The Chinese tech giant, Tencent, is the largest gaming company in the world, far outpacing companies such as Activision Blizzard, EA, Sony and Microsoft in global video game revenues. The company has a long list of partnerships and investments, which include a minority stake in Snapchat and a deal with Disney to broadcast ESPN content on its digital QQ Sports network, but its fame comes from owning the most popular social networking service in China: WeChat. The company used the popularity of the social media platform to invest in other areas of entertainment, including the virtual reality meeting space, AltspaceVR, and (most notably) a number of video game companies, many of which are based in the US.
Although the company keeps most of its investments a secret, its high-profile deals—including the recent acquisition of Clash Royale developer, Supercell—indicate a strong focus toward dominating eSports and maintaining its position as the biggest gaming company in the world. Here are some of the major game developers Tencent is involved with.
There was a great deal of speculation leading up to today’s deal, where Tencent purchased 84 percent ownership of the Clash of Clans and Clash Royale developer for $8.6 billion. Acquiring the mobile game giant was a logical move, considering how Newzoo reported that Clash Royale was the world’s top-grossing free-to-play mobile game for March 2016 by bringing in $110 million in global revenues. That’s on top of the $2.3 billion the game earned in 2015.
With the inclusion of Supercell’s Clash of Clans, Tencent has near complete control of the top grossing mobile eSports games in China. Tencent’s King of Glory debuted at number one on the list of top grossing Android games in China, and ranks at number 4 for top grossing mobile eSports games on iOS. That success is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Tencent acquired a 93 percent majority stake in Riot Games in 2011, and made big news when it purchased the remaining 7 percent last December. Riot Games is the developer behind League of Legends, the most popular competitive video game and eSport in the world. The game maintains 100 million active users a month, and generates about $1.5 billion a year, according to SuperData Research.
Riot still enjoys complete autonomy, and still operates as an independent studio (as Supercell will), and while the buyout didn’t do much to shake up the gaming world, it helped to further strengthen Tencent’s eSports investments.
Niccolo de Masi, president, CEO and chairman of Glu Mobile, famous for the massively successful Kim Kardashian Hollywood, described how Asian companies that have found great success in their domestic markets will seek to expand to Western markets through investments, partnerships and purchases. He might as well have been describing his own company’s experience, as Tencent increased its stake in Glu to 21.5 percent in February.
Glu is currently working to develop a version of Tencent’s successful mobile shooter, WeFire, for Western audiences. The company also announced a $7.5 million investment in the Icelandic game studio Plain Vanilla last January. The studio is responsible for the hit mobile trivia game QuizUp, which is currently being adapted into a live prime-time game show. Glu might acquire the studio completely if the game continues to do well, which could help consolidate the web of partnerships, as Tencent has been a Plain Vanilla investor since 2013. In April 2015, Tencent worked with Plain Vanilla to launch a Chinese localized version of QuizUp called WeQuiz, which quickly rose to the top of the Chinese iOS App Store.
Seeing Activision Blizzard’s revenues ranked second to Tencent (even after it purchased of Candy Crush Saga developer, King Digital, for $5.9 billion) makes the two companies appear as rivals. While that may be true to an extent, Tencent has investments in Activision Blizzard, so the success of its competitor is also success for Tencent. As Peter Warman, CEO of Newzoo pointed out, “When Activision Blizzard broke loose from Vivendi back in July 2013 in a deal sized at $8.2 billion, a consortium called ASAC II purchased $2.34 billion, or almost 25 percent worth of shares.” A large contributor to this consortium was Tencent, and the company owns a part of the recently launched Call of Duty World League, which offers a $3 million prize pool.
Then there’s how almost every competitive game produced by Blizzard, including the recently released Overwatch, are popular eSports. Also, let’s not overlook the fact that Tencent is the official distributor of Candy Crush Saga in China.
According to a statement made to Fortune, Warman believes that Tencent has three main goals: “growing its share of the Western games market as a whole, growing the global mobile games market, and dominating eSports in China.”
Epic Games is famous for many reasons, chief among them being the Unreal Engine, the original Gears of War trilogy, and (most recently) the competitive MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game Paragon. Tencent bought approximately 48.4 percent of the company’s outstanding shares for $330 million in 2012, and the strategic investment gave Tencent the right to nominate directors to the game studio’s board.
In addition to bringing Paragon into open beta later this summer, Epic Games is heavily promoting the Unreal Engine (especially for VR development), developing two new games, which include Unreal Tournament and Fortnite. ChAIR, which is owned by Epic, is working with filmmaker J.J. Abrams on a collaborative project called Spyjinx.
Capcom, EA And More
Tencent doesn’t just specialize in investing outside of China. It also partners with companies to distribute games in its own country. It is currently partnered with Capcom to develop Monster Hunter Online in China and the game’s producer, Tao Weishi, has expressed that he’d be interested in continuing the partnership with some of Capcom’s other IPs—including Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Devil May Cry, Onimusha, Dino Crisis, and Sengoku Basara.
Monster Hunter Online is being developed using CryEngine, and coincidentally, Tencent is the exclusive operator of Crytek’s online game, Warface in China. Additionally, Tencent manages FIFA Online 3 in China for Electronic Arts, making for another not-quite-rival in the global gaming space. Who knows what these partnerships will lead to down the road?