It's been more than a year since the first episode of IO Interactive's Hitman debuted, and I honestly don't know how it's eluded me for this long. Sure, Hitman was a relatively well-known game, and it got a surprising amount of year-end consideration, being called by several outlets one of the best games of 2016.
Yet, somehow, it flew under the radar. This certainly affected both IO Interactive and Square Enix, its publisher, the latter of which opted to put IO Interactive on the open market for sale. After a brief period of silence, IO Interactive announced four days ago that they bought out their own studio from Square Enix, maintaining control of the Hitman IP. We didn't have to wait long to find out how they were going to play their hand, as today's announcement by IO Interactive - making the first section of Hitman free - shows that they're betting big on Agent 47.
We have seen recently that a sudden injection of free content can, indeed, renew life for a game on the down turn. Dying Light recently made headlines for its E3 announcement of 10 new pieces of DLC throughout the year, and Payday 2 saw immediate returns on their experiment of giving away 5 million free copies of their game - gaining an additional 2 million users on top of that. Let's not forget how Ubisoft salvaged Rainbow Six Siege, turning a dwindling player count into a thriving multiplayer experience driven by free content updates.
Getting with the program, IO Interactive has done the same with Hitman, making its intro section free. The idea, of course, is that you will play the demo and like it so much that you'll buy the full game. This is essentially a multi-level tutorial, so it won't knock your socks off. But, like any good tutorial and introduction, Hitman's opening two levels act as a primer, getting you ready for things to come. You also get access to more than 40 challenges and two escalation contracts.
As for why Hitman didn't sell well in the first place, many point the finger at its episodic release. Some rumors indicated that Square Enix rushed the development schedule, so IO Interactive opted to release the game piecewise rather than a full, unfinished product, but that hasn't been confirmed. Regardless of the reasons, Square Enix reported a $43 million loss from the studio, in no small part because of Hitman.
Fortunately, IO Interactive did away with this model even before the parting with Square Enix, releasing Hitman: The Complete First Season. IO Interactive took it one step further on their quest to independence. Now, you can no longer purchase episodes individually, and they've coupled this announcement with a huge discount on Steam, making The Complete First Season 66% off for a total of $23.73.
Now whether this will translate into increased sales and, thus, increased support remains to be seen, and that is why this is such a gamble. IO Interactive fought hard to maintain the Hitman IP, and now they have to make it work for them. The demo, by itself, shows a lot of promise for what's to come, but it's only the tip of the iceberg for Hitman. What is arguably the best game in the franchise has been thrust into an undesirable situation, but IO Interactive isn't giving up on Hitman just yet. And - in this gamer's opinion at least - they shouldn't.