In an alternative universe, things could have gone seriously wrong for Hitman developers, IO Interactive.
After releasing 2016’s Hitman, which did not set the cash registers at Square Enix ringing, the Japanese publisher sought to divest the studio to cut operating costs. However, when they sent out feelers within the industry for anyone looking to adopt IO Interactive, the response was slightly surprising: many companies were only ready to offer $1 for the entire studio.
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“I didn’t even have 90 days into taking over [as CEO], and then I got the call from [Square Enix president] Matusda-san: “We have to divest IO”,” said Hakan Abrak, CEO at IO Interactive in an interview with Edge magazine (thanks, PCGamer).
“Some companies would offer $1 to take over IO, because of the responsibilities and running costs,” Abrak said, adding that they also discussed reducing the studio to a fifth of its size and continuing to make free-to-play Hitman games. Abrak, of course, wasn’t bursting with excitement at the news, telling Square Enix that he “will do anything I can to make the transition as smooth as I can – but I don’t believe in this and I will not be a part of it.”
To be clear, when a company offers $1 to buy another company, it also inherits its costs, debts and other liabilities without offering any profits or benefits to the owners. The $1 is a nominal value provided for legal reasons (technically, a company cannot be bought for “free”).
Luckily for IO Interactive, they were able to strike a deal with Square Enix and buy themselves out. “We couldn’t pay anywhere near what, potentially, a big company could,” Abrak said, noting that they “paid what we could, and we came up with a deal where [Square Enix] kept a minority part, kind of a lottery ticket for them.” As part of the deal, Square Enix also let IO Interactive keep any IP trademarks registered to their name before its 2009 acquisition.
While the road to independence wasn’t exactly pleasant – the studio had to lay off almost half its staff – it seems to be doing better than ever. Its last release, 2021’s Hitman 3, was a smash hit success for the studio, becoming the “biggest digital launch” for the franchise and netting $42m in profits. IO Interactive is currently working on a new James Bond game, although we have yet to hear much about it.
Mufaddal Fakhruddin has been writing about games and technology for the past 15 years. He has lost count as to how many reviews he has written over the years, but he is sure headphone reviews make up at least 70% of that.