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In a bold move that some people saw coming and others reacted to with surprise, Hitman developer IO Interactive has gone completely independent. The studio has branched off from Square Enix following the episodic release of the 2016 Hitman game.
The news comes courtesy of a post over on the official IO Interactive website, where the Danish developers' CEO, Hakan Abrak, addressed the community and revealed that it is completely independent from Square Enix moving forward. Even more than that it has managed to retain the IP for the Hitman series.
The last part is definitely the bigger piece of news here. A while back Square Enix had announced that it was looking for buyers for the IO Interactive studio after things didn't quite work out with last year's episodic release of the Hitman reboot.
IO Interactive tried something daringly different by pumping out a new level every couple of months until the game was complete. There was a lot of pushback from fans regarding this move because they felt it fragmented the experience and made it difficult to enjoy the game as a whole. Apparently the sales reflected this and Square pulled the plug.
The episodic structure was tried and tested after AAA companies saw similar success with the Telltale model, which exploded in popularity (and sales) with The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series and other properties such as Tales From the Borderlands and Game of Thrones. Things didn't quite work out as well for Hitman, however. Gamers clearly wanted their action oriented experiences contained within a single purchase.
Whether or not IO Interactive will go back to the standard model or continue to experiment with other models or pursue the episodic model remains to be seen, but it's very good news that it was able to keep hold of the Hitman IP.
Many companies aren't so lucky when they branch off and become independent. Bungie, for instance, did not get to keep Halo after it departed from Microsoft. Crytek did not get to keep Far Cry. And in one of the more historic and hilarious cases, Rare did not get to keep Donkey Kong, much to the detriment of Microsoft, who ended up purchasing Rare with the expectation that Donkey Kong would be part of the mix.
Technically this move is a much bigger blow to Square Enix than it is to IO Interactive. Square loses out on a brand that has cross-media appeal, which includes movies, paraphernalia, mobile apps, console games and PC outings. Even if the movies weren't that great, they still helped build an identity around a globally recognized brand.
Square even lapped up a lot of that recognition back when Hitman: Absolution came about and the company was cross-branding with games like Just Cause and Sleeping Dogs. Now that Hitman is no longer part of the stable, this leaves Square in a bit of a tough spot until it can find a replacement IP. IO Interactive, meanwhile, can experiment with new games as an indie developer.