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.