Opening disclaimer that I’m fairly tired and woozy from some meds I’m on at the moment, so hopefully I didn’t forget anything important (like a verb).
No. It implies that SE has the distribution and publishing rights for the game in Japan, as of its release date.
I’ll break this down fairly simply, while trying to avoid oversimplifying.
Developer (role of)
One-liner: Games are typically designed and developed by a studio (
The people who actually make the content. Like an author of a book, the illustrator of it, and even the editor. They’re part of the development team. It’s one of those hazy/fun distinctions. This doesn’t really need much further explaining than that as they haven’t changed massively.
What needs clarifying is that developers need funding from somewhere. Often it’s from a publisher who forwards some of the development cost to them, or even approaches them with a project.
One-liner: Until Steam became big games required a distribution network (
Once Steam became big, Steam became the distributor but they’re also the publishing platform. GOG, Steam, etc., are store meets distribution meets publishing in many cases, though technically publishing is still distinct. It’s kind of hazy and strange, just like EBooks are. Another weird example is YouTube: YouTube is a platform, Channels are Publishers, Content Producers are “Developers”. The distribution is handled by YouTube/Google, but it’s kind of different to your on-the-shelf media (DVD/BluRay). Now that digital distribution is big publishers are frequently also the developer and distribution is handled by Steam and the publisher together, which means Steam only does some of the job (which can be automated entirely on their end once some paperwork is done). This is why the distributor is a write-off in this simplification.
Distribution agents typically aren’t relevant to concerns about finances. THQ Nordic are known to do raw distribution (without being a publisher). Hitman was originally listed as being published by EIDOS and distributed by Square Enix. EIDOS being owned by SE is irrelevant here, though it is interesting to see EIDOS absent from the JP materials I’ve seen. Nothing particularly interesting, it just means SE is likely publishing and distributing in for the JP release.
Publisher (role of)
One-liner: Distribution was typically handled by a publisher, who reached out to the distribution chains.
Steam is a common distribution platform, but since Valve/Steam uses heavy automation the largest part of distribution is typically done directly by the studio (setting the branch, pushing data, testing it’s there, then switching the stream and/or enabling beta streams/access). In the past it was boxes on ships/trucks moving product around the world. Digital distribution makes this easier for developers to do directly, though some companies do still require a green light from their publisher before getting the green light to distribute or publish updates. Of course, for smaller groups (like the teams who make Factorio, or Minecraft back in the day), they make their own decisions about publishing and distributing. As you see the lines have blurred heavily.
Publishers also used to forward/generate/handle the money for the project. Not all of it, just a lot of it. If SE steps back as the publisher but not distributor they can still make money by handling some of the duties that formerly fell to the publisher.
State of play
Now that we have widescale digital distribution (Steam, Origin, PSN, the parallel Xbox networks), and indie developers can directly publish, the rules have shifted a bit in our favour as consumers. Much like book self-publishing, indie developers can put their titles up there with other, bigger, titles. For the purposes of Hitman this is an unlikely case, but as the product exists on the shelves and Season 2 could be sold as DLC it’s promising even if SE are only pushing the first wave of products out (i.e. Season 1 in multiple regions). Middleware is a total minefield that distorts this world view for a lot of people, but for those of us who work in, work along side, develop for, consume, or whatever else, and who have had to understand it for various reasons, it’s easier to just ignore it for explaining things. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it’s just not relevant unless you understand most of the rest of the picture. Think of middleware developers as the people who make the fonts for your book, indirect, but important, people.
So what we know, given that the landscape has shifted in a big way, is that IOI could distribute elsewhere through other people. However, Hitman, as a franchise, may make serious bank in Japan. That’d be cool as SE would likely pay IOI a bit for it (as they are just distributing and publishing, and typically as part of the deal IOI would get some money back). The internals of that deal are unknown to us, it might be old, it might be new, but based on the announcement dates my guess would be new (post “split”). How it resolves is irrelevant to the above point.
IOI is still the developer, from what we can see, as there would be another imprint on the site (hitman.jp). There is no imprint for another developer and SE don’t have an in-house capable of working on the engine that wouldn’t put their name there.
The remaining copyrights, logos, and so on, only indicate Square Enix is publishing and/or distributing. Based on a prior arrangement for other regions it’s probably a combination. Either way, nothing changes for SE.
What’s big here is IOI likely has to retool part of the game for localisation. It’s more than just censoring or tweaking content (which I’m sure they’re going to have to do based on an understanding of the market). IOI are still going to make some money for working on this. If nothing else it keeps the lights on.