IO Interactive

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IO Interactive A/S
IO Interactive ApS (1998–2000)
Industry Video game industry
Founded 16 September 1998; 20 years ago (1998-09-16)
  • Jesper Vorsholt Jørgensen
  • Rasmus Guldberg-Kjær
  • Martin Munk Pollas
  • Karsten Lemann Hvidberg
  • Jacob Andersen
  • Janos Flösser
  • David Guldbrandsen
Headquarters Copenhagen, Denmark
Key people
  • Hakan B. Abrak (CEO)
  • Christian Elverdam (CCO)
  • Maurizio De Pascale (CTO)
  • Marc Skouborg (CMO)
  • Martin Buhl Svanum (COO)
Number of employees
Increase 170 (2016)

IO Interactive A/S (IOI) is a Danish video game developer based in Copenhagen, best known for developing the Hitman series. The company was founded on 16 September 1998 as a joint venture between Reto-Moto, a seven-man development team, and Nordisk Film, a film studio. The company was acquired by publisher Eidos Interactive for GB£23 million in March 2004, which saw itself acquired by Square Enix in 2009 and became known as Square Enix Europe. In May 2017, Square Enix announced that they had ceased funding for IO Interactive and started seeking a buyer for the studio. Subsequently, the company completed a management buyout in June 2017, becoming independent and regaining the rights to their Hitman and Freedom Fighters franchises. IO Interactive is developing Hitman 2, slated for release in November 2018.


Background and foundation (1997–1998)[edit]

Sign outside IO Interactive's former location at Farvergade 2, Copenhagen

In 1997, Reto-Moto was founded as a video game developer in Copenhagen.[1] Before the studio finished any games, they struck a partnership with Danish film studio Nordisk Film in 1998 that would lead to the creation of a developer jointly owned by the two companies.[2] The resulting company, IO Interactive, was founded on 16 September 1998,[3] with Reto-Moto's seven employees, Jesper Vorsholt Jørgensen, Rasmus Guldberg-Kjær, Martin Munk Pollas, Karsten Lemann Hvidberg, Jacob Andersen, Janos Flösser and David Guldbrandsen, serving as the founders and initial staff of IO Interactive.[4][5] Nordisk Film held a 40.3% stake in the venture,[4] while all other shares were owned by the seven founders through Reto-Moto.[5]

Hitman: Codename 47 (1998–2000)[edit]

Early on, IO Interactive conceptualised a fantasy massively multiplayer online game (MMO) entitled Rex Dominus, however, Nordisk Film staff asked the development team to cease production on Rex Dominus and "test [themselves]" by developing a "simple shooter" instead.[6] As such, the team opted for a run and gun action game, as it took less time to develop compared to an MMO, drawing inspiration from John Woo films, such as Hard Boiled and The Killer.[6] They turned to develop for personal computer (PC), as at the time they were unable to acquire development kits for consoles and they also had a new-found interest in steady increase of PC 3D graphics capabilities.[6]

A part of the development on the game, which would later become Hitman: Codename 47, was the creation of Glacier, a proprietary game engine that fit their needs; co-founder Andersen stated: "Since killing was the main theme of the game, we wanted to do something special. [...] Standard 'death animations' just looked too static so some of the coders tried to see if they could use real-time inverse kinematics for the falling bodies. The first versions ran terribly slowly until one of the programmers figured out a way to fake the whole calculation."[6] This led to the first use of advanced ragdoll physics in a video game.[6] This physics system caught the eyes of British publisher Eidos Interactive, and especially staff member Jonas Eneroth, who thought that the system could greatly benefit Codename 47's gameplay.[6] Following six months of negotiations, a publishing deal was signed between IO Interactive and Eidos Interactive.[7] Subsequently, Eneroth became executive producer on the project.[6]

As executive producer, Eneroth encouraged the development team to stray away from the run and gun and instead focus on a "methodical experience", including dragging dead bodies around the scene to create tension.[6] He had previously worked on Deus Ex and Thief: The Dark Project, which had heavily exposed him to the stealth game mechanics he wished to see in Codename 47.[6] The game was released on 19 November 2000,[8] with reception mixed due to the difficulty of the game.[6]

Further ventures (2000–2004)[edit]

In October 2001, Eidos Interactive announced Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, a sequel to Codename 47.[9] Following a slight delay in March 2002,[10] it was released in September 2002, this time for Microsoft Windows, as well as PlayStation 2 and Xbox.[11] To more easily overcome the challenge of bringing the game to consoles, they grew "considerably" in headcount.[7] The game was received well by critics; according to Greg Kasavin in his review for GameSpot, "Hitman 2 fixes virtually all of the problems of its predecessor".[12] The success of Silent Assassin came as a surprise to the team,[7] and was swiftly followed up with by porting the game to GameCube the following year.[13]

In 2003, IO Interactive decided to open a Hungarian offshoot, IO Interactive Hungary.[5] To properly establish the studio, 50 Hungarian staff were hired and brought to the company's Copenhagen headquarters for a six-month training programme.[5] However, after the training had been finished, IO Interactive realised that there were 50 people with talent but no leadership that could guide them when in Hungary.[5] Instead of fulfilling the Hungarian subsidiary, IO Interactive opted to offer all 50 people jobs at their headquarters, to which most of them agreed.[5] In October that year, Electronic Arts released Freedom Fighters,[14] an IO Interactive-developed third-person shooter which was previously announced as Freedom: The Battle for Liberty Island in May 2002.[15] Although a sequel to Freedom Fighters has been anticipated, IO Interactive has been unable to comment on whether such a game was in development.[16]

Acquisition by Eidos Interactive, subsequent Hitman releases (2004–2006)[edit]

On 3 March 2004, Eidos Interactive announced that they were acquiring IO Interactive for GB£23 million in cash and stock, plus another GB£5 million linked to the studio's performance in the following four years.[17][18] The deal closed on 31 March that year.[4] At the time, IO Interactive was Europe's 10th largest video game developer with 140 staff members employed at their offices.[4] The sale was primarily negotiated by founding member Flösser.[19]

The first game to release under Eidos Interactive's management was Hitman: Contracts, the third game in the Hitman franchise, which was announced and released in April that year.[20] The game was developed in just about nine months, from concept stage to console submission, but was under the influence of "crunch time" throughout the entire development.[21] Contracts received positive reception.[22][23] The next game, Hitman: Blood Money, was announced shortly afterwards, in November 2004.[24] Released in April 2006,[25] the game was praised by critics and retrospectively multiply referred to as the best game in the Hitman series.[26][27]

Other ventures (2006–2010)[edit]

IO Interactive's announced their next game, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men in August 2006.[28] Unlike their Hitman games, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men played as a linear, cooperative gameplay-focused third-person shooter, as opposed to Hitman's sandbox solo stealth gameplay.[29] Released in November 2007,[30] the game gained favourable reviews, while some reviewers felt like the game had a disconnect with modern gameplay styles.[31]

On 11 April 2008, four of IO Interactive's co-founders, Vorsholt Jørgensen, Pollas, Andersen and Guldbrandsen, announced that they had, together with former Eidos Interactive executive producer Neil Donnell, reformed Reto-Moto as an active developer.[32] Guldbrandsen and Donnell became chief technology officer and chief executive officer, respectively.[33] Six further former IO Interactive employees followed to Reto-Moto in December that year.[34] By that point, Reto-Moto had not developed a single game since their foundation in 1997.[2] Co-founder and managing director Flösser left the company on 16 April 2008 and was succeeded by Niels Jørgensen, who joined the company in 2002.[35]

In January 2009, Eidos Interactive announced IO Interactive-develoed Mini Ninjas, a family-friendly game, as opposed to all of the studio's previous titles.[36] IO Interactive managing director Niels Jørgensen explained that, using Mini Ninjas, the studio wanted to reach a broader demographic in the gaming market.[5]

Shortly after the announcement of Mini Ninjas, in April 2009, Eidos Interactive, including IO Interactive, was acquired by Japanese video game conglomerate Square Enix for GB£84.3 million.[37] Eidos Interactive was reorganised over the course of 2009 and became known as Square Enix Europe in November that year.[38] Square Enix Europe continued to oversee their previously owned development studios, including IO Interactive.[39] Speaking for IO Interactive, Karsten Lund stated that they studio experienced no "loss of freedom" following Eidos Interactive's buyout.[40]

A sequel to Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, titled Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days was announced in November 2009,[41] and released in August 2010.[42] Critics found that most elements in the game had deliberately been made "ugly" to better fit into the well-told story of the game.[43]

In a November 2009 interview with gaming website Gamasutra, Jørgensen revealed that, due to the high costs associated with living in Scandinavia, much of the company's graphic department had been outsourced to Shanghai.[5] The Chinese office had been set up by two Danish representatives from IO Interactive, with one Dane permanently residing in Shanghai to look over the outsourcing progress.[5] In March 2010, 35 of previously 200 employed positions were cut at the company.[44][45] Further 30 people were laid off in November that year, supposedly due to a cancelled project that was in development for Microsoft.[46]

Return to Hitman (2011–2016)[edit]

In May 2011, IO Interactive and Square Enix announced that they were returning to the Hitman franchise through a new entry, Hitman: Absolution.[47][48] A spin-off demo, Hitman: Sniper Challenge was released in May 2012.[49] The game itself was released in November that year,[50] and, like Blood Money, saw highly positive reception from critics.[51] However, many fans of the series, including the developers at IO Interactive, felt like Absolution was leaning too far into the mainstream, as a result of which they were losing their core players.[52]

In June 2013, 70 staff members, half of IO Interactive's workforce at the time, were made redundant due to "internal adjustments to face the challenges of today's market".[53][54] Square Enix announced that, from that point on, IO Interactive would focus on the development of new entries in the Hitman franchise.[55] At the same time, Hannes Seifert, who for the past three years had held the position of production director at IO Interactive, effectively took over the company's management as studio head.[56] At a June 2015 press conference, Sony announced that a new game in the Hitman series, titled Hitman, had been slated for a December 2015 release.[57] The game was shortly delayed to March 2016,[58] and later announced to be released in an episodic model.[59] As such, starting in March 2016, the first season for the game was released through six episodes, the last of which was released in October 2016.[60] Around the same time, Ryan Barnard, previously director of The Division, left Massive Entertainment to join IO Interactive.[61] At the time, IO Interactive had 170 employees,[62] and the largest video game developer in Denmark.[63]

Management buyout, Hitman 2 (2017–present)[edit]

Seifert announced in February 2017 that he had left IO Interactive to return to his home country of Austria to pursue an unannounced project.[64] Hakan B. Abrak, like Seifert formerly production director for the studio, subsequently took over his position,[65] and became chief executive officer.[66]

In May 2017, Square Enix announced that they had withdrawn from IO Interactive and would begin negotiating with potential investors to purchase the studio.[67] Several jobs were cut at IO Interactive shortly following that announcement.[68][69] On 16 June 2017, IO Interactive announced that it had performed a management buyout, as a result of which they became independent of Square Enix.[70][71] The buyout also included the retaining of the Hitman and Freedom Fighters intellectual property.[72][73] Meanwhile, the Kane & Lynch and Mini Ninjas franchises were kept by Square Enix.[74] Yosuke Matsuda, president and chief executive officer of Square Enix at the time, stated that the company's decision to divest itself of IO Interactive alongside Hitman was made because they felt like the series needed to go on, but would be in better hands at another partner or IO Interactive itself.[75][76]

IO Interactive confirmed shortly after the split that all profits from 2016's Hitman would from that point go directly to the studio.[77] Subsequently, in August that year, the studio confirmed that another Hitman game was in development.[78] In April 2018, IO Interactive partnered with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to distribute a Definitive Edition of 2016's Hitman, which was released in the following month.[79][80] In June 2018, IO Interactive announced Hitman 2.[81] Unlike 2016's Hitman, Hitman 2 will not feature an episodic release format.[82] Like Hitman: Definitive Edition published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Hitman 2 is scheduled to be released in November that year.[83]

Games developed[edit]

Year Title Platform(s) Publisher(s)
GCN PS2 PS3 PS4 Wii Win Linux Mac Xbox X360 XONE
2000 Hitman: Codename 47 No No No No No Yes No No No No No Eidos Interactive
2002 Hitman 2: Silent Assassin Yes Yes No No No Yes No No Yes No No
2003 Freedom Fighters Yes Yes No No No Yes No No Yes No No Electronic Arts
2004 Hitman: Contracts No Yes No No No Yes No No Yes No No Eidos Interactive
2006 Hitman: Blood Money No Yes No No No Yes No No Yes Yes No
2007 Kane & Lynch: Dead Men No No Yes No No Yes No No No Yes No
2009 Mini Ninjas No No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No Eidos Interactive, Feral Interactive
2010 Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days No No Yes No No Yes No No No Yes No Square Enix
2012 Hitman: Absolution No No Yes No No Yes No Yes No Yes No Square Enix, Feral Interactive
2016 Hitman No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
2018 Hitman 2 No No No Yes No Yes No No No No Yes Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment


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External links[edit]