, faster, more action-packed whammy-fest that pissed off the fogey old diehards, but was still at least trying to make something off the longstanding, recognizable name. I guess it’s that, in general, I feel like weaker franchises have survived so much *worse.*

        Though frankly, as much as I disdain these kinds of “armchair CEO” speculations because of all I’m aware I just *don’t* know, I simply can’t pretend to understand the reasons for a lot of the things they do. For example, I’ve read that they’re making a Thief *movie,* but they’re not planning on a new Thief *game.* In what board room universe does that make sense? Who do they imagine *wants* that? Thief is a niche – an older, smaller, less consistent niche than Hitman, in my estimation – but if nonetheless they think there’s an audience for a Thief *movie,* well… like I say, I feel like weaker franchises have survived so much worse.

  2. noodlecake says:

    That is really bizarre. Why would it be hard to find investors for a company that made a game that got generally favourable reviews and did moderately well in sales? Business is weird.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      Because it wasn’t profitable even when the game turned out fine, I guess. If a game was unprofitable because it had bad marketing, for example, it would make sense for another publisher to step in. But as it is, I don’t know if anyone can make Hitman profitable without taking it a a direction fans won’t like.

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    Mungrul says:

    Who’s getting the continued revenue for Season 1? Do we know?
    I know the rumour is that IOI retained rights to the Hitman IP, but there’s no mention of where the dosh from continuing sales of Season 1 and the rest of the back catalogue is going.

    Gods, I hope they successfully ride this out. Hitman’s been my favourite game since, well, Witcher 3.

    • typographie says:

      Even if IO gets to keep the Hitman IP and the rights to make future games, I assume that doesn’t retroactively make all prior Hitman products IO’s exclusive property as well. It’s still Square Enix’s game, and the money is probably still going to them.

  4. brucethemoose says:

    Mass Effect is shelved, Prey and Dishonored 2 aren’t selling as well as hoped… And now Hitman, the pillar of stability and quality in all that, is getting hit itself.

    That “golden age” you mentioned appears to be ending. The big studios probably think the multiple-path AAA game market is over-saturated, and they’re not completely wrong either.

    Now, there are some big open world releases on the horizon (looking forward to 2077 myself). But most of those franchises (AssCreed, TES) haven’t exactly been moving in the best direction.

    • Jstn says:

      I don’t think it has anything to do with the multi-path AAA game market’s being over-saturated. When I think back on those three games that you mentioned (Mass Effect, Prey, and Dishonored 2), they’ve all had issues.

      Maybe I’m not reading reviews as closely as I should, but my take-away from reading about Mass Effect: Andromeda is that it’s a buggy mess surrounding mediocre, samey gameplay–not the sort of reviews that would make me want to play it (and this is actually the first time that I recall hearing it described as having multiple paths). I kinda assumed that the last vestiges of BioWare’s old RPG model were finally stripped from Andromeda.

      My take away from reading reviews of Dishonored 2 is that is was “more of the same but buggy.” Again, nothing that made me think Dishonored 2 was special. I was actually shocked that PC Gamer gave it its game of the year award because reading about Dishonored 2 made it sound so much like a rushed, cash-in sequel.

      Prey has had lots of reviews praising its mechanics, but the theme and story always seem to be disparaged as generic at best, which may be a problem for it as Alien: Isolation exists. Also, I think naming it Prey was a huge mistake. Every time I see it mentioned, there’s always someone who is genuinely confused as to why the “Prey reboot” is so different from the original. Also, I think people consider old Prey to be decent but nothing spectacular, and that impression has carried over to new Prey.

      Assassins Creed and The Elder Scrolls have been slouching towards mediocrity for ages–nothing new there.

      The good strain in multi-path AAA games–and the reason I don’t think there’s burnout–is stuff like the Soulsborne games (Dark Souls series, Bloodborne, many new spinoffs). People talk about it as though it is a new genre (hence the name Soulsborne), but I think they’re really a return to the true core of metroidvanias–multiple paths, fair gameplay that starts out hard but becomes easier with skill in addition to leveling up instead of pure number grinding. These games seem to be wildly popular (hence like 10 Soulsborne games announced or released recently). They aren’t lowest common denominator games like Assassins Creed, The Elder Scrolls, etc. are becoming. Though many “Soulsborne” games don’t understand why Dark Souls 1, 3, and Bloodborne are actually good–it’s not difficulty, it’s not a forlorn aesthetic. Dark Souls and Bloodborne are good because they have a cohesive world that is available to be explored for lore that makes sense, for those that want it, and because their level design is varied, cohesive, and supports multiple ways and paths to play–the true heart of a metroidvania. Side-note: I get frustrated at “metroidvanias” that are completely linear and think that merely because you have to backtrack (often while putting a flashing symbol on a map telling you to “go back here to use your new item”) that they are non-linear. NO! But the good ones seem to be growing in popularity still (I keep hearing about people going back to play Dark Souls 1 even).

      • brucethemoose says:

        That’s exactly what I mean.

        A somewhat buggy Dishonored would still be a great game. The new Prey is a good game. And Andromeda… after the first patch, I loved Andromeda, played it to 100%. The gameplay is significantly better than the rest of the series, while the characters are weaker. It’s still a good game.

        Standards are just so freaking high now. A “buggy Dishonored” would’ve been AMAZING years ago, but now if a game is anything short of utter perfection, it gets trashed by the internet :(

        • Emeraude says:

          I don’t know I would take it so much as a sign of the market being over-saturated (a handful of games doesn’t really look like over-saturation), as much as a sign of the slow but constant degradation of the relationship between industry actors and consumers hitting a breaking point.

      • KenTWOu says:

        reading about Dishonored 2 made it sound so much like a rushed, cash-in sequel

        Unlike Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 was improved in every possible way, it was one of the greatest sequels ever made.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          It might not be as good as Dishonored 2 on its own merits (I couldn’t say as I have not played the latest Dishonored) but Mankind Divided improves on Human Revolution in pretty much every way.

  5. Shinard says:

    Damn it, Hitman’s great. I quite enjoyed Blood Money, but the recent reboot hit it out of the park for me. Fingers crossed they pull it off, somehow.

  6. LaundroMat says:

    I suspect too much focus on direct return on investment, while the Hitman series has always seemed to be a long-tail type of game, i.e. one that sells steadily instead of in a spike.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Yeah.

      Can’t speak for everyone who hasn’t bought it, but it’s high on my backlog wish list.

  7. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    “I’d still like to see a third Kane & Lynch game”

    Well that’s a sentence I would’ve never imagined I would read.

    • woodsey says:

      Never played it past the demo but the second game had some great criticism written on it, from what I remember.

    • poliovaccine says:

      I remember the first so vaguely I might as well have never played it, but Kane and Lynch 2 was my goto short-burst shooter for awhile there, occupying the spot where Superhot now resides. There was a lot of style to it, and between its interesting stylistic choices and its snappy, nasty gunplay (e.g. blurring the enemies’ faces when you shot them all up, like a “tasteful” newscast or something), I found a lot to like. It was one of those “perfect 7/10” games and it also gave me a greater appreciation for IO as devs – mainly in their environment- and aesthetic-building. It was a serviceable shooter but the world of it is what kept me coming back. Can’t say I pined away any lonesome nights for a threequel, but if they announced one tomorrow I’d be at least interested.

      Well actually, given what’s going on with IO, I’d be confused. But you get what I mean.

  8. Fry says:

    Boo Squeenix. Boooooooo.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Zenimax, just buy this studio already we all know it’s going to happen.

    • Cross says:

      Fuck no, Zenimax are bumscags. Suing smaller devs for no bloody reason and screwing the press to keep their preorders in peace.

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    Carra says:

    Bah, I really enjoyed the latest Hitman game. More of that please!

  11. lglethal says:

    I unfortunately read a statistic the other day, which basically showed industry average profits per unit in different industries, without repeating the numbers here (mainly because i cant remember them exactly), the games industry (and admittedly computer programs in general) had negative profits on average. i.e. a game gets made, sells less then it cost to produce, studio shuts down, new studio starts up, new game is made. Rinse repeat.

    It seems to be an industry thing, but budgeting for game development doesnt seem to be a skill most developers have. Shame really…

  12. Turkey says:

    Dang. Judging by the amount of press this game got last year, my impression of it was that Hitman was a roaring success.