A quick reference of how China”s largest tech conglomerate has quietly expanded into videogames.
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Tencent is the world”s largest games publisher. It”s both an internet and entertainment giant in China—the equivalent of Facebook or Google—but gamers worldwide are probably more familiar with Tencent”s investments into a growing number of game developers and publishers.
But with over 300 investments in its portfolio, staying on top of every company that Tencent has a stake in can be a little daunting.
That”s why I”ve created this reference listing each of Tencent”s public investments in foreign gaming companies (basically, companies outside of China), including, where possible, how much of that company Tencent owns. As part of our ongoing coverage of PC gaming in China, it”s also important to understand the growing influence Chinese gaming companies like Tencent have on the global market.US President Trump recently issued an executive order banning transactions with Tencent”s WeChat app, but has since clarified that this won”t affect the company”s gaming offers.
In 2011, Tencent went from being Riot Games” publishing partner in China to its majority stakeholder after paying $400 million for a 93 percent stake in the League of Legends developer. Four years later, Tencent scooped up the remaining 7 percent equity for an undisclosed amount, taking full control over Riot Games just as League of Legends was exploding as an esport around the world.
Tencent”s purchase of Riot was nothing short of prescient—League of Legends is the most popular PC game in the world, pulling in an estimated $1.4 billion in revenue last year. Riot Games remains largely free to steer the game how it pleases, but that relationship has some ugly downsides. Wanting to cash in on the mobile gaming boom, Tencent tried to get Riot to make a mobile version of LoL. When the developer refused, Tencent went ahead and made their own mobile clone of LoL called Arena of Valor that became one of the most profitable mobile games in Asia—and Riot wasn”t very happy about it. That is now mostly water under the bridge now that Tencent has abandoned Arena of Valor in the West and Riot is now making a mobile version of LoL. Squabbles aside, Tencent”s purchase of Riot has cemented it as the king of esports.
Tencent”s $330 million investment in Epic Games back in June 2012 triggered one of the most dramatic shifts in PC gaming of the last decade, ushering in a new era of free-to-play games as a service. Seeing that “the old model” of selling games wasn”t working, Epic founder Tim Sweeney decided to join forces with Tencent to better learn about operating live-service games. It paid off.
With Tencent”s investment, Epic scrapped Unreal Engine 4″s monthly subscription in favor of a free version where Epic earned royalties on sales. Though developers might pay more for a successful game in the long run, it opened Unreal Engine up to an enormous community of indie developers and helped fuel intense competition between rival engine, Unity, which up until then was considered to be the best technology for small developers. At the same time, Epic began experimenting with live-service games like the Paragon and Fortnite: Save the World. While both games were failures, Save the World put Epic in the perfect spot to jump on the battle royale bandwagon and—almost by accident—create the biggest gaming pop culture phenomenon since Minecraft and Pokémon. Last year, Fortnite made $2.4 billion, making it the most profitable game that year.
(Image credit: PUBG Corp)
Yes, Tencent a piece of both Fortnite and PUBG, the two dominant battle royales. What”s even more amusing is that Tencent also has rights to publish both games in China, meaning it”s actually in competition with itself—not a bad place to be in. Tencent”s investment into Bluehole first began in 2017 with Tencent first acquiring 1.5 percent of Bluehole before increasing that investment to an undisclosed amount rumored to be around 10 percent. That”s probably just the beginning, though, as Tencent is rumored to be seeking a complete acquisition of Bluehole.
Tencent was one of several investors that helped Ubisoft survive a hostile takeover last year from Vivendi, who at the time was Ubisoft”s largest stakeholder. For years, Vivendi had been steadily acquiring more stake in Ubisoft in hopes of ousting founder Yves Guillemot and seizing control for itself—putting thousands of jobs in jeopardy in the process. The situation looked grim until Ubisoft struck a deal with Vivendi that saw the French conglomerate divest its stake to a variety of investors that included Tencent.
As part of the agreement, though, Tencent is just a silent partner who cannot increase voting rights or ownership stake in Ubisoft—making a hostile takeover by Tencent impossible. The acquisition of Ubisoft shares also heralded in a strategic partnership where Tencent would publish Ubisoft games in China, which caused its own flurry of backlash over censorship.
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)
Years before Ubisoft, Tencent helped another company escape Vivendi: Activision Blizzard. Activision fell under Vivendi”s control way back in 2007 when it merged with subsidiary Vivendi Games in order to join forces with Blizzard and benefit from the enormous success of World of Warcraft. Five years later, the merged companies of Activision Blizzard announced a deal to buy back Vivendi”s stake in the company and become independent, and Tencent jumped at the opportunity to buy 5 percent of the company for an undisclosed amount.
In 2018 Tencent snatched up a majority stake in the New Zealand developer of Path of Exile, Grinding Gear Games. The purchase alarmed Path of Exile players who feared the Chinese publisher would start implementing more aggressive microtransactions or changes to Path of Exile”s delicate in-game economy. But, like many of Tencent”s acquisitions, Grinding Gear Games has supposedly kept its independence over Path of Exile”s operation. In the year since, little has changed about Path of Exile”s economy or microtransactions despite the game”s continued growth.
(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)
Supercell – 84.3 percent: Tencent”s $8.6 billion dollar investment in this Finnish mobile developer is one of the biggest purchases in videogame history. But considering 60 percent of Tencent”s $19.13 billion in gaming revenue last year came from mobile games, and Supercell”s enduring hits like Clash of Clans, the acquisition makes a lot of sense. Like Riot Games, Supercell reportedly retains most of its independence and is still located in Finland.
Platinum Games – Undisclosed investment: At the beginning of 2020, Tencent invested an undisclosed amount into Platinum Games, but the terms of the deal aren”t specified. Kenichi Sato, Platinum”s president and CEO, said Tencent “has no effect on the independence of our company, and we will continue operations under our current corporate structure.”
Yager – Undisclosed investment: In February of 2020, Tencent also invested an undisclosed amount into Yager, the developer of Spec Ops: The Line among some more recent but less notable free-to-play games. Similar to Platinum Games, Yager”s infusion of cash allows the company to keep its independence while upscaling its operations.
Frontier Developments – 9 percent: Tencent invested £17.7 million into the developer of Elite Dangerous and Planet Zoo in 2017 as part of a strategic partnership to capitalize on increased interest in space and “themepark” games in China.
Kakao – 13.5 percent: Kakao is a South Korean internet and entertainment company whose games subsidiary is responsible for the mega-hit Black Desert Online, which surpassed $1 billion in gross sales last year, and also publishes PUBG in South Korea.
Paradox Interactive – 5 percent: When Swedish grand strategy publisher Paradox first went public in 2016, Tencent swooped in to buy 5 percent for $21 million. Part of the sale was motivated because Steven Ma, the head of publishing at Tencent Games, is a big fan of Hearts of Iron 2.
Fatshark – 36 percent: Warhammer: Vermintide 2″s success led Tencent to acquire a large minority stake in Swedish developer Fatshark in early 2019 for an estimated $56 million.
Funcom – 29 percent: Tencent”s most recent purchase was 29 percent of Funcom, the makers of Conan Exiles and The Secret World. More recently, Tencent has announced plans to acquire Funcom entirely.
Sharkmob – 100 percent: This new studio comprised of ex The Division and Hitman devs was fully bought by Tencent in early 2019, though it hasn”t announced its first game yet.
Discord: Discord has received $158 million in funding last year, including an undisclosed amount from Tencent (among many other investors).
That covers most of the companies that PC gamers will care about. It also owns around 20 percent stake in Sea, a South-East Asia esports and publishing company, an undisclosed majority stake in web game publisher Miniclip, and about a half a dozen minority stakes in a variety of mobile game companies to boot.
Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China”s PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He”s Canadian but can”t ice skate. Embarrassing.