As a new year begins, it's a time to reflect on the year gone by and how to strategize for the year ahead. For Savvy Games Group, 2023 was certainly a busy year with events, new investments and - of course - one of the biggest gaming deals of the year - their $4.9 billion acquisition of mobile developer Scopely.
We spoke with Savvy Games Group CEO Brian Ward to look back on last year's challenges and successes, in addition to the expansion of the MENA region as a gaming hub and what we can expect from Savvy in 2024.
PocketGamer.biz: How do you feel about the state of play for Savvy Games Group going into 2024?
Brian Ward: We’re very pleased with how things are going. It was a busy past year! We saw continued success from ESL FACEIT Group (EFG), welcomed Scopely to the Savvy family, made a significant investment in VSPO, made key additions to the executive leadership team, and attended a string of major events, from GDC in the US to Gamescom in Germany, and the exciting announcement of the esports World Cup, here in Riyadh.
Our Nine66 business has also been in talks with more than 20 gaming companies around the world who want to come to Saudi Arabia. These companies see huge potential in the region for growth and development, and we look forward to welcoming them and others here.
Savvy is expanding rapidly, and that creates both opportunities and challenges as we scale.Brian Ward
Where are you seeing growth and success right now?
With the support of our Chairman, His Royal Highness The Crown Prince, our board, and the PIF, Savvy is expanding rapidly, and that creates both opportunities and challenges as we scale. We celebrated our second anniversary at the end of November, and we’re drawing on the wealth of experience and skills from our established business units, such as Scopely and EFG. As you know, the games sector is constantly evolving, and through this internal collaboration, we have the people and the strategy in place to remain in sync with a dynamic landscape.
Our subsidiary, Steer Studios, has just announced a new brand identity, allowing them to turbocharge their creative potential. Steer is working on several projects, starting with mobile, and is aiming to release its first title next year.
What’s in Savvy’s game plan for the near future? Further expansion or consolidation?
Approximately 75 percent of our capital allotment has not yet been invested, so we will continue driving forward with our strategy.
We are actively building a strong games ecosystem and have ambitious plans for localising the games and esports sector by 2030. Our goals include transforming Saudi Arabia into a global hub for game development and positioning it as the worldwide epicentre for esports. We will achieve this by unlocking the potential of our Saudi-based business units, like Steer Studios and Nine66, and helping them achieve their growth targets.
At the same time, our team is dedicated to being a ‘force for good’ in the games sector more broadly, collaborating with other players and organisations to ensure the sector’s continued success.
What areas of the games industry does Savvy Games Group see as the most interesting for investment?
Savvy has three areas of focus - namely, games developers and publishers, esports organisations, and supporting the ecosystem here in the Kingdom.
While the mobile games market offers excellent opportunities, it is just one part of the story.Brian Ward
Where does mobile fit into Savvy's plans at the moment? Are more mobile studios in line for acquisition or investment?
Scopely’s Monopoly GO!, which launched in April 2023, has been a record-breaking hit as the most successful casual mobile game launch of all time, reaching $1 billion faster than any other casual mobile game in history. It is a global sensation, including in the Kingdom, with more than 4.5 million hours of playtime in KSA and more than four million people playing the game across MENA.
While the mobile games market offers excellent opportunities, it is just one part of the story; our strategy aims to engage with all parts of the sector.
With the acquisition of Scopely, what are Savvy’s hopes for the studio’s portfolio?
Scopely will continue to pursue its long-term ambitions, which go beyond mobile. In addition to the diverse gaming experiences Scopely already offers on mobile, web, and PC, they are also preparing to launch Stumble Guys on console next year.
Scopely joined Savvy after Monopoly GO! was iterated on for years and launched worldwide, so they clearly know what they are doing. Savvy is here to support our business units, such as Scopely, and help them achieve their goals.
We want to be in a leading position when it comes to free-to-play, live services games by leveraging the proven talent and innovative spirit of the team at Scopely.
Tell us about the growth of gaming in the region and Saudi Arabia role as a gaming hub.
Saudi Arabia is a fascinating and rapidly growing market. There are over 21 million gamers in the Kingdom, 70 percent of the population, over 40 per cent of whom are women.
The region has seen the establishment of games and esports leagues, the development of state-of-the-art esports arenas, and significant sponsorships of international esports events. We are currently focusing on Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 strategy, and the region is showing strong signs of development. According to Niko Partners, games revenue in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt will experience 56 per cent growth by 2026, surging from $1.8 billion in 2022 to an estimated $2.8 billion by 2026. That’s an annual growth rate of almost 10 per cent, which is pretty impressive.
And mobile esports is an important part of that growth?
Yes, Saudi Arabia is a booming market - the 19th biggest in the world. Esports, in general, is very popular in the region too. Take the recent Gamers8 festival for an example; it generated over two million viewers over the 2023 season.
Several factors have contributed to Saudi Arabia’s esports’ growth, including government support from entities like the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the Misk Foundation, NEOM, and Qiddiya. The Kingdom’s young demographic, infrastructure development, emerging talent, and events like Gamers8 and Next World Forum have also had a big impact. Investments in technological infrastructure, such as high-speed internet and mobile networks, have laid the groundwork for this thriving mobile esports community and made global competition possible.
I look forward to seeing more events organised in the region to increase exposure to MENA's enormous potential.Brian Ward
We're looking forward to getting back to the region for our Pocket Gamer Connects events later this year. What role do you think events such as these play in highlighting the region?
These events are incredibly important for showcasing MENA as a thriving hub for gaming and making meaningful connections between industry players. Whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid, these events enable industry leaders, developers, investors, and game enthusiasts to come together, facilitating discussions and collaborations that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve.
Many of our teams at Savvy have participated in PocketGamer events. I look forward to seeing more events organised in the region to increase exposure to MENA's enormous potential in the global games market.
Edited by Paige Cook