Wednesday, 19 June 2013

IO Interactive Hit with Massive Layoffs

Turns out some problems can't be tackled with piano wire.

In the past I've touched upon Hitman Absolution in a number of different ways. There was the controversy surrounding the trailer of course, but then also the fact that although it did well on the market, it didn't do anywhere near as brilliantly as Square Enix had hoped it would. I haven't played the game myself, but the general consensus is that it was good. Not great, but solid enough. Of course, the failure of it and other Square Enix games to move units has put the company in a bad position.

I guess then that it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that IO Interactive, the studio behind the series, has just been hit with massive layoffs. If the "almost half" indicated in the report is to be believed then that's quite a significant blow to the manpower of the studio, and a lot of jobs that were here today and gone tomorrow. Although there has been word that those laid off are going to be relocated within the company as much as possible, there's likely not going to be enough positions for everyone that just lost one.

Off the back of this news also comes the fact that other on-the-go projects have been cancelled so that more work can be poured into the next release for the Hitman franchise. While other titles from the company have been somewhat less than notable (Kane and Lynch is the only other multipart series under their belts), it's more than a little disheartening to know that everyone working there is now pretty much all-in regarding Hitman, whether they like it or not.

I'm going to be honest here; I don't like the feel of this whole thing, and I don't like it for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost is the fact that the company has just taken a hit to staff, probably including people who did work on Hitman Absolution, and now they're being asked to make a sequel to that, and the sequel is going to be expected to be better, or at least sell better, than Absolution did in the first place. To me that screams as a recipe for disaster.

It all comes around to the point that has been made more and more about AAA titles in the last few months. It's just becoming untenable, period. Whether it's the production, the marketing, a shift in attitude from the market itself, or any number of other factors the conclusion is apparent. A lot of what people are calling AAA gaming is becoming a burden, rather than a boon. Sure, there are always going to be titles that sell well, like your Metal Gear Solids, your Call of Duties, your Maddens, and your Grand Theft Autos. But for a lot of franchises, a lot of games, selling well just isn't good enough anymore.

This already happened numerous times. We've seen it before with Prototype, with Darksiders, Hell, I was worried we were going to see it happen with Tomb Raider. Things are not right, whether people want to admit it or not. Games with budgets "too big to fail" are doing just that, because the expectation is too great compared to reality.

I ask this: what happens when just as many resources are devoted to the next Hitman game, and the reception and sales remain the same? At that point is it much of a stretch to for Square Enix to say "well, people obviously don't want this kind of game, so shut down IO completely,"? It's not a fun line of thought, but it has a disturbing ring of truth to it, doesn't it?

I don't want to be the pessimist in this situation, but when pessimism and realism align there doesn't seem to be much choice. I hope that I'm wrong. It's possible that the next Hitman game could be made for a modest budget and absolutely blow everyone away. Possible, but not likely. I just hope that it doesn't get added to that ever growing list of games that did well, but not well enough.

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