It's an exciting time for IO Interactive. The Danish studio will ship Hitman: Absolution in 2012, and publisher Square Enix just announced that its brand-new Montreal studio will work with IO on an entirely new entry in the Hitman franchise. Simultaneous to that, IO also revealed to us that it'll be creating a new IP.
There's an environment of excitement around the studio thanks to Absolution's upcoming release, says studio head Niels Jorgensen. The game got some 50 nominations and 19 awards during E3 2011, and not only does that get the team excited for the future, it attracts new talent that can bring fresh ideas to the table.
"We have very ambitious plans for Hitman," Jorgensen tells Gamasutra. "We really look forward to having a close partnership with the Montreal studio."
Three IO employees are joining the Montreal studio to help direct the team and cement the communication among the two teams in their disparate geographies. They'll collaborate with Montreal on its game, while developing a separate Hitman project in house -- ambitious indeed.
Jorgensen calls Montreal studio head Lee Singleton a valued colleague for some time. "We're really thankful that our guys are going over there to help start the studio, and to ensure that the game they make is faithful to the Hitman experience."
Having multiple studios work on one franchise is increasingly common in the AAA industry, a sign of an ever-increasing quality bar and project scope. "It's a natural step for any ambitious IP," suggests Jorgensen. "I think it shows the ambition level, but the way I look at it is a very natural evolution."
"I think the amount of manpower you need to provide to a game in order to achieve AAA quality is definitely growing," he says. And for companies that want to avoid long gaps between series releases or who want to release games more frequently, then multiple-studio collaboration is "simply a must by now."
Splitting the work on the newest Hitman title will also allow part of the IO team to work on a new IP. Although details on the new project aren't yet available, Jorgensen tells us that it'll be somewhat in step with the ethos of IO. "The dark humor and the antihero have always been a big part of the IO DNA, and I would love... to do that going forward," he explains.
Studios that attract fresh talent through their owned IP franchises often set up internal IP incubators to foster experimentation on new and existing brands. That also lets the studio try out new platforms. "The consumer audience is growing, and people want different experiences," says Jorgensen. "So even though they want to stay within the same IP, they want different experiences on different media. It could be mobile phones, PCs, browsers, whatever -- and I think that just shows the entertainment industry is growing."
"Computer game brands are moving from more console games to being entertainment media, really," says Jorgensen. "And of course, as developers we really need to move forward and be in those media as well... We are definitely monitoring that market very closely, although I can't comment on what we might be doing in that area."
More elasticity for the AAA console space in the face of new online and mobile platforms is increasingly essential, but there will likely be a new hardware cycle for the console space eventually. This current long stretch has allowed developers an unusually long time to enjoy a refinement period ahead of the next big tech advance, but doubtless the future of hardware must be on the minds of many core console developers.
"Every day we can all produce better and better games for the consoles that are there; we continually find new ways of optimizing and improving," says Jorgensen. "When we reach the next generation... it will be the big leap. It's always super exciting to see what's coming next."
"Of course, console transitions historically have proven there's a step up in terms of complexity, though it also means you can do great, cool stuff you couldn't do before. And it's going to be really interesting when the next generation arrives, to see what that allows people to do in games going forward. As gamers ourselves, we're really excited about getting some new toys. That's really something we're looking forward to."
Most of all, however, the team is looking forward to showing Hitman: Absolution to next year's audiences, and to launching its new projects thereafter. "All in all, we have a great future ahead of us," says Jorgensen.