Friday, May 14, 2021

The future of IO Interactive as an independent developer

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In May 2017, IO Interactive found itself in a precarious situation: for sale. After the reboot of the Hitman franchise in 2016 fell short of publishers’ expectations, Square Enix, IO’s parent company at the time, announced he was selling the company as part of a restructuring of “resources and energies on the main franchises and studios”.

These days, according to IO co-owner and creative director Christian Elverdam, the last three Hitman games, which make up the World of Assassination trilogy, have been played by more than 40 million people, thanks in part to the developer. bringing over 350 weekly and monthly game updates. That’s an impressive number, of course. But more importantly, it’s a far cry from the beginnings of the trilogy.

When IO launched Hitman in 2016, one of the main talking points around the game was its release structure. Rather than releasing the entire game at once, the developer went with the episodic model – much like titles from Telltale Games or developer Life Is Strange Dontnod. What set Hitman apart from the works of these studios, however, was that it was apparently a triple-A stealth action game released for $ 60, if players decided to accept all of the planned future content at once. (a $ 34.99 “intro pack” was also offered, with the upgrade option for $ 29.99 available).

“I remember when we announced Hitman in 2015 or something,” Elverdam says. “And people were like, ‘What? Is it a scam? Are you trying to steal our money? Why would I pay you sixty dollars for something episodic? What is that?'”

When Hitman was released on March 11, 2016, as IO CEO and co-owner Hakan Abrak put it, sales were “historically low.” At IO, executives understood that this new release model was not the kind of strategy that would achieve strong initial sales; it was supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint, as Abrak says. “This is not a game where in the first month you would see eighty percent of your lifetime sales,” he adds. “It’s another thing. It’s a longer relationship with people, and we’re going to build it over time and it’s going to be unusual for a single player game, but it’s going to grow over time.”

Square Enix did not share this vision, however, announcing that it was parting ways with IO. At the time, the developer was working on Hitman 2 and had to drop an undisclosed number of employees to be, like said in the official statement of the company, “better equipped for our future efforts”. On the side of Square Enix, withdraw its investment from IO leads to “extraordinary loss of financial results for the year”, business about $ 43 million, and causing it to sell IO to a new investor.

In June 2017, IO announced that it had negotiated a management buyout with its former parent company. For the first time in studio history, IO was now an independent developer, retaining the rights to the Hitman and Freedom Fighters series.

With this independence, two important and closely related things came about: challenges and motivation. According to Abrak, when IO became an independent developer, he only had three months of “cash flow” before going bankrupt; The studio’s future hinged on its ability to deliver on its promises with Hitman’s content schedule.

“We said goodbye to people who didn’t do anything wrong,” Elverdam says, referring to the studio layoffs. “It just couldn’t go on like this. But in all this misery there was a light at the end of the tunnel, really. And there was something to do. It’s energy. It’s energy. raw energy, because then things happened. “

“After independence, I think three months later, when we were ready with this content and published it, we went from 1.8 million in one month to over 5 million users”, explains Abrak. “It completely blew up from there and just kept going in the right direction.”

In May 2018, Hitman had 13 million players. We couldn’t find any lifetime sales data for Hitman 2, but again Elverdam says over 40 million people played the latest Hitman games. In November 2020, IO ad that more than 70 million people have played the Hitman series since its debut in 2000 with Hitman: Codename 47.

IO has partnered with Warner Bros. Games to release the second Hitman and has self-released Hitman’s Game of the Year 1 and 2 editions. Hitman 3, slated for release on January 20, will be the first new game that IO has released from an independent company. It is also the last hitman game the company is growing for the moment, choosing to focus on new projects such as the recently announced Project 007. After 20 years with the franchise, the end of this era of Hitman marks the beginning of IO’s journey as a wholly owned studio. This parallel is not lost on Elverdam, who says he finds this fact appropriate.

“In a way, I think it’s poetic that Hitman, in his heyday in a way, was the start for IO as an independent company,” Elverdam says. “Right now that’s also the start of IO as an independent company, because the first title we’re releasing is the end of that conclusion. And that feels good, to be honest. I think the World Trilogy of Assassination, because it’s gonna be a whole when you look at it, I think it’s super strong. I’m super proud of it. I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished. That it’s the first thing we did. we are launching makes me feel really good and really comfortable about the future. “



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