With the news that Square Enix is looking at what to do with Hitman, including possibly packaging it with studio Io-Interactive for sale, one wonders who should buy it. Options include venture capitalists, media companies like Vivendi that want into video games, and video game companies that have multiple studios like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. But are any of those really the best choice?
Perhaps not, console makers are another option as well. When we look here, Sony is in a healthy spot with a diverse bullpen, and Nintendo has its own studios, but one console maker has a lack of first party titles and studios. While The Coalition, 343 Studios, and Turn10 are really good studios, they each are essentially focused on just one IP. Beyond that, you also have Mojang, which does Minecraft, and Rare, which Microsoft is trying to resurrect and thus we have no idea what Rare is capable of at this time. To make matters worse for Microsoft, many of their major IPs in active use are in two genres: Shooters and Racing.
For all their differences, when you boil it down, Gears of War and Halo appeal largely to the same audience and are competing with many other shooters on the market. They are overlapping first party IPs that gives Microsoft, in theory at least, a core competency, but it's not a genre that lacks high budget AAA games from other companies. Additionally, the studios that originally developed those IPs are long gone from working on them with Microsoft, leaving studios that have had more mixed results since to fill the gap. The Forza and Forza Horizon series run into something of a similar issue, both being about driving and racing, albeit with some different focuses.
Enter Io-Interactive and Hitman. This would be a big, different core-IP for Microsoft, and one from a proven developer who has done numerous things in different genres. It would give them something that expands their first-party reach in what types of titles they are producing. They would have to answer a core question about what to do with Hitman (2016), but there are a few ways to do that. The first would be to continue to release it on all systems that it is on, much like they do with Minecraft. Doing this, they could reverse how the exclusive content worked with Hitman 2016, where PlayStation owners got a series of exclusive contracts to solve and give that instead to Xbox ... and if they wanted, they could even put it inside the game to advertise directly at PlayStation owners that the best version of the game is on Xbox One. Another would be to turn Season 2 into a sequel or expansion pack that is for sale only on Xbox One and PC, or they could have them start on a new entry for the series using what they learned.
The one concern one may have with purchasing Hitman (2016) is that Square seemed to say it underperformed financially. Here's what I have to say: that's an advantage for whoever is buying the studio. The reason Hitman (2016) underperformed is almost certainly due to the total and utter mess of a launch it had in messaging that was no fault of the studio and entirely that of the business side. It's easy to forget now perhaps, but for a while there, almost every other week there'd be a change in how Hitman was going to be released—it's not episodic, it's not early access, well maybe it is episodic, well no it's not, and finally after several more rounds like this finally a yes it is episodic. This managed to severely hamper the launch period for Hitman (2016) as no one was quite sure how the whole structure would work out.
We've now had a year to see how their epsiodic release method worked, with each "episode" introducing a large new region to play in as well as major story quests and many minor contracts. Opening up a new area made each episode feel like a sizable addition. It took some time for everyone to grasp what they meant by episodic due to the poor communication, but online issues aside, it's a pretty reasonable method for releasing content and people understand it now. Taking the opportunity to market and showcase Hitman (2016), as well as do the second season, would add a lot more and is something Microsoft could put their muscle behind. If Microsoft didn't want to release anything on PlayStation, or Sony made an issue of it, the work on the second season could be ramped up to become a new title or even just an Xbox One exclusive.
Beyond that, Io-Interactive had a new IP in the works as well, something that is also needed for the Xbox gaming brand. You look at the names mentioned above and what you see are games from long-running series; series that are perhaps a bit too familiar, having been split between multiple studios but not evolving much outside of Forza Horizon to the main Forza line. And Forza Horizon is at its third entry and is in effect a continuation of Project Gotham Racing in many ways.
In the end, it's a match that could work well for everyone. Io-Interactive needs a new home with pockets to finance it, and Microsoft needs to get some more studios going to help it keep up with Sony's studios who have been releasing top notch titles and have more coming.
Hell, even if everything goes wrong, Io-Interactive could draw on their Kane and Lynch experience and just make more shooting things for Xbox in the end.