So I spent my Easter watching a plethora of Videos detailing the Development history of the Hitman games, mostly between Hitman: Absolution through Hitman 2. I’ll leave the link to the videos incase you’re interested.
These were just the games involved with the development history, my day has been full of these videos, related to Hitman and level design and such. But that’s Besides the point. In summation (if you’re unaware) ; after the release of Hitman: Blood Money (the series’ 4th mainline entry (including Hitman Contracts)), the series went into a 6 year hiatus. Blood Money, from what I’ve heard, was considered the pinnacle of the series, so they did not know how to top it. Naturally expectations were a little high for the eventual successor, as you’d expect from a highly regarded series who has been on a half decade hiatus. Then came Hitman Absolution. It was a let down to core Hitman players, because the developers thought that because of the Hiatus, they ought to focus on the current trends of video games and disregard what Hitman was. They looked at it as attempting to reinvent the series in the then modern eye. The game was not a commercial success and if I recall correctly, Square Enix lost like $60million. Naturally, that made Square Enix apprehensive about the future of Hitman, so they had a small amount of layoffs. They continued to try and reinvent the Hitman formula. Taking what work in previous entries, and tweaking them to form Hitman 2016. Now if you joined the series when I did, you’d get all of the Missions, so it came as a complete shock to me when I heard Hitman 2016 released as an episodic structure. IOI released Hitman 2016 with the tutorials and Paris only for $15, then a season pass for the $60. All that to say, Hitman 2016 was an early adopter of the “games as a service” model that we see oh so prevalent today. And it did not end up well. They thought, a lot of people would go play the game for the low price than be enticed by the game to be coaxed into the $60 price tag. Found that the game was also not successful commercially. Square Enix, apprehensive from the initial, was turned off from this. Square then laid off like 40% of the staff, and then basically dumped IOI into their own company. Now what’s a company to do after they’ve been dumped by their parent and left to fend for themselves? For one, they had to turn around the dwindling sales of Hitman 2016. They did this by making the $15 portion- free. Then, they basically took an all or nothing approach with Hitman 2. They made Hitman 2’s levels expansive, and brought in Warner Brothers to help front some of the costs in publishing. They doubled down on the gameplay elements at the cost of some story, which is why you see Hitman 2’s story play out in individual shots and not cutscenes. Hitman 2 did well with all content at once, and history played out.
Now why is this interesting? Well for me, I see a company trying to adapt to modern times, and failing to do so. With Hitman: Absolution, after the Hiatus they tried to follow linear storytelling, in a way that did not vibe with what Hitman was supposed to be, and it costed them. Then they went back to the drawing board, and Hitman 2016 was considered to be a really good Hitman game. So critically, once they went back to the beginning they found more success. However, during Hitman 2016, IOI tried to be different and follow the trends with the release strategy and it ultimately backfired. They only found commercial success after going back to the core of Hitman, without a royally forked release strategy. I think there’s a lesson to learn here that other AAA developers need to learn. Be confident in your creation, and don’t risk it with things you think will have mass appeal. Hitman Followed the trends and it back fired. Hitman isn’t like most games, and it took them to realize that to once again hit their stride like in the times of Hitman: Blood Money, and I’d argue better now that they’ve ever been.
Hitman stands apart from other games, in my honest opinion, because of the inherent puzzle nature. You’re majority encouraged to take your time, use your save states, plan out, bide time to successfully pull off hits. It’s not a type of game that works well episodically, because of the gameplay focused aspect of the Hitman Series. Hell, until just after I played through Hitman 3, I had no idea what the story was even about. Hitman Absolution messed up the first this first idea, and then Hitman 2016, then decided to implement a release model that just doesn’t vibe with what Hitman is trying to be. They fixed all of this with Hitman 2, and because of the commercial success of Hitman 2, it really highlights the potential lesson these other developers could learn.
People that need to heed this lesson:
Nintendo. Specifically; Metroid, Chibi Robo. Jesus nintendo, these core concepts that you have are really good, don’t fuck them up with making an… Other M… that tried to appeal to the mass audience. And a 2D platformer, which inherently appeals to the mass audiences.
If you’ve read this far, who do you think could also heed this lesson (being confident in their creation and not risk the success on something that appeals to the mainstream)?
TL;DR: the development history of Hitman: Absolution through Hitman 2, is super interesting and should act as a lesson to other AAA (or hell even smaller developers) to be confident in their creation, and not risk their success on something that appeals to the mainstream.
This took an hour to write, I’m going to bed.
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