Dark clouds may have formed over Square Enix’s financial future months ago, but that doesn’t make the storm of layoffs at IO Interactive any less surprising or disheartening.
In a statement to Develop, Square Enix confirmed that almost half of IO Interactive's staff has been laid off. What makes this news particularly depressing is Hitman Absolution actually saw decent sales, but 3.6 million units sold (and that’s only physical copies) still wasn’t enough to hit Square Enix’s lofty expectations.
So what does this mean for IO? The studio has cut production on all non-Hitman projects while attempting to refocus on the next Hitman game.
"The studio will focus resolutely on the future vision for the Hitman franchise and is in pre-production on a new AAA Hitman project,” Studio Head Hannes Seifert said. “However, we have taken the difficult decision to cancel other studio projects and initiatives at IO and reduce the workforce in this studio, which will impact almost half of the employees currently at IO, as we make internal adjustments to face the challenges of today's market."
Hitman Absolution may not have scratched our homicidal itch, but we still wish everyone affected the best of luck.
Square Enix's incoming president, Yosuke Matsuda, has started sharpening the axe of financial viability after the "extraordinary loss" of this last financial year. In a Square Enix Holdings briefing session, translated by Siliconera, Matsuda announces plans to review all elements of the business, with a view to focusing its direction on "what makes us successful".
"After having succeeded the important role as the president, I plan on reviewing all Square Enix duties, business and assets on a zero-based budgeting standpoint," Matsuda says. "Due to the radical change of environment, I’d like to fundamentally review what works and what doesn't work for our company, then cast all of our resources towards extending what makes us successful and thoroughly squeezing out what doesn't.
"As far as a concrete plan on what to expect from us, I will further explain it on another briefing session in the near future, so I kindly ask for your patience. Thank you for your support."
While Matsuda isn't due to step into the role until June, Square Enix have already begun to restructure. In a statement to Polygon, senior director of PR Reilly Brennan announced, "We can confirm that Square Enix's Los Angeles office has eliminated a number of positions as part of the corporate restructuring announced last week. This is an unfortunate situation and we are offering assistance and severance packages to any employees affected by this, we want to thank them for their hard work and sincerely wish them well in the future." This is in addition to the LA office lay-offs made back in December.
How SE's development studios will be affected by Matsuda's review is unclear, but sales figures suggest a change may be due. Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution and Sleeping Dogs all failed to meet expectations, despite Tomb Raider experiencing a record launch week for the series.
Square Enix have announced the resignation of their CEO, Yoichi Wada, following an earnings forecast that predicts the company will experience "extraordinary loss" this financial year. According to their consolidated results report, the company had expected to make profits of 3.5 billion yen (approx. £24.5 million) before the end of the financial year, this March 31st. That didn't happen. Instead, Square Enix is now expected to report a loss of 13 billion yen (approx. £91 million).
According to the report, "The Company forecasts that actual business results from its Digital Entertainment Segment substantially fall below its plan primarily due to slow sales of major console game titles in North American and European markets." Detailed sales breakdowns aren't available, but while some of the low earnings will be from the Japanese console-only side of the business, no doubt their Western studios, recently responsible for Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider, have also underperformed.
In addition to Wada's resignation, to be replaced by former company president Yosuke Matsuda, Square Enix are also planning a major restructure in "development policy, organizational structure, some business models, and others." What the means in real terms - especially for upcoming projects like Eidos Montreal's Thief - remains to be seen.
It isn't often we see the words "Origin" and "sale" next to each other, but this week is the exception: EA is running a week-long Player Appreciation Sale which discounts some pretty hefty games in the publisher's lineup—titans such as Mass Effect 3, Crysis 3, and Battlefield 3.
Here's the full list of games on sale and their prices:
Battlefield 3 Premium—$25 Battlefield 3—$12 Battlefield 3 Premium Edition—$30 Crysis 3—$30 Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Edition—$40 Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Upgrade—$10 The Sims 3 Seasons—$20 The Sims 3 University Life—$28 The Sims 3 Supernatural—$15 Dead Space—$6 Dead Space 2—$6 Dead Space 3—$30 Resident Evil 5—$10 Mass Effect 3—$10 The Walking Dead—$10 Batman: Arkham City GOTY Edition—$12 FIFA Soccer 13—$20 Command & Conquer Ultimate Collection—$15 Hitman: Absolution—$15 Saints Row: The Third Full Package—$25 Assassin's Creed 3—$35 Assassin's Creed 3 Deluxe Edition—$56 Darksiders 2—$18 Dead Island GOTY Edition—$10 Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City—$25
Normal and special editions on sale? And they're big games? I don't want to spoil this rare opportunity to enjoy a good Origin sale with cynicism, but it's hard not to chortle lightly at the convenient devaluing of nearly half the games EA offered SimCity players for free earlier this week.
On March 6 this year, a videogame trilogy ended, enraging thousands. The final ten minutes of Mass Effect 3 veered suddenly into unexpected territory and delivered a closing segment that left many baffled and disappointed.
Some of those people felt extremely angry and decided that Bioware needed to be held to account for underdelivering on the final 1% of their stomping 100 hour space adventure. Cue the Take Back Mass Effect Facebook campaign (tagline: DEMAND A BETTER ENDING), which has received over 61,000 likes.
They had valid complaints. Mass Effect 3's ending was really weird, but demanding a new ending from Bioware and then writing one for them perhaps went a little too far. "Fans of the Mass Effect trilogy have put far too much time, effort, and money into the game to be abandoned with such a fate," the group insisted.
"Bioware desperately needs to resolve this issue. New DLC (something long) to add a new, more satisfactory ending to the game, or even a full expansion based as an epilogue to the trilogy.
"Some possible ideas include Shepard retiring or settling down with his/her love interest, returning to work as a Council SPECTRE, or traveling the galaxy as an inter-species diplomat."
In addition to that, a poll on the Bioware forums requesting a "brighter" ending gained 68000 positive votes. Some folks even made a happy ending mod to bring the ending more in line with their expectations.
In April, Bioware responded by announcing a free extended cut patch that would add extra cut scenes and clarity to the ending without changing what actually happened. It was released in June, but by then it was all a bit too late.
Still, some good came out of it. A Child's Play protest drive raised £50,000, though as the BBC reported, Child's Play closed down the drive "after it emerged many people thought they were giving money to produce a new ending for Mass Effect 3."
Bioware mentioned that they are working on Mass Effect 4 in October. It will be built in Frostbite 2, it won't feature Shepard, and Bioware haven't quite decided whether it should be a prequel or a sequel.
Diablo 3 - ERROR 37
Diablo 3 proved more popular than Blizzard had really anticipated when it released on May 15. Huge numbers had pre-ordered, many more received a bonus copy as part of the World of Warcraft annual pass deal, and still more bought it on the day. Blizzard later said that 6.3 million people were playing in the first week after launch.
Diablo 3's controversial always-online requirement meant everyone logging in to play would have to successfully connect with Blizzard's servers first. Unfortunately, with a noise like a whoopee cushion in a wind tunnel the server farms melted into a steaming puddle of silicon and couldn't be coaxed into full operation.
Rejected connections were met with the now infamous "Error 37" message. Furious fans vented their frustration on a 19 page forum thread entitled "Epic Fail Blizzard." #error37 became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter
After a few very late nights and some emergency updates, Error 37 messages started to fade, but more controversy lay ahead. After several delays the real money auction house arrived in June. Patches hiked repair costs for high level players and put in the support pillars for a disappointing endgame.
That wasn't all. Players started discovering exploits after major patches, including one that let wizards become immortal and, as Kotaku noted, another that activated god mode for Barbarians.
Then there was the incident involving Diablo co-creator, David Brevik, who spoke out about Diablo 3 in August saying "some of the decision they have made are not the decisions I would make and there have been changes in philosophy and that hasn’t gone over very well. I think in that way I am a little sad." Diablo 3 devs vented their frustration on a less-private-than-expected Facebook thread in which game director Jay Wilson responded with the message "fuck that loser." Wilson later apologised in a lengthy post on the Diablo 3 site
"What I said was expressed out of anger, and in defense of my team and the game. People can say what they want about me, but I don't take lightly when they disparage the commitment and passion of the Diablo III team," he said.
Phew. Buried under all that hoo-ha it's important to note that Diablo 3 is a good game. Very good, actually, if you forgive the post-level 60 grind. Find out why in our Diablo 3 review. Blizzard are currently planning more updates and there should be some proper expansions on the horizon.
The Tomb Raider rape scene that wasn't
By the time E3 rolled around, there was already some concern surrounding Crystal Dynamic's new direction for Lara Croft. The only footage and screenshots released so far had shown her battered, bruised, bleeding in a state of permanent pain, fear or misery.
Then, two and a half minutes into the E3 trailer, amid the falling, impaling, shivering and screaming, an assailant groped Lara. The implied rape threat was clear to many, and a flood of opinion pieces were penned in response. Here's the trailer so you can see for yourself.
The situation wasn't helped by comments executive producer Ron Rosenberg made to Kotaku. "When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character," he said. "When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character. They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'"
Our Tom Francis got to play through the scene to its conclusion, deliberately failing (to his considerable discomfort) the quicktime events that enable her to fight back. In the end, her attacker merely strangles her to death instead. Oh, good.
Global brand director Karl Stewart told us there's “No sexual element. He doesn’t care who you are. He has got you cornered and you are female, so there is an element of ‘oh he’s creepy, and this is slightly intimidating’, but straight out it’s: bite his ear, kick him in the nuts and shoot him in the head.”
Regarding Rosenberg's comments, he said this: “Unfortunately someone mis-spoke, rather than was mis-quoted, and said a word that isn’t in our vocabulary and shouldn’t have been said… We’re not trying to create something that causes a stir, what we’re trying to create is something that’s still in a mature world but still feels real.”
On watching the trailer, it's hard to believe that those who cut the trailer together weren't trying to cause a bit of fuss. It's still too early to tell where the developers are taking Lara, and it certainly isn't the first time a marketing campaign has misrepresented a game. It's due out on March 5 next year.
Where to start? Square Enix' promotional efforts have provided some of the most painful "what were they thinking?" moments of the year. The graphic murder of a squad of hypersexualised, rubberised BDSM nun assassins in the May trailer was an impressively misjudged opening gambit that worked on precisely no level.
Game director Tor Blystad later apologised for the trailer, explaining that "there are a lot of movie influences in Hitman Absolution, like Tarantino and Rodriguez." But where Tarantino re-purposes influences from asian cinema and martial arts films to create quirky and spectacular pop-cultural mash-ups, the Hitman nunsassin trailer seems to take its cues from rubbish porn and Rambo. The resultant video was exactly the sort of peurile hyperviolent nonsense that gives videogames a bad rep.
“We’re sorry that we offended people” Blystad said at E3. “That was truly not the intention of the trailer.”
“We’ve been reading as much as we could of the articles and responses” he added. “We were surprised that it turned into such a huge topic. Something similar happened with our Sniper Challenge pre-order bonus. We just wanted to make something cool, it wasn’t the intention to stir up anything.”
IO Interactive subsequently changed the level that featured the nun assassins - a crack squad sent by the Agency to slay Agent 47 - to create more context for their appearance .
It was bad, but a mistake is a mistake, right? Those involved have apologised and will probably be more thoughtful about their marketing schemes in future. As long as they don't do anything else stupid then we can all get past - OH WAIT. Just a few weeks ago a Facebook stunt encouraged players to put "Facebook hits" out on their friends. Those taking part could select insults to throw at each other. You could put out a hit on someone for having small tits, bad hair, an annoying laugh or a small penis.
The campaign was pulled in the wake of a torrent of disapproval. Depressingly, the game proved disappointing, too, ditching many of the traits that made former Hitman games special in favour of a more directed, linear experience. Find out more in our Hitman: Absolution review.
The War Z
At the time of writing, The War Z has been plucked from Steam. Valve's Doug Lombardi told RPS that Valve have removed the game so that Valve can "work with the developer and have confidence in a new build." They're also offering refunds to purchasers who file a support ticket. The problem? This build of The War Z doesn't seem to match up to the promises its developers have been making.
Steam user Shock4ndAwe captured this image showing the original product description on Steam. It promised maps between "100 and 400 square kilometers." It claims you can create "private servers" and "gain experience and spend it to learn dozen of available skills." These features aren't in there yet. What's more, PCGamesN investigated the size of War Z's map and found it to be around 10 sq km large - far smaller than promised.
In an extraordinary interview on GameSpy, executive producer of The War Z, Sergey Titov attempted to defend the Steam listing, saying "I think there's difference between false claims and perception of the text."
When challenged on the "up to 100 players" claim (only 50 players could play simultaneously at the time), he said "let's be frank: when you read "up to 100 players" -- what does it mean to you personally? I mean, for me it doesn't mean that I will play with 99 other players. Really :) And yes game supports 100 players -- heck, it supports actually over 400 players per server as of today. Do we have servers launched with this number of slots? No we don't, because this is not what our players WANT."
The War Z creators, Hammerpoint, have since released a statement that blames players for expecting the features clearly labelled on Steam. “We also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread information about game features," they said. The Steam listing has since been altered.
Before The War Z was pulled, Kotaku reported that a patch had upped the respawn time to four hours and added microtransactions that would let players pay to circumvent it. Players took to Reddit to express their anger.
It feels like this story still has a long way to run. In other news, Bohemia Interactive continue to work on a standalone version of Arma 2 mega-mod, Day Z.
Yesterday I was convinced that Hitman Absolution's Deus Ex DLC items would be among the stupidest promotional stuff we'd see for the game. Unfortunately, they weren't. A Facebook campaign that launched today - before being quickly removed after RPS spotted it - encouraged people to send a hit on their friends.
According the campaign's press release, “'Hire Hitman' was created to celebrate the best selling game Hitman: Absolution. The experience is another opportunity for fans of the series to immerse themselves in the Hitman universe.”
Here's the form that celebration took. After selecting the friend they wanted to target, users were asked to pick from a list of insulting “identifying” characteristics.
Female friends got to be called out on “awful make-up,” “annoying laugh,” “strange odour,” “muffin top,” or “small tits,” among others. Male targets, meanwhile, could be chided on their “bad hair,” “big ears,” “hairy back,” “big gut,” or “small penis.”
So that's intimidation, bullying and sexism. Another proud day in games promoting, folks!
Users would then choose a reason for elimination, at which point a message would be sent to their friend's wall, with a video that incorporated photos from their profile.
While Square-Enix are in “shut down everything” mode, removing both the site and the video that was promoting it, one YouTuber was quick enough to capture it before it disappeared.
The press release states that the campaign was created by the ad agency Ralph, who were nominated for an EMMY. It doesn't mention if that nomination was for Stupidest Bloody Idea This Week.
Hitman Absolution seems set to become the next game to feel the full force of Square Enix's bizarre obsession with cross-game promotion. After shoehorning practically every one of their franchises into Sleeping Dogs, the company has now released Deus Ex DLC for Agent 47's sort-of-assassination adventure.
The Adam Jensen disguise and handgun microtransactions (purchases sold separately, batteries not included) add a silenced pistol and cyborg costume into Contracts mode. None of which is going to fix the many problems that Tom had when he reviewed the game.
It does make you wonder what's next in SE's tireless campaign to tie all of their games together in increasingly silly ways. I'm hoping that future costumes for 47 include the traditional Lara Croft tanktop, or that they look to one of their Japanese titles and dress him up as a miserable teenager with a giant sword and shit hair. Any better ideas?
The next installment in the Hitman series is being developed by a new studio at Square Enix Montreal. It's a trade-off that Absolution director Tore Blystad likens to the one between Call of Duty's major studios. “It’s like with Treyarch and Infinity Ward,” Blystad told OPM. “You have an IP that has been developed. They will feed off each other, as well as somethings that stand out. I think with these big franchises it takes a long time to develop just one game. If you can, work a little bit in parallel at least and help each other out”.
Blystad implies that there's a trick to allowing a new studio to bring their own flavour to a series, without mangling its signature mechanics. "We’ve been talking about these similarities to some of the big movie franchise like Aliens, where everyone’s doing it their own way," he explained. "Every time someone gets their hands on a franchise they do something different. So rather than doing the same thing again you get another take on the character from a fresh perspective.
“There’s a lot of these problems you encounter with these sort of productions, some of them are really fundamental problems, or they have a big effect on the game – like how you do a mechanic for instance. If you change a mechanic too much then the whole gameplay will be modified”.
IO are staying in touch with Square Enix Montreal to stop the series going too far astray. “There are talks between us and of course it has to be somewhat in sync but it’s the first time you could say Hitman has gone out of the house,” Blystad added. “Luckily it’s with someone we know. Some of the key developers came from IO and have been working on previous games so it’s not like it’s in completely new hands."
It could be said that Hitman has already gone astray with introduction of Absolution, which takes a step away from the big sandbox missions that made the series great. Find out how in our Hitman: Absolution review.
Good news, everyone! Steam, Amazon, Blizzard, and more have kicked off Consumer Season by booby trapping the web with potent spending bait such as 33% off XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 50% off The Walking Dead, and 66% off StarCraft II. We spent the morning stumbling through the minefield to compile a list of some of the best seasonal discounts, but stay vigilant: more surprise server-busters are bound to go live as we approach the spendiest weekend of the year.
Steam: Like the Summer Sale, the Steam Autumn Sale rotates deals daily, with even more fleeting Flash Sales lasting only 10 to 15 hours, so serious shoppers should check in at least twice a day. As a bonus, you get to follow Steam's adorable doodle story: currently, it seems a turkey is being forced to enter a Felix Baumgartner-inspired high diving competition.
But don't just look at the front page: Steam isn't promoting most of its deals, so scan the full list now and then. Here are some of the better discounts at the time of writing:
33% off XCOM: Enemy Unknown - $33.49 / £20.09 50% off The Walking Dead - $12.49 / £10.49 25% off Borderlands 2 - $44.99 / £22.49 75% off ARMA II: Combined Operations - $17.99 / £14.99 25% off Dishonored - $44.99 / £22.49 50% off Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - $11.24 / £8.99 33% off The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - $40.19 / £23.44 75% off Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - $2.49 / £1.74 75% off Limbo - $2.49 / £1.74 25% off Torchlight II - $14.99 / £11.24 75% off Cave Story+ - $2.49 / £1.74 More Steam Deals
Amazon: (Some deals are region-specific) Amazon hasn't been quite as liberal as Steam with the big games, but it has conjured a storm of Lightning Deals on desktop PCs, components, and peripherals. The scattershot selection below should give you an idea of what to expect.
17% off iBuyPower AM699 Desktop - $579.99 18% off CyberpowerPC GUA890 Desktop - $499.99 39% off Dell S2330MX 23" Ultra-Slim VGA Monitor - $139.99 40% off Samsung Series S24B30BL 23.6-Inch Screen LCD Monitor - $119.99 33% off Corsair Vengeance C70 Mid Tower Case - $97.45 31% off Logitech Optical Gaming Mouse G400 - $34.49 19% off Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse - $64.62
50% off The Walking Dead - $12.49 (Steam code) 80% off Dungeon Defenders - $2.99 10% off Hitman: Absolution - $44.99 75% off all Assassin's Creed games (excluding Assassin's Creed III) More Amazon Deals
Blizzard: Blizzard has joined the party with Diablo III for $40 / £33 and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty for $20 / £17.
GOG: GOG's current sale nets you five games from a list of 20 for a mere $10 (just over £6). The list is loaded with some great indie adventure and puzzle games, so if you don't already own them, now's a good time to prepare for that "it's cold outside, so I'm going to drink tea (whiskey optional) and not leave my screen for the next forever hours" feeling.
Green Man Gaming: While Green Man doesn't celebrate consumerism with a morbid-sounding Friday, it is offering its usual voucher code. Enter GMG20-1FYLZ-EDG8R when purchasing a PC download for 20% off any game, except those already on sale. At the time of writing, GMG's daily deal (North America only) is Mass Effect 3: N7 Digital Deluxe for $15.99.
Newegg: (US and Puerto Rico only) Newegg has taken this whole "Black Friday" thing awfully far. Not only has it preempted Black Friday with "Black November," it's re-preempting it with a Pre-Black Friday Frenzy sale. How about a 500 GB Western Digital WD Blue hard drive for $50? A Samsung B350 Series LED monitor for $180? Keep in mind that if you visit Newegg from now until December 1st, you should not expect to then purchase other things, like food.
If you find any great deals as the weekend progresses, we'd love it if you shared them in the comments. And if all these sales combined with a poorly-timed lack of funds has you feeling down, remember that buying stuff is only briefly thrilling, while instead you could be continuously thrilled by PlanetSide 2, MechWarrior Online, Tribes: Ascend, or many of the other new free-to-play games we're thankful for this year.
Got Hitman: Absolution, video capturing capability, and the desire to be $1000 richer? You can make use of those strangely-related criteria by heading over to GamrRank, a meta-achievement/playtime tracking social media platform. The service is offering one grand to the best Hitman video involving a dead body and your name spelled on a surface with bullet holes—just like so many of my home movies. The video above explains the finer points.
You have two weeks to get your entry in. Second place nets you $500, and third will take home $250. Some Hitman swag is also available for honorable mentions. If you have a GamrRank account, you can check out this page to accept the challenge.