According to an insider, the relationship between Eidos and Square Enix was rocky from the start.
Earlier this year, the industry was stunned to learn that Embracer Group bought AAA studios as well as the Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, and Thief IPs from Square Enix. Less shocking than the sale itself was the bargain basement price of $300 million. (Those IPs once belonged to the UK-based publisher Eidos Interactive, but Square Enix acquired the company in 2009.)
To put that in perspective, Sony bought Bungie for $3.6 billion, EA bought Codemasters for $1.2 billion, and Take-Two purchased Zynga for a whopping $12.7 billion. Needless to say, even though Square Enix claimed that the Eidos catalog “under-performed” across several high-profile multi-million-selling releases, Embracer Group got a hell of a deal. The acquisition is sure to pay for itself many times over.
Thanks to an interview at Gamesindustry.biz, we now have an insider’s account of the situation. Eidos Montreal founder Stephane D’Astous spoke with the site at length about the relationship between the former Eidos studios and Japanese publisher Square Enix.
According to D’Astous:
It was a trajectory that could be predicted. I left because things were missing at head office. [Pre-Square Enix] Eidos has a great tradition of development teams, but they don’t have superior knowledge of how to sell their games. And that was quite clear.
You could look at all the great games that Eidos did, and — apart from Tomb Raider back then, that was a whole different era — the Hitmans and all those could have been a six, seven, eight-million unit projects. Deus Ex could have been that also. We hit good numbers, don’t get me wrong, but I always felt that the way to sell games that Eidos used were so traditional and conventional. That it wasn’t innovative. And it was always underselling the quality of the games.
I hoped when Square Enix purchased Eidos in 2009 that that would change things.
A strained relationship from the start
Square Enix divided the company into three development pipelines: IO Interactive (Hitman), Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider), and Eidos Montreal (practically every other Eidos IP including Deus Ex, Thief, and Legacy of Kain).
D’Astous states that “it was clear that the main purpose of Eidos Montreal was to increase capacity of production, or development capacity, within the group, because Crystal Dynamics was branded like a mono-project studio, as was IO Interactive.”
Later in the interview, he adds that management “was a train wreck in slow motion, to my eyes, anyway. It was predictable that the train was not going in a good direction. And maybe that justified $300 million. That’s really not a lot. That doesn’t make sense.”
Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics are now under Embracer Group’s direction. The future of Deus Ex, Tomb Raider, Thief, and other franchises is still an open question, although you can bet your top dollars that Embracer intends to squeeze them for what they’re worth.
Meanwhile, Danish developer IO Interactive went independent in 2017 thanks to a management buyout. The studio regained the rights to the Hitman and Freedom Fighters franchises. They’re currently working on Project 007, a new game set in the James Bond universe.