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Saudi Arabia wants to spend $13B to buy a 'leading game publisher'


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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been making some big moves into the gaming space in recent years. Through various public agencies, it's made big investments in Capcom, Nexon, Nintendo, ESL Gaming, SNK, and Embracer Group. And it's not done yet: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who multiple intelligence agencies believe is responsible for the brutal murder and dismemberment of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, has announced plans to invest nearly $38 billion across four separate programs, more than $13 billion of which will go toward acquiring "a leading game publisher."

The investments will be made by Savvy Games Group, a fully-owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by bin Salman, widely considered the architect of the ongoing civil war in Yemen that has resulted in an estimated 377,000 deaths. Here's how the investment will be divided:

  • $18.7 billion for "a series of minority stake investments in key companies that support Savvy’s game development agenda."
  • $13.3 billion for "the acquisition and development of a leading game publisher to become a strategic development partner."
  • $5.3 billion to invest into "mature industry partners who add value and expertise to Savvy’s portfolio."
  • $533 million for "diversified investments in industry disruptors to grow early-stage games and esports companies."

"Savvy Games Group is one part of our ambitious strategy aiming to make Saudi Arabia the ultimate global hub for the games and esports sector by 2030," bin Salman said in a Saudi Press Agency release (via Axios). "We are harnessing the untapped potential across the esports and games sector to diversify our economy, drive innovation in the sector and further scale the entertainment and esports competition offerings across the Kingdom."

Savvy Games Group expects its strategy to result in the creation of 250 game companies in Saudi Arabia, generating 39,000 jobs and boosting the industry's contribution to Saudi Arabia's GDP to $13.3 billion—the cost of the publisher acquisition—by 2030.

There's no indication as to who Saudi Arabia might be eyeballing, but it'll be a big deal if and when it happens. By way of comparison, Sony picked up Bungie for $3.6 billion, Microsoft acquired Bethesda Softworks for $7.5 billion, and Take-Two snagged Zynga for $12.7 billion. The only thing keeping a $13 billion buyout from the top of the heap is Microsoft's acquisition of Activision-Blizzard, which if and when completed will cost $68.7 billion. That'll likely hold the top title for a while. Still, if Savvy blows the whole budget on one company, it'll be a top-five big one for sure.

The question now is, who might Savvy Games Group have in mind? A rumor surfaced in August that Amazon was looking to acquire Electronic Arts; that was ultimately shot down, but having EA in its stable would make Savvy an instant big player in the international games industry. Ubisoft is another perennial favorite for takeover rumors, but it's equally notorious for resisting such attempts, and recently took a large chunk of cash from Tencent that actually strengthens its independent footing. Ubisoft also isn't worth anywhere near $13 billion: At the time of the Tencent investment, it had an estimated public valuation of $5.3 billion.

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