Interview with Hakan Abrak - How IO landed Project 007 deal, success of Hitman 3, reason and decision of opening a studio in Malmö, and more

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Does he talk about his 7 golden helicopters?

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Hakan Abrak in this interview:

Was asked what “IO” stands for in “IO Interactive”. Hakan wasn’t a member of the founding members of IO and they haven’t revealed to him what IO stands for. Rumor has it that IO could stand for Input-Output or IO, a moon of Jupiter.

Discusses his history at IOI, starting and working up through the company ranks to be CEO of IOI.

He comes across as grounded, and visually there was a white “Specialized” Mountain Bike in the background, which looked to be in his house near the back door. It is a very Dutch and Danish thing to bike as a primary mode of transportation.

Hakan says that being at the company for so long, means that he has credibility with the team, because he can ask others to do things, having done many of those jobs as an employee at IO himself.

Hakan emphasizes how close IO was to bankruptcy. At the time of being let go by Square Enix, IO had just 3 months left of cash flow, and there was discussions to divest IO Interactive and walk away. They had 174 employees and had to quickly let go of ~85 employees to stay solvent. It took four years for IO to recoup costs of Hitman2016, whereas it took one week to recoup costs of Hitman III.

Hakan’s primary concerns were for his employees at IO, and if it was best to sell IO Interactive to save jobs, he would have done it.

Hakan explains that Square Enix let IO keep the Hitman IP, because Square Enix kept a minority share of IO Interactive, a lottery ticket that is worth a lot of money now that Hitman 3 has been successful.

Second, Square Enix realized that the Hitman IP was too closely associated with IO, and the team of specialists who had 20 years of experience developing their Glacier Engine, and features like AI behavior and level design, that could not be replicated easily by another company.

There was even mention of moving Hitman to a free-to-play model, but it was not a model Hakan felt would work for Hitman.

Hakan describes how IO once had 400 employees at its Copenhagen location, and that there are now over 200 people now, with 150 in the Copenhagen studio and 50 in the new Malmo studio. Hakan believes that there is greater collegiality and teamwork if a studio is no more than 140 to 150 employees. Hakan explained that likely when there is another IO studio it would be in another Scandinavian country such as Holland or Austria (where the former CEO now lives).

Hakan says that the success of Hitman III was more than what they had estimated, and thought it was a combination of their hard work, their experience iterating for years on Hitman, and luck, such as release in January when no other Triple A game was being released for the new consoles.

IO had a cloud meeting group set up for all the employees on TEAMs, labeled “Prelaunch Metacritic meeting”, where everyone has continued to follow incoming reviews of Hitman III at launch. This folder is still open in TEAMs and followed by employees at IO says Hakan, and they still populate this folder with new content of all the feedback to Hitman III’s release to this day.

Hakan recalled being choked up when reading one of the more evocative reviews of Hitman III, and it was clear that he was really proud of how IO went from near solvency to their success in a few years as an independent company with Hitman III.

In the interview, Hakan clearly was getting choked up discussing how much he appreciated the fanbase support of Hitman. IOI had developed the cloud computing platform for porting the World of Assassination trilogy of content since 2016 with near weekly releases of new content for the fans since then, out of a desire to make a stronger connection with the Hitman community.

As Hakan puts it, IO had really tried to perfect the “cool” character and “agent fantasy” with Hitman over 20 years, and that both outside of IO and within IO felt that they would be a perfect match for EON’s James Bond 007 IP. EON, who have always been protective of their IP, agreed that IO was the best developer to re-introduce James Bond in video game format, in a likely trilogy of James Bond games.

Hakan says that they have put Hitman temporarily to rest, “to give the guy a break”, but that Hitman would return sometime down the road. Hakan says that they are still are “working on cool stuff” with regards to Hitman live content, which could have meant the Seven Sins DLC or other content.

Hakan states that they are working on different IPs, outside of Hitman, Project 007 and an undisclosed IP (is this the so-called multiplayer IP?) and that this work is spread across both Copenhagen and Malmo studios. They are likely hiring to fill 150 more employees at the Malmo studio, and since he says he doesn’t want studios to be more than ~150 employees, IO is likely to open a third studio (e.g. Holland, Austria) to house another ~100 employees, totaling ~400 employees across 3 or 4 studios.

Hakan mentions that IO has recently hired specialists, (at least one writer), from the UK who are especially familiar with everything “James Bond” and that these specific hires for the “James Bond” franchise will be important in developing this new James Bond IP.

Hakan Abrak is not your typical CEO who wears a suit and works in a boardroom. He comes across as a passionate employee at IO who has put his guts into this company over more than a decade. Christian Elverdam and Hakan Abrak are co-owners of IO, and they come across as passionate believers in what their company has been doing, and real survivors in the ups and downs of the video game industry, an industry where there are more failures than successes.

Definitely no indication that Hakan has purchased seven golden helicopters. However, I can tell by the parts, that his white “Specialized” bike in the background was a more high end bike, costing above ~$1000 USD. It was nicer than the ones I have seen that you could buy from a drug addict for 100 Dutch Guilders in Amsterdam.

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Great interview! Hakan is very impressive in his experience and the results achieved with the team, against many odds.

Very interesting when he mentions that it was basically the unforseen success of Absolution’s Contract Mode that paved the way to the World of Assassination as we know it.

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Yes (Feature) Contracts mode in Hitman2016 evolved in having added a player made contract feature within Hitman Absolution. The fact that 60,000 daily players were engaged in the contract feature of Hitman Absolution a year after released convinced IO that Feature Contracts would be appreciated by the core fans of a new Hitman game.

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Great listen. Hearing Hakan say, in not so many words, that the first Hitman movie was sub-par at best and that the second movie was utter bilge, I forever absolve Mr Abrak of all his sins and promise never to make a helicopter joke again. :stuck_out_tongue:

The man gets Hitman. :+1:

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Seven Golden Helicopter joke was funny.

And yes, Hakan Abrak is likely a multi-millionaire of course, but more money doesn’t make you more happy, especially if you are buying your seventh golden golden helicopter when you have six already.

There was a lot of risk in becoming an owner of a company, as IOI’s value would not have been worth much based on their balance sheet through 2012 to 2018. It was the human capital (the veteran employees) at IOI, less than the Hitman IP, which was the most valuable asset at IOI keeping them above water.

Taxes are high in Denmark, so a millionaire there is not so rich, unless he has offshore accounts such as on Haven Island in the Maldives.

But that doesn’t make him a bad guy or crook for having produced a piece of entertainment that is profitable and is enjoyed by millions of players, during this period of mental strain and quarantine during this world-wide COVID pandemic.

Once you produce a video game that sells well, there are no manufacturing costs for digital downloads (or a minor cost of DVD printing) for what can be a continuous stream of profits above your input costs for as long as the game is sold.

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I have never been interested in James Bond as games, but with IO-I making one could change that, I’m definitely interested to see what IO-I can come up with. :smiley:

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This offsets the “the cost of development has risen but games still cost the same” argument that people had in other topics. Not just costing less to put it into circulation but also being able to keep prices up artificially in the digital stores with less people reselling their copy for cheap.

For instance i just bought Persona 3 for the vita for 30 euro, that’s pure profit as the game is ancient, has no physical copies and size-wise is incredibly small.

Hitman WAO will still continue to sell for years to come as well.

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Seriously 4 years ? Can you add the timestamp in the video where he says that ?

And also as Hakan Abrak explains, Hitman III was a financial success and the financial success is compounded because they did it without a financial partner who would take a cut. Hitman Absolution, Hitman2016, and Hitman 2 were collaborations with partners who took a large share of the pie, when the pie also itself was much smaller.

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37:19

Definitely explains why things have been so cutback for H2/3 in comparison to H1. Now looking how far we’ve drifted from the Bonus Episode to the recent 7 Deadly Sins DLC makes sense.

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Portion of the cake is bigger with a game developed in almost total independence and IO made more deals than ever before (PSVR, Stadia, Switch, Epic). The business plan was so efficient, no wonder why they went from 85 people to 200, and 400 goal for 2024.

Plus in the future, since they retained the intellectual property, they could easily make money on the title by making a remaster, ‘definitive trilogy pack’ or porting it to any new console. i mean, i started when Hitman 2 came out and H1 was dirt-cheap (which i was filtering for) and i instantly ended up buying 2 after. But i also spent 60 for the absolution/blood money pack.

I read a lot of talk about the other games, but i can imagine if they can spruce those up a bit without a financial partner there’s also a lot of interest for that. (personally i’d love to see it playable on the same H3 engine but i guess the playstyle was too different back then).

Even those mobile sniper games should bring in money. I’m wondering how much SE made from publishing H1 compared to whatever they made from physically distributing H3 and the stock in IO they got. I feel like they lost out on giving up too soon on Hitman (io) , but i guess if we put it in numbers the company is just too big of an appetite for games that aren’t AAA best-sellers.

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Thanks, I knew that the statement that it took four years to recoup cost of Hitman2016 development was in there between 30 to 40 minutes into the podcast, after Hakan spoke of getting emotional after reviews of Hitman 3 were coming in and before his discussion of the “Prelaunch Metacritic meeting” folder in TEAMs where they uploaded all external reviews of Hitman III for the IO employees to download and view…

Hakan spent time chatting about the value of “support studios” and mentioned a partner called Delphi? Delphi is a game financier of Project 007, but I think he meant another company.

Sounds like Square Enix made most of their money off of the being a minor owner of IOI rather than the money gained through sales of Hitman2016.

In other words, Square Enix has made more money off of IOI since they left being a partner and involved in producing Hitman. Sounds like a good deal for Square Enix.

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Pretty sure he meant that one, as he was mentioning that Delphi was the contact between IO and MGM.

A money multiplier sending Hitman III on ten platforms at once.

I am not sure whether all of the ports were done in house or some were contracted out to a third party to look after.

Hakan said that Hitman Trilogy containing HitmanIII containing Hitman2016 and Hitman2 is one executable file. That is pretty amazing.

And also amazing that the digital download of Hitman III containing Hitman 2 was a fraction of the size of Hitman 2 release.

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So how much exposure does IOI have if Project 007 is mostly financed by Delphi?