In May 2017, IO Interactive discovered itself in a precarious place: For sale. After its 2016 reboot of the Hitman franchise failed to fulfill writer expectations, Square Enix, IO’s then-parent firm, introduced it was promoting the corporate as a part of a restructuring of “resources and energies on key franchises and studios.”

These days, in keeping with IO’s co-owner and chief inventive officer Christian Elverdam, the most recent three Hitman video games, which comprise the World of Assassination trilogy, have been performed by greater than 40 million folks, thanks partially to the developer bringing greater than 350 weekly and month-to-month updates to the video games. It’s a powerful quantity, positive. But extra importantly, it is a far cry from the trilogy’s beginnings.

When IO launched Hitman in 2016, one of many largest speaking factors across the sport was its launch construction. Rather than launch your entire sport without delay, the developer opted for the episodic mannequin – not not like titles by Telltale Games or Life Is Strange developer Dontnod. What differentiated Hitman from the works of these studios, nonetheless, was that it was ostensibly a triple-A stealth motion sport launched for $60, ought to gamers resolve to opt-in for all the long run deliberate content material without delay (a $34.99 “intro pack” was additionally provided, with the choice to improve for $29.99 accessible). 

“I recall when we were announcing Hitman in 2015 or something,” Elverdam says. “And folks have been like, ‘What? Is this a scam? Are you trying to steal our money? Why would I pay you sixty bucks for something that’s episodic? What is that this?’”

When Hitman was launched on March 11, 2016, as IO CEO and co-owner Hakan Abrak places it, gross sales have been “historically low.” At IO, management understood this new launch mannequin wasn’t the sort of technique that may internet robust upfront gross sales; it was purported to be a marathon, not a dash, as Abrak says. “This is not a game where the first month you’d see eighty percent of your lifetime sales,” he provides. “This is something else. This is a longer relationship with people, and we’re going to build it over time and it’s going to be atypical for a single-player game, but it’s going to grow over time.'”

Square Enix did not share that imaginative and prescient, although, asserting it was parting methods with IO. At the time, the developer was engaged on Hitman 2, and needed to let go of an undisclosed variety of workers to be, as said within the firm’s official assertion, “better equipped for our future endeavors.” On the Square Enix facet, pulling its funding from IO led to “extraordinary loss within the monetary outcomes for the fiscal yr,” costing the company approximately $43 million, and main it to promote IO to a brand new investor. 

In June 2017, IO introduced it had negotiated a administration buyout with its former father or mother firm. For the primary time within the studio’s historical past, IO was now an impartial developer, retaining rights to the Hitman and Freedom Fighters sequence.

With that independence got here two big-and-intertwined issues: challenges and motivation. According to Abrak, when IO grew to become an impartial developer, it solely had three months’ value of “cash flow” earlier than it was bankrupt; the studio’s future was contingent on it having the ability to make good on its guarantees with Hitman’s content material calendar.

“We said goodbye to people that did nothing wrong,” Elverdam says, referencing the studio’s layoffs. “It just couldn’t continue like that. But out of all of that misery was a light at the end of the tunnel, really. And there was something to go for. That is energy. That is raw energy, because then things happened.”

“After independence, I think three months after when we were ready with that content and we released it, we went from 1.8 million in one month to reach over 5 million users,” Abrak says. “It completely exploded from there and just kept going in the right direction.”

By May 2018, Hitman had 13 million players. We weren’t capable of finding information on Hitman 2’s lifetime gross sales, however once more, Elverdam says greater than 40 million folks have performed the most recent Hitman video games. In November 2020, IO announced that greater than 70 million folks have performed the Hitman sequence since its debut in 2000 with Hitman: Codename 47.

IO partnered with Warner Bros. Games to launch the second Hitman, and self-published the Game of the Year editions of Hitman 1 and a pair of. Hitman 3, slated for a January 20 launch, would be the first correct new sport IO has launched as an impartial firm. It’s additionally the final Hitman sport the corporate is creating in the meanwhile, selecting to give attention to new tasks just like the recently-announced Project 007. After 20 years with the franchise, the tip of this period of Hitman is the start of IO’s journey as a completely owned studio. This parallel is not misplaced on Elverdam, who says he finds this reality becoming. 

“In a way I think it’s poetic that Hitman, in its prime in a way, was the beginning for IO as an independent company,” Elverdam says. “Right now, it’s also the beginning of IO as an independent company, because the first title that we launch is the ending of this conclusion. And that feels super good, to be honest. I think the World of Assassination trilogy, because it will 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 achieved. That this is the first thing that we launch makes me feel really good and really comfortable about the future.”