Updated weekly! We've compiled all of 2023’s most significant investments so far (and more besides). Let’s see if M&A can come back swinging in 2023!
Here’s your year so far at a glance, broken down by companies, regions and significance for the wider market, and everything else besides.
The big ones
Of course, outside of specific markets and companies, there are some deals we need to highlight. These are the kind that may make our 'biggest of all time' top ten.
Savvy Games acquiring Scopely is notable for both the amount of money involved and the players. Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Games group has been one-to-watch, with a huge amount of cash invested into gaming as part of moves to diversify the country’s economy.
Sega’s purchasing of Rovio went through without a hitch following the back and forth of Playtika’s soliciting of the Angry Birds developer for a potential buyout earlier this year. Rovio and Sega have worked together before on collaborations, and many expect that Rovio will function as a lead-in to Sega expanding its mobile presence in the near future.
Like many Chinese game companies, NetEase was hit by the gaming licence freeze. The ten month-long halt on new gaming licences prevented developers and publishers from releasing new games in the country. So when the freeze finally thawed, NetEase was one of many who began looking abroad to regain lost growth, and guard against potential future freezes with overseas income.
To that end, NetEase has opened a number of new studios. Most recently Anchor Point in Barcelona and Canada-based Bad Brain Studios. Earlier this year they also opened Spliced Inc and invested in Studio Flare in Tokyo. A new label for global publishing, Exptional Global, was stealth-launched in March while acquisitions weren’t slouching either, the company acquiring Halo Infinite co-developer Skybox Labs.
Türkiye’s mobile market has been growing steadily, and even outpacing traditional industries despite economic contraction. Ace Games received $8m in investment late last year, capping off an equally good 2022. But it seems that relatively smaller start-ups and studios are benefitting the most, with developers like Gleam Games and Gulliver’s Games receiving small but significant investments for their size.
Grand Attic Games, formerly Hadi saw $5.3m brought to it as it relocated from Istanbul to London, although whether that works to boost the studio in the longer run is yet to be determined. While Turkish studio Yamy received investment from UP Venture Capital to the tune of $4m.
Turkish investment firms such as Ludus Ventures and WePlay Ventures have been the main leaders in contributing to these funding rounds, and have been active abroad too, with WePlay expanding into Europe and Asia. Although not necessarily the biggest firms, they’re ambitious and active at a time when investment was relatively low. Bold moves like this may pay off in the long term.
Firms expanding globally
Bitkraft Ventures is set to expand to Asia with a new investment office in the region. Although arguably in a digital age a physical presence isn’t necessary, it’s undeniable that being on the ground offers a new perspectives and talent that might otherwise be missed.
That’s liquid football
Football is of course one of the world’s most popular sports. And major gaming titles such as EA’s FIFA are perennial favourites among audiences. However, with EA and FIFA parting ways, there’s a gap in the market for new developers and platforms to capture a footie-obsessed gaming public.
Formation Games are developing CLUB, a football title for mobile on iOS and Android, partnering with Little Dot Studios that gave their investment in the form of a TikTok ad campaign to promote the game and studio.
Saudi Arabia’s spending spree
Aside from Savvy Games group and their operations we’ve seen wider investments from Saudi Arabia and the middle-east. Nintendo has been a major beneficiary, with two rounds from Saudi Arabia's public investment fund. As one of the most credible gaming companies on earth, its no wonder that the PIF chose to place it's early gaming investments there.
The public investment fund also acquired a major stake in EA, at 55%. However, EA has been underperforming in the booming mobile market, so it appears that despite the potency of their mobile investments, Saudi Arabia is still pouring money into traditional game companies, along other MENA countries such as the UAE which followed suit in funding games and tech.
But it’s not just the government making a splash, Saudi game maker Sandsoft has made a massive $3.25m investment into digital motorsport racing company The Tiny Digital factory. And Abu Dhabi firm G42 gained a $100m stake in TikTok owner Bytedance.
Supercell’s super year
Aside from the vast number of investments already under their belt, Supercell has added Phantom Gamelabs to its family of investees. But perhaps the most interesting acquisition wasn’t something they bought, but something that was purchased from them. Metacore, creators of Merge Mansion and also a beneficiary of Supercell’s investment, purchased the rights to and assets of Everdale, a discontinued Supercell title.
It seems that Metacore have faith that despite Everdale not making the cut for Supercell, they may be able to spin it into their own moneymaker.
And going global…
Outside of specific countries and companies, there were still many small but significant deals taking place. African publisher Carry1st has seen Bitkraft Ventures making a significant $27m investment into their company, as the African mobile market sees increased internet penetration and a growing market for mobile gaming.
In France meanwhile, Plug In Digital acquired Celsius Online, home of long-running title Renaissance Kingdoms. Similarly, although not an acquisition, Milky Tea Games ended up with a new majority owner in the form of Aonic, as the UK saw investment activity throughout the start of 2023.
As far as merge makers making acquisitions (alliteration intended) it wasn’t only Metacore that made some big purchases this year. Original Games acquired Mergedom from Turkish-based Bigger Games for an undisclosed amount. Although the merge genre has expanded rapidly, it still seems strong.
Mobile game veterans proved to be influential in the opening of new studios too, with a bevy of talent boasted by mobile developer Cosmic Lounge who accrued €4m in their seed funding round. Meanwhile Redemption Games, the studio behind Sweet Escape, went independent from Applovin once more.
NetDragon has had a unique year so far, as it spun off its highly successful education business into its own separate entity. This is at a time when the developer is seeing a slump in both its mobile gaming and traditional gaming business. However, there was a jump in revenue from online education as the company also invests heavily into AI-assisted learning.
Meanwhile, back in China the central government has sought to exert more power over what it perceives to be an overly independent tech sector. The government acquired special managerial “golden shares” that allows them to have a hand in businesses, even at only 1% of a stake.
In India, Giga Fun Studios raised an impressive $2.4m in funding, as the country continues to grow and even outpaced China in terms of population. A large potential audience that many mobile makers are eyeing up in hopes they’ll be the next big mobile market.
Not only that but esports have been an increasingly prominent part of the equation, as developer nCore Games placed a $1m stake in Newgen Gaming who have a stake in Indian esports with their brand Penta Esports.
It seems that the acquisition of Zynga also gave TakeTwo a taste for mobile (and with the acquisition boosting them to mobile-first in revenue, who can blame them?) as they acquired multi-game subscription service GameClub.
Keywords Studios acquired influencer agency Digital Media Management, raising a number of interesting questions about how they’ll make use of their new agency. Especially after also acquiring Hardsuit Labs earlier in the year, calling it their “first” game studio in Seattle, suggesting it won’t be their last American investment.
Accelerators and grants have also been in effect with Unity announcing that the makers of a number of titles such as World Reborn and A Week at Belisamas Lake had won their 2023 Unity for Humanity grant. While WePlay Ventures launched what they called Europe’s largest accelerator programmes for gaming startups.
Indie publishing powerhouse Devolver Digital acquired a new studio in the form of Doinksoft. The developers of cult hit Gato Roboto perhaps exemplify Devolver’s passion for strange, niche but successful indie hits.
NetEase weren’t the only people opening a new studio, although in this case it’s, shock, horror…Blumhouse. The film studio is now set to take a step into the world of digital horror, rather than the silver screen, Zach Wood and Don Sechler take the helm as president and CFO respectively.
Back from the dead, but more Ship of Theseus than a true resurrection, Telltale Game’s new form has nevertheless attracted a great deal of attention from investors. Will their next game come to mobile we wonder?
Keep an eye on this article for more deal and investment news soon…