“Square-Enix will have capitalized on Day 1 players who automatically forfeit their right to decide on how to trade and share a game that they have purchased.”
Did you know that the second episode of Square-Enix and IO Interactive’s reboot for the Hitman franchise releases this week? No? That’s probably the same with most people.
For those unaware the latest Hitman game is being released episodically over months, rather than a traditionally packaged retail copy. Here’s how the Hitman release schedule has shaped up thus far.
Open Beta: February 17, 2016
Episode 1 “The Showstopper”: March 11, 2016
Episode 2 “Sapienza”: April 26, 2016
Don’t get me wrong I believe there are certain genres of games that lend themselves well to episodic release. Telltale continually pumps out new series with their talented team of writers by mixing narrative driven experiences with existing popular intellectual property. Even though I personally feel Telltale as a developer has stalled in its evolution (a topic for another article) there still exists a level of buzz when the release date of a new episode is announced.
I’m certain that each new episode of Hitman is not generating nearly the same amount of attention as its narrative driven counterparts. Only time will tell if Square-Enix’s gamble with the release structure of Hitman will prove profitable. For the rest of this article I wanted to speculate why Hitman received a staggered release.
“What Telltale has proven is that if you get people invested into a game’s story you reel them back in each time… However, Hitman is a franchise traditionally focused on gameplay. You kill your targets in as many unique ways as possible, until you reach the end game.”
You can’t blame Square-Enix for attaching Hitman, one of its longest running franchises to a model that has seen recent success in the industry. This is especially true since the publisher saw critical and commercial success with last years “Life is Strange”. So what’s the difference between Life is Strange and Hitman? Simply put one focuses on story and the latter on gameplay. What Telltale has proven is that if you get people invested into a game’s story you reel them back in each time. This is the same reason why Life is Strange was so popular. However, Hitman is a franchise traditionally focused on gameplay. You kill your targets in as many unique ways as possible, until you reach the end game. This formula seemed to work for the franchise across the five previous major releases (I don’t count Sniper Challenge or Go). But I guess Hitman Absolution didn’t push the amount of units Square-Enix would’ve liked.
There are some unappealing commercial truths about the Hitman franchise
“Most gamers only find time to complete a game once, if at all. The franchise’s gameplay focuses on killing in as many ways as possible. For the average player replay-ability and backtracking is something they never experience. Gamers reach the end of one playthrough and make the critical decisions of recommend, keep, or trade in. “
- The franchise generally scores in the high 70’s to low 80’s. See chart below. This places it in the tier of critical respectability. A good, but never great game. This is not a bad thing by any means. Not every game can be a critical darling. However, good single player games generally don’t create the buzz and attachment among friends. The sadder truth is that they often find themselves in the GameStop trading block, which is money that the publisher never sees.
- I would think intricately designed scenes and environments take a lot of resources to architect. Most gamers only find time to complete a game once, if at all. The franchise’s gameplay focuses on killing in as many ways as possible. For the average player, replay-ability and backtracking is something they never experience. Gamers reach the end of one playthrough and make the critical decisions to recommend, keep, or trade in.
Chart Provided by Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitman_(video_game_series)
Why an Episodic Series Makes Commercial Sense
The major allure to an episodic release window is that you can’t easily trade in digitally licensed games. Hitman made the correct PR move in offering a free open beta to give the public a general idea of how the game played. Those expecting anything different from the paid episodes would have only themselves to blame. Those heavily invested can play each episode multiple times over and find new ways to kill and fulfill the ever changing contracts. This is probably what IO Interactive would prefer- you experiencing each painfully crafted level to its fullest.
When everything is released Hitman will be a full priced game. But since your experience has been spread out over months digitally, you have nothing to trade in. There inevitably will be a full physical copy down the road that will cater to late adopters. However, Square-Enix will have capitalized on Day 1 players who automatically forfeit their right to decide on how to trade and share a game that they have purchased. The episodic release of Hitman may prove financially beneficial to Square-Enix. But ultimately it diminishes the gaming experience and limits consumer choice.
Let me know your experiences and opinions of Hitman via Twitter or the comment box below!